First of all, thank you to everyone who participated in my first Patriots mailbag. There were a lot of great questions, and I apologize for not getting to every one of them. If your question wasn’t answered, please submit it again for next week’s session, as I’d like to make this a regular feature each Friday.
The Patriots’ season obviously ended surprisingly early, but their young roster ensures that they’ll be in position to contend for a Super Bowl for another few years, at least. That doesn’t mean they don’t have plenty of questions to address this offseason, though.
Let’s address some of those now. If you have any questions after this, hit me up on Twitter.
1. What are the chances the Pats trade to get Larry Fitzgerald?
— Brian Griswold
I’m really intrigued by his availability, but the Cardinals aren’t dead set on trading Fitzgerald, who is the closest thing they’ve got to a franchise player. If the Cardinals will only trade him for a quarterback, the Patriots don’t have any chance, unless the Cards believe they could parlay New England’s picks into another trade for a quarterback. Fitzgerald would be a great fit for the Patriots, but I’m not sure they’d be willing to give up anything major to acquire him.
If I ran New England’s front office — cue the jokes and eye rolls — I might be willing to give up picks 28 and 60 for Fitzgerald, but I’d be surprised if the Cardinals would be interested in such a package.
2. I’m curious if you have any insight as to why it seems like Aaron Hernandez got far fewer passes tossed his way later in the season?
— Tracy Pierce
I think defenses had a better handle on how to cover Hernandez, who has too much shake for a linebacker to stay with him in man coverage and is bigger than most safeties. The book on Hernandez was that he struggled against zone defenses because he couldn’t find the open lanes. Plus, as the year progressed, Rob Gronkowski got so much better as a pass catcher, and that limited Hernandez’s chances.
3. As for Donte Stallworth, apparently he wants to rejoin the Pats. Will he?
Stallworth definitely wants to return to the Patriots, but the organization might have other ideas. Stallworth was a successful third wide receiver for the Pats’ offense in 2007, and he’s smart enough to do it again in 2011.
Here’s an important point, though, and it’s definitely something that Bill Belichick considers: Stallworth would have minimal special teams value, at least in comparison to Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater. That’s the reason why Taylor Price only played once in his rookie season. Obviously, if Belichick thinks Stallworth has the potential to catch 45-50 passes, that trumps special teams value, but it’s something to remember.
4. With Champ Bailey possibly on the way out of Denver, do you see the Pats making a move on him? He said he wants to play safety, and that’s a position we could use some veteran help at. I know he’s 32, but he still has a lot of gas left in the tank.
It’s an interesting option, but I don’t think he’d be a great fit at this point. The Patriots are pretty set at safety, and if they do anything with that position this offseason, I think they’d make a real attempt to get younger. Bailey turns 33 in June, and his skills are in a big decline. Would it be a bad move? No, but I’m not sure it would be a good one, either.
5. What role do you think “playing tight” had in the playoff loss to Jets? It seemed like the Pats players (especially younger guys) were slightly intimidated by Jets bravado and played much of the game back on their heels. Also, why should the Pats players stay silent when their manhood is being questioned all week by a bunch of Gang Green goons?
The biggest problem during that loss was Tom Brady‘s poor play, and I think he played tight after throwing that first interception. The youth was definitely an issue because they lacked playoff experience. As for the second part, just because the Patriots didn’t talk to the media about the Jets’ trash talk doesn’t mean they didn’t talk amongst themselves. The thing that will kill them most was that they couldn’t quiet the Jets by beating them on the field.
6. Would the Patriots take a run at one of the Miami’s running backs, either Ronnie Brown or Ricky Williams in the offseason?
To start off, Danny Woodhead is under contract through 2012 and BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a restricted free agent, so both will be back. If Kevin Faulk wants to return, Belichick will open the door, but it seems likely Fred Taylor will retire and Sammy Morris could be a backup option. From there, I’d expect to see the Patriots sign a free agent — I’d take Brown over Williams, but the Pats might also target former Saints running back Pierre Thomas — and draft a back, too.
7. Should we sign Chad Ochocinco? Also, if we do sign him, how much of an impact do you think he will make, whether it be positive or negative?
It’s pretty amazing how passionately people feel about this subject, from one extreme to the other, but I’m kind of Ocho’d out for the week. I think it’s worth looking into, and for much more analysis on the subject, check out my column from Wednesday.
8. Assuming Logan Mankins and Matt Light are re-signed, what do you rank as the Pats’ top-three offseason needs? I know ‘best player available,’ but if all else is equal, I would assume the top-three positions for improvement (free agency or draft) are outside linebacker, interior offensive linemen and defensive end. I know others are mentioning running back and wide receiver, but to me those are secondary. Your thoughts? What are your top three positions, in order, that the Pats should target to improve and why?
Let’s just concentrate on the draft for now, since it’s a little more concrete. I’d like to see the Patriots add a big-time, playmaking defensive end like Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward, even if that means trading up, which I believe would be possible with the rookie salary scale in place. I’d also go after a pass-rushing outside linebacker — maybe Ryan Kerrigan from Purdue — even if that isn’t Belichick’s style. From there, it’s a tie, but I think they should try to get younger at tackle and add a running back.
9. Would you say that last few offseasons have been a failure as far as free agents and trades go? I believe that they had more than enough money to spend to bring in a defensive stud and/or more quality defensive and/or offensive depth. That certainly didn’t happen. Julius Peppers would have been scary in a Pats uniform, but they never approached him for his services. They should have kept some key players like Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, and Asante Samuel. Their draft has been pretty solid, but management have shot themselves in the foot with some of their decisions that could have made a huge difference. Would you rather have Seymour the last two seasons or their picks? With Seymour, they’re probably in the Super Bowl!
— Bob Smith
“Failure” is a little excessive. They definitely whiffed on guys like Joey Galloway, Chris Baker, Shawn Springs and Derrick Burgess, and the Patriots didn’t get the on-field production they probably wanted out of Fred Taylor, who made up for that by having a tremendous veteran presence in the locker room. However, you can’t overlook the additions of Leigh Bodden, Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich, Kyle Arrington, Alge Crumpler, Gerard Warren and Danny Woodhead. Exchanging Randy Moss for Deion Branch also proved to be a wise move.
The Patriots didn’t add any superstars, but Peppers inked a monstrous contract that seemed over the top for a player with a questionable work ethic — Of course, he might be named the Defensive Player of the Year next week, so he silenced those critics.
Seymour, Vrabel and Samuel would have all helped the team, no doubt, and Seymour and Vrabel might have had enough influence to keep the locker room from going astray in 2009. It’s hard to quantify how much of a difference they would have made against the Jets, though.
The 2009 and 2010 free-agent classes weren’t rich with talent, and the Patriots had to use their resources in 2010 to retain their own guys, such as Vince Wilfork, Bodden and Banta-Cain. It wasn’t perfect, and there were some decisions I’d hope they’d like to have back, but by no means do they deserve a failing grade for their trades and free-agent acquisitions since 2009.