Commentary

Mail: Why won't the Pats pay?

Readers are wondering if the Patriots need to change the way they do business

Updated: February 2, 2010, 4:17 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

This week's mailbag had more of a sharper tone from e-mailers. I sense some frustration from those writing in, particularly that the team and Vince Wilfork appear to be headed down a similar path as was seen in the past with players such as Asante Samuel and Deion Branch.

Some of the main topics of the mailbag include:

1. Will the coaching staff improve?

2. Are the Patriots doing the right thing with Vince Wilfork and is it time to hold ownership accountable?

3. Comparing the Patriots' approach to the Colts' in terms of re-signing players.

4. How an uncapped season affects players and the Patriots.

5. The value of drafting a running back.

Q: We have lost so much the past few years in terms of brain power: Dimitroff, Pioli, McDaniels, Daboll, Mangini. The "bringing young guys around" thing worked in the past but obviously the new group was in over their heads this year. Can Bill Belichick right this ship? -- Michael Destefano (Parkland, Fla.)

A: I think it's a "yes," Michael. Based on some of the initial changes on the staff -- with Corwin Brown coming in, Josh Boyer (current defensive backs coach) presumably taking on a new role, and Shane Waldron leaving the team -- I'd venture to guess that Belichick probably felt he thrust a few young coaches into the fire too soon. I don't think that means every young coach was necessarily in over his head. I don't think we'll see a Dick Jauron-type coming in here, but I don't necessarily think that means things won't change. I think the coaching staff will be better in 2010.

Q: I think Patriots fans, players, coaches, Robert Kraft and everyone would like to see something different from the Patriots' defense. With a vacant defensive coordinator spot, do you think the Patriots would get anything different from hiring someone from within -- Pepper Johnson or Matt Patricia? Aren't these just the same guys that have grown up in the same system doing the same things? -- Jarrod (Mansfield, Mass.)

A: Jarrod, there are a few factors in play here from my view. First, it's about not putting one coach over the team. I don't think the Patriots are going to blow things up and hire someone from the outside who would implement his own system, similar to what the Bears just did with Mike Martz at offensive coordinator. That has never been the Patriots' modus operandi and the reason is that it creates a situation in which the hire is more important than the stability of the organization. If that person leaves, you are in trouble. So I think you work around it in a few ways: 1.) You hire someone from outside the organization (e.g. Corwin Brown) as a position coach to add a fresh perspective in meetings and maybe he works his way up the ranks; 2.) You study other organizations and what they do well and implement some of those new ideas; 3.) You promote outside-the-box thinking, which I think Johnson or Patricia do even though they have grown up in this system. Both are good coaches.

Q: Now that Jarvis Green is potentially leaving the team, and we are entering a year without a salary cap, are the Patriots likely going to make a move on Julius Peppers? Since it is an uncapped year, couldn't they drop Adalius Thomas ($4.9 million) and pick up a productive player like Peppers? Also, after Brandon Graham's MVP performance in the Senior Bowl, do you think he will go before the Pats' 22nd pick? -- Ryan Stavros (Quincy, Mass.)

A: Ryan, I don't see the Patriots in the mix for Peppers in a long-term contract type of situation. My sense is that the team won't be swimming in those rich free-agent waters and will instead try to reach deals with its own players -- Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Stephen Gostkowski, Kevin Faulk, Leigh Bodden, Tully Banta-Cain, etc. As the situation with Thomas has proven, the free-agent splash that looks good in March can sometimes fizzle out rather quickly. In terms of Graham, I would think he shot up to the middle of the first round.

Q: Hi Mike, after reading your last mailbag I'm getting very nervous that the Pats may use the "uncertain labor forecast" excuse to not improve this team as much as they could. With Bob Kraft being a key owner and the CBA being up, do you get a feeling that Kraft doesn't want to hand out big contracts while the NFL owners are claiming they have less money to spend due to how this might look to the NFLPA and other owners? -- Sean (Hudson, Mass.)

A: Sean, I think it's a consideration for Kraft, who is balancing running a competitive team against being one of the leaders in the overall league issue of the uncertain labor forecast. I think Kraft would sign off on a long-term extension, but he's probably being more careful about it than other owners who aren't in a similar leadership position as he is.

Q: Isn't it time to call out the Pats ownership on how they underpay key players? When the Colts have key guys reach free agency (Manning, Harrison, Freeney, Sanders, etc.), they do the right thing and pay the guys. But the Pats are cheap and play hardball with their best players (Wilfork, Samuel, Brady, etc). This business of forcing players to sign below market contracts is wrong. -- Bill (NYC)

A: Bill, I think ownership should be held accountable, like everyone else. They aren't perfect. At the same time, I think it's important to point out that the Patriots' spending is not even in the bottom half of the league over the past five years. They just do it differently than a team like the Colts. The Patriots have traditionally favored a strong middle class on the roster, while the Colts have been more top heavy. If you take the approach of a strong middle class, it prohibits you from having the top-paid players at so many positions and that's where some of the tough decisions are made. Also, I generally think a negotiation is about both sides. It's not always on the player, and it's not always on the team. It's about finding a middle ground.

Q: Mike, I've been a lifelong Pats fan but I do not like the way this team is doing business. They were lucky to get Wilfork to sign a six-year deal before the league essentially condemned that business practice. Although he outplayed his contract, he was a gentleman and honored the entire deal instead of holding out. I can't see how treating him this way sends the right message to the rest of the guys in the locker room. These guys are smart enough to know that any single one of them can be the next to get "Wilforked." I think this is also leaving a really bad taste for the fans who are watching Wilfork do everything right and the team care more about leverage than him. I personally think this guy deserved to be treated better. Moreover, being cheap hasn't even worked for them lately (see Deion Branch, Asante Samuel). When guys are coming up on their contracts in Indy, Bill Polian will declare the team's intentions to re-sign an important player. I do not want to see Indy win the Super Bowl but I am somewhat envious of the family environment that they have cultivated in that town. Those fans know that Mathis and Freeney aren't going anywhere. From a fan's perspective, I'm disgusted. From a player's perspective, is New England no longer a good place to play? -- John (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

[+] EnlargeVince Wilfork
Stew Milne/US PresswireVince Wilfork was the No. 21 overall pick in the 2004 draft.

A: John, my sense is that you are not alone in these thoughts. I made the point recently that the Patriots, for the first time in a while, are in a position where they are going to have to "sell" their approach to their followers -- whether it's with hiring a defensive coordinator or attempts to re-sign a player like Wilfork. My general feeling is that there is a faction of fans tired of seeing players leave, hearing the words "value," and not having those players replaced with talent at the same level. As for the Colts, they've had to make tough decisions in the past, not being able to strike deals with high-level players like Edgerrin James, Mike Peterson, Cato June & Co., so they aren't immune to this. I think it's as much a business in Indianapolis as it is in New England. As for New England no longer being a place players want to play, I think it depends on the perspective. Wilfork probably feels that way right now, perhaps privately asking the question, "How could they franchise tag me after all I've done?" Then you talk to a player like cornerback Leigh Bodden, who was on the 0-16 Lions in 2008, and he thought it was nirvana in New England this past season. I think every situation is different.

Q: Hi Mike, after just reading your analysis on the Wilfork contract, it seems that the way you laid it out makes it fair for both sides. Could you give us a little insight as to why this contract scenario is not being entertained? -- Tom (Brighton, Mass.)

A: Tom, it is entirely possible that something like this is being entertained with Wilfork and the Patriots. I really don't know, because I don't have the answers to the most important two questions needed to analyze this situation: 1.) What is the team offering in a long-term contract? And, 2.) What is Wilfork looking for in a long-term contract? Until we know those answers, I don't see how anyone can fairly analyze this situation without carrying an agenda for either side. That would be my first question to either side if I had the opportunity to ask. Usually if both sides want to make a deal they can find a way to get it done, but this situation looks like it is going to get even more contentious.

Q: Mike, I wouldn't sign big Vince to a long-term deal. He's too heavy and I believe he would break down in his lower body. I wouldn't have done a long-term deal with Haynesworth either. The risk outweighs the reward assuming there will be salary caps in the future. Your thoughts? -- Tim (San Diego, Calif.)

A: Tim, my feeling is that I would work hard to try to strike a deal with Wilfork. It would be a top priority for me. I think he is a top player at his position, a potential leader in the locker room, and the type of guy I would want on my team. Really, the only question for me is "how much?" Both sides have control over the answer to that and my feeling is that is where this gets sticky. I'd love to hear what each side is willing to do, because it would help us all better understand if the Patriots are holding too hard of a line, or if Wilfork is asking for the moon.

Q: Hi Mike, Vince Wilfork is probably your best option and most important piece in your front 7 if you are going to play the 3-4 defense going forward. Most important in both scheme and the fact that agile, experienced, and effective 330-pound nose tackles don't come around that often. However, do you think the Patriots not signing Wilfork yet may not be a financial issue, but rather the fact that the coaching staff may be pondering going to a 4-3? I'm not saying they make the switch right away, but signing Wilfork to a big contract may mean you are committed to the 3-4 long term and the Patriots may want the flexibility to become a 4-3 type of team down the road. Tying up big-time money in a nose tackle who is best in a 3-4 alignment means you are committed to playing that alignment and reduces their flexibility to change if they desire. Do you think if the Pats somehow sign Wilfork, that they think he could play the 4-3 defense as well (like he did at the University of Miami)? -- Kevin F. (Framingham, Mass.)

A: Kevin, I think Wilfork can play in any type of defense -- 3-4, 4-3, 4-2-5, 4-1-6 -- so I don't think this is a major consideration for the Patriots. Obviously, if the team was going to the 4-3, Wilfork wouldn't be a huge rush presence, but he would still be a Pat Williams-like run-stuffer in the middle. One area that I think Wilfork gets undersold is when some call him solely a two-down player. While he often comes off the field in passing situations, he's also stayed on at times, helping the Patriots stay stout enough against the run, while playing just six or five defenders in the box. He gives them flexibility in that area that is often overlooked.

Q: My question is regarding the uncapped year. Initially, my thoughts were that player salaries would be much larger (given the "uncapped" part). Now that I see some of the restrictions in place (no salary floor, free agency rules), I have to wonder why the players aren't yelling for a deal to get done. Why is that not happening? -- Cindie (Lexington, Mass.)

A: Cindie, my feeling is that many players don't fully understand why an uncapped year is bad for them. I believe it will take being put into that position for a hard lesson to be learned. It was clinched for me when a player privately said prior to the 2009 season, "I'm hoping to have a big year and then when there is no salary cap, look out." I explained that I didn't think that salaries would skyrocket; in fact, they might go the other way with a market correction and no salary floor. He looked at me like "How can that be?" I think the 200-plus players who were set to be unrestricted free agents but will revert to restricted free agents will feel it first, and how that is handled will test the unity of the players in this labor battle because it will be the first salvo in terms of hitting players where it hurts -- in the wallet. I believe the owners mean business here and I am projecting that most of them will use an uncapped year to drive down costs.

Q: Hi Mike, in your piece on an uncapped 2010, you mention there is no salary floor, which may drive down the price of new contracts. Does the lack of a cap also mean there would be no ceiling? Is it possible that teams who did not make the final 8 but have money (Washington, New England and Oakland come to mind) might decide to pay big money for some of the quality free agents, few as they might be? They could figure that any new agreement in the future would have to overlook the value of such contracts against the cap, in effect letting the cat out of the bag. Any thoughts? -- Andrew (Reading, Mass.)

A: It is entirely possible, Andrew. I could be badly misreading the situation in projecting it to head in the other direction. I'm sure there will always be a few teams that simply can't help themselves and will spend it. But overall, I get the feeling that the owners are unified and they are planning to make a point here.

Q: For the players who become restricted free agents instead of unrestricted in an uncapped year, how are they affected in future years? Do they still get to be unrestricted free agents in a year or two or miss out altogether? -- Johnny (Rutland, Vt.)

A: Johnny, they would become unrestricted free agents after six accrued seasons.

Q: Mike, why wouldn't the Pats just sign Wilfork, then frontload his contract? If there is no cap this year then why can't they just make his salary this year substantial to limit the cap hit in later years? Also, why wouldn't other teams do the same thing with players such as Peppers? -- Mark (Northbridge, Mass.)

A: Mark, that structure is something that I think we could see this year around the NFL, although teams still will be operating within a budget, which is something to keep in mind. Also, teams want to be careful about giving up too much too early, which could lessen the incentive for the player to keep performing at a high level. My thought, from the team side, is that you want to structure a deal where there is still something for the player to be shooting for.

Q: This is Brady's last season on his current contract. With an uncapped year this year, what would you think of this as a starting point: 3 years, $45 million, with the payments as follows: $30m in 2010, $7.5m in 2011 and $7.5m in 2012? Brady still gets more per year than other QBs that have not won three Super Bowls ($15.5mm/year) and he doesn't kill your cap if it comes back in the next CBA. -- Mike P (N. Reading, Mass.)

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Jim Rogash/Getty Images Tom Brady, who will be entering his 11th season with the Patriots, is set to be a free agent after the 2010 season.

A: Interesting contract, Mike, because it's a short term at just three years. I think the money in terms of average per year is solid, but could be a bit higher. The structure of the deal looks sound to me, giving that big chunk in the first year without a salary cap. In the end, I'd think we're looking at four to six years in terms of contract length.

Q: Even considering the uncertain labor future in the NFL, why wouldn't the Patriots' management have a contract extension for Brady ironed out already? This guy is the face of the franchise, he's led the team to division crowns, AFC Championships, three Super Bowl wins. I don't think there is any real question that a deal won't be ironed out, because failure to do so would have Patriot Nation hunting heads in Foxborough. So given all of that, why is it that there hasn't been an extension already? -- Matt (Plattsburgh, N.Y.)

A: Fair question Matt, and one that I don't have the answer to. Brady has never reached the last year of his contract before, so this is unusual.

Q: I seem to recall in the past that when Tom Brady's contract came up for renewal, he would have it structured to "spread the wealth", which was a very selfless, "team first" attitude. I am not aware of anything like this in the Vince Wilfork situation. Is there any reason to think that he shouldn't make the same kind of gesture? After all, one player is only as good as those who surround him. What are your thoughts, Mike? -- Steve Warner (Lander, Wy.)

A: Steve, I never feel comfortable saying "this is what a player should do." We all have different priorities and Wilfork has earned the position he's in, and I wouldn't feel comfortable telling him how he should be thinking. For some, taking a bit less for more immediate security is the right choice (e.g. Ty Warren). For others, rolling the dice and going for the mega deal is what works (e.g. Asante Samuel). Or maybe you have that rare player who takes a little less in hopes of surrounding himself with better teammates. The big difference between Brady and Wilfork, at this time, is that Brady has already received one big deal. This is Wilfork's first chance at a big extension.

Q: Mike, with an uncapped year in 2010, there is no excuse for the Pats not to sign Wilfork to a fair deal. He has earned his pay day. What is the deal with Asante Samuel chirping in on this and every other contract situation this team has? He got his money and has underperformed in the process. With kvetching and moaning like this, he is making their point for cutting him loose. -- John Ford (Walpole, Mass.)

A: John, the main area where I question the Patriots with Wilfork is this: Why did it have to get to this point? Sometimes I wonder if the team is aggressive enough, and willing to extend itself earlier in the process, with possible contract extensions. I'm not saying it would have gotten done, but it just seems like the team makes things harder on itself by waiting toward the end to really heat up contract talks. I can see why that would make a player upset. That being said, I wouldn't go as far as saying there is no excuse for the Patriots not to re-sign Wilfork. I can think of a big one: If Wilfork is using Albert Haynesworth as his market-setting guide, I would say the team is making a sound decision because no player is worth that in my view. As for Samuel, please. Isn't it clear by now that he has an agenda against the Patriots? Nowhere did he mention that he was a fourth-round draft choice out of Central Florida that teams were shying away from because he showed an aversion to tackling in college, yet the Patriots took him anyway and helped in his developmental process. I give him credit for becoming a top-flight player, but I also think the Patriots had something to do with it. His throw-bombs-at-the-team act has grown tired at this address.

Q: Mike, with the way the Patriots have dealt with their star players' contracts (Wilfork, Seymour, Samuel, etc), I believe they are beginning to gain a bad reputation amongst NFL players in that aspect. Do you think this could be a problem with future big name free agents/players who might worry that the Patriots historically haven't treated their star players "right"? Or should we continue to just believe in Bill? -- Jay (Methuen, Mass.)

A: I don't read too much into that, Jay. Without talking out of both sides of my mouth, I think most players generally only care about their own situation and how much money they will earn. If the Patriots are offering more than the next team, I don't think it would stop them from coming to New England. At the same time, reaching a deal with Wilfork would send a positive message to players already on the team. I think that message would be something like: "We run our team like a sound business, making tough decisions at times, but we also have a personal side to our decision-making process that rewards those who do it right as long as the demands are reasonable and in line with the market."

Q: Hey Mike, any thoughts on potential draft picks for the Pats? I know it's early but I love the offseason precisely because I get to speculate on my team's needs. Unfortunately we have not drafted well in recent years, trading down multiple times last year and passing on quality guys like Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga (I know there were some character issues but still). ... What are your thoughts on the direction we need to go this offseason? -- Ed (Boston, Mass.)

A: Ed, I'd place a heavy emphasis on the front seven on defense. Outside linebacker, defensive line and cornerback are up there, followed by more playmakers on offense at the skill-position spots.

Q: Mike, it seems as if the Pats have lost their edge. There was talk of players laughing after a loss, and a general lack of focus at times. They claim they still have veteran leadership, and they do, but who on the roster strikes you as capable of really getting in someone's face and putting an end to any knuckle-headed lack of focus? Is there a Bruschi or Harrison? I don't see one. -- Jay (Boston, Mass.)

A: I think someone like Wilfork or Ty Warren could do that on defense, but maybe the business side of things made it a bit more challenging this year for Wilfork. On offense, Tom Brady, Kevin Faulk, Logan Mankins and Wes Welker are a few players that come to mind.

Q: Hey Mike, do you get a sense the Pats will try to upgrade the right side of the O-line in the draft or free agency this year? Let's be honest, Kazcur and Neal underperformed for most of the year and Brady took a lot of hits (he was the 4th most-hit QB, according to Football Outsiders). Is Belichick going to put Vollmer at RT next year and hope to get someone new at RG? Thoughts on the right side of the O-line? -- Johnny (Hackensack, N.J.)

A: Johnny, I think we'll see a change at right guard, where Stephen Neal has been the starter. He was thinking about retirement after the playoff loss to the Ravens and it looks to me like Dan Connolly could be stepping in there. As for right tackle, the coaching staff seems higher on Kaczur than what I sense the common public perception to be. The answer to the question is one I don't have right now: Will Matt Light be back at $4.5 million or will Vollmer take over at left tackle? I could see Light returning in 2010 and then that switch happening in 2011.

Q: Mike, when Bill Belichick traded Seymour for a 2011 first-round draft choice, do you think he knew it would not be a great year? I don't think you can trade a player like Seymour if you really believe you have a chance to win the Super Bowl. The real question now is: Do you think BB knows it will take time (maybe couple of years) to reconstruct the team, so is that why he chose a 2011 first-round pick? -- David Laflamme (Coleraine, Canada)

A: David, I don't believe Belichick was thinking it wasn't going to be a great year and that's why he traded Seymour. I believe Seymour and the organization were headed in different directions before the trade, and both parties probably had a little bit to do with that behind the scenes. It isn't all on Seymour. It isn't all on the team. As for the 2011 first-round draft choice, the trade was either for that or a 2010 second-rounder. I think Belichick felt it was smarter to be patient and take that first-rounder in '11 because it could be a very valuable selection.

Q: Hey Mike, can you break down the Patriots' draft pick in each round? Being in Indy, I'm trying to get away from all this Super Bowl talk and need something to keep me busy. -- Steve Speedy (Indianapolis, Ind.)

A: Steve, the Patriots have the following draft picks in 2010:

First-round pick (their own)
Second-round pick (their own)
Second-round pick (from Jaguars)
Second-round pick (from Titans)
Fourth-round pick (their own)
Sixth-round pick (their own)
Seventh-round pick (their own)
Seventh-round pick (from Eagles)

Q: Do you think the Pats would take two RBs in the draft? Dexter McCluster reminds me of a Percy Harvin type and LaGarrette Blount seems like a Brandon Jacobs type. These two could bring some good competition to camp. -- Nick (Hull, Mass.)

A: Nick, I like the idea of the Patriots taking a running back within the first two rounds. I think getting some fresh, playmaking legs and a fresh approach would help the offense quite a bit. If they pick a second running back, I wouldn't expect it to be until the last two rounds. I don't see them doubling up early.

Q: Hey Mike, I realize that one of the major problems from last year was getting a consistent running game. I would like the Pats to get Spiller but after watching him for the last four years I do feel like he has quite a bit of Maroney in him. I can't help but feel that the Pats would be better off going in a different direction even if he was there at 22 and going after a guy like Toby Gerhart in the second round. This last season would have played out quite a bit differently if we had a great short yardage back we wouldn't have lost that game in Indy and I wouldn't have to worry as much about being able to get that one yard it seems so many times this year we were unable to convert. What do you think? -- Patrick (Clemson, S.C.)

A: I could see that scenario, Patrick, where the preference is to go with more of a pounder at running back. I don't have strong feelings either way, just more of a general thought that they need some fresh legs at running back, no matter the style. A pounder can still be a playmaker.

Q: Mike, has a "project" like Tebow ever really worked out in the NFL? I remember Kordell Stewart, and most recently Pat White, and it seems they have too much athletic ability for teams to pass on them, yet they never really pan out to be great NFL players because they can't figure out where to play them. If teams are looking for a QB, there are better options. If a team plans to convert him to something else, like a WR or RB, won't there be better options in the 2nd or 3rd round? With a guy like Tebow, he doesn't really project well at any position based on what I've heard. Could he be better than some of the terrible QBs in the NFL, maybe, but if you're taking him early, teams are hoping for a franchise type QB, right? -- Rick (Lowell, Mass.)

A: I'd agree with your line of thinking, Rick. I remember Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio explaining the team's drafting of Julian Edelman in the seventh round as a leap of faith. It seems to me that if you draft Tebow for a position other than quarterback, that's a similar leap. As you point out, it's one thing to do it in the seventh round, and another thing to get into first-, second- and third-round territory.

Q: Do you think the Patriots do a disservice to their players by withholding injury information? Instead of people understanding that Moss or Brady are banged up, we think they are playing poorly. In this day and age and so many people watching and breaking down tape, I have to think the opposition has a clue whether the injury is reported or not. Your thoughts? -- Neil (Southington, Conn.)

A: Neil, I'd always promote the idea of more disclosure from all teams. That being said, I don't think the Patriots are any different than the majority of NFL clubs and I understand why they take the approach they do -- to protect competitive advantage. In doing so, it can put players in a tough spot. The Patriots played by the rules in listing Moss with a shoulder injury; however there are no rules that require them to say what the actual shoulder injury is. I think in the case of someone like Moss, opponents might have suspected from watching tape that he was injured, but it's not always so clear.

Q: Hi Mike, I was reading that the Jets plan to approach Darrelle Revis to sign an extension this year because he can void the final years on his contract after 2010. While there is no disputing Revis' talent, I'm just wondering if you think all of Ryan's talk this year about how great Revis is and how much he means to the defense has somewhat compromised the Jets' negotiating ability. What are your thoughts? -- Adam (Burlington, Vt.)

A: I'm not familiar with this, but the general thought is interesting to me on two fronts, Adam. If Revis voids his deal after 2010, he would have four accrued seasons at that time. I'm curious, if there is an uncapped year in 2011, if he would be a restricted free agent by doing so. So this point might be moot. As for the Jets' negotiating ability being compromised by comments made about Revis, I don't really see it. I believe both sides will agree that Revis is a top-5 corner in the NFL and should be paid accordingly as to what the market dictates at that time.

Q: Mike, during every draft some analyst will refer to the "value chart" developed by Jimmy Johnson while with Dallas. What exactly is this and do current GMs use this as a loose blueprint for placing value on specific picks? My other question is what would Maroney fetch (realistically) should he be traded? -- Marc Landry (Toronto, Ontario)

A: Marc, that value chart is something Johnson put together to guide him in making trades on draft day by assigning a point value to each draft pick. From my experience covering the league, some teams use a chart, others don't. And sometimes the charts can have slightly different point values depending on the team. One high-ranking team executive told me within the past few years that his adjusted chart actually had the highest point value at pick No. 12 because it took into account economic factors, which I thought was fascinating. As for what Laurence Maroney would yield in a trade, my sense is it would be a conditional mid-round draft choice that would be based on his health. I could see a team being willing to give up a fourth-rounder that, with conditions Maroney remained healthy and hit certain performance levels, turns into a third-rounder.

Q: Hi Mike, I wanted to get your analysis on a couple of veteran wide receivers for the Patriots. The first would be swinging a trade for Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers. I think he can be had with one of our second round picks. The other is free agent Josh Reed of the Bills, a very underrated target that I think would fit in well in the Pats scheme. Your thoughts? -- Mike B. (Springfield, Mass.)

A: Mike, my first thought is that Smith for a second-rounder would be a steal. I'd be surprised if Carolina was willing to do that. I view him as one of the premier receivers in the league. Reed is an interesting possibility. Projecting a receiver from Buffalo is always a challenge because that offense has been so inept at times. I like the thought.

Q: Mike, you hinted that Pats might pursue a new punter. Do you have a specific name in your mind, who is available on the free-agent market? -- MarkJ (Japan)

A: It will be slim pickings, MarkJ, and that's why they might end up looking toward the draft. Assuming there is an uncapped year, Hunter Smith (Redskins) is one of the few veteran punters scheduled for free agency.

Q: Hi Mike, I know you've said in the past that you thought Floyd Reese was more of a "contract" person and not a talent evaluator. He had quite an impressive drafting history at Tennessee, filling his roster with late round gems. So why then was Seattle chasing him as a GM? -- Tommy Burke (Cape Cod, Mass.)

A: Tommy, my sense of what is happening in Seattle is that Pete Carroll is running the show and he was looking for the right fit in terms of someone to pair up with. Reese has a solid résumé. He could have been more involved with personnel there, although I still think it would have fallen back on Carroll.

Q: You recently mentioned that the Patriots are happy with the development of Pat Chung or you noticed him improve as the year progressed. What exactly impressed about him? Why do you think he did not see more time in the base defense? And do you see potential for him to start next year? -- Ryan (Zurich, Switzerland)

A: Ryan, I thought Chung played fast when he was on the field, not to mention that he was a solid special-teams player. I see him in the mix for a starting spot, although the Patriots are deep at safety. It is probably the deepest position on their roster right now from my view.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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