Patriots Mailbag: Larry Fitzgerald Worth a Pair of Picks, While Adding Veteran Linebacker Could Be Biggest Move of Offseason

Patriots Mailbag: Larry Fitzgerald Worth a Pair of Picks, While Adding Veteran Linebacker Could Be Biggest Move of Offseason I’ve got to take my hat off to everyone who participated in this week’s mailbag. You guys came out swinging with some great questions, and this was a fun one to tackle. Keep the questions coming, and this offseason will fly by faster than you can say Pisa Tinoisamoa.

Keep reading, and you’ll find some new angles on draft speculation, projections for Tom Brady in 2011 and some veteran free-agent signings who could give the Patriots a tremendous boost on the field and in the locker room.

1. Jeff, how likely do you think A) Mike Pouncey falls to the Patriots at the 28th spot and B) if he happens to do so, do you think the Patriots would consider having him in their plans? I’ve seen him fall as far as Pittsburgh at No. 31, but I would have to believe they would either trade out of No. 17 or take a pass rusher in that spot, making him an intriguing player to take in that position considering his versatility to play both guard positions and center. What do you think? And also, if Mark Ingram were available in the 28th spot as well, who of the two would you take? Personally, I don’t see running back being something the Pats NEED, but many people’s opinions vary. Thank you.
–Dustin

Some good questions here, Dustin. I’ve had Pouncey going 15th to Miami in my first two mock drafts, but I’m not convinced he’s got mid-first-round talent just yet. That might be his ceiling, and his floor could be as an early second-rounder. I’d very strongly doubt the Patriots would take Pouncey at No. 17, mostly because three of the Patriots’ top-four guards this season — Stephen Neal, Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell — went undrafted, so they’re comfortable developing that position. Logan Mankins, though, was the exception, and he worked out very well after they took him in the first round in 2005. I wouldn’t be against the Patriots taking a guard at No. 28, but I’d rather see them use that pick on a defensive lineman, outside linebacker or even an offensive tackle.

With that, I’d take Ingram over Pouncey at No. 28, but I agree that they don’t need a running back. Yet, on the same token, Ingram is a heck of a player with an impressive winning attitude. I was skeptical of him, even during his Heisman season of 2009, because of Alabama’s elite offensive line, but after watching him more in 2010, I became a believer. He’s got such a will to win that you want out of a quarterback, not a running back, and that’s just so rare.

2. How much will the CBA affect the Pats’ plans? If there’s still no salary cap or rookie wage scale, do you think that will affect how the Pats approach the draft? Are the Pats more likely to trade up, down or into the future depending on whether or not the CBA has been agreed upon before the draft?
–Ron

Excellent question, Ron, and I think it’s going to play a major role in the Patriots’ draft strategy. First off, there will definitely be a rookie scale in place under the new CBA, and if that happens in time for the draft, I can definitely envision the Patriots getting more aggressive in regard to trading up.

If there’s no rookie scale in place, though, expect the Patriots to keep the mentality that prioritizes value over anything else. If I had to guess, I could see them keeping the 17th pick because it’s guaranteed to yield them a really good player, particularly along the defensive line if they go that route. But for pick No. 28, it wouldn’t shock me if they traded out of that spot if they were looking at players with second-round grades.

Worst-case scenario, the rookie scale will be in place in time for the 2012 draft, and that will make the Patriots even more inclined to load up on early-round picks for that class.

3. Jeff, speaking of mock drafts, glad you are adding pick No. 33 in your Thursday mock drafts. I would like you to consider another option — that is a trade of No. 33 if quarterbacks Jake Locker or Ryan Mallett fall out of the first round. This would appear to be a pick (first pick in the second day) where there could be a lot of activity, especially if one or more of the quarterbacks fall.
–Ted

Absolutely, Ted. The Patriots are in a good spot, and right now, I’d be shocked if the draft’s top-five quarterbacks — Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, Ryan Mallett, Jake Locker and Christian Ponder, in whatever order they fall — all went in the first round. Plus, if you look at the top third of the second round, teams like the Bills (picking No. 34), Bengals (35), Cardinals (38), Titans (39), Redskins (41), Vikings (43) could all be targeting a quarterback, which could open up a bidding war for the Patriots’ pick. You know what that means? The first team to offer up a 2012 first-rounder could be in business.

4. We all know the Pats need an outside linebacker. It sounds like the Steelers are debating who to franchise tag. If they decide not to tag Lamar Woodley and try and see if they can extend him, that would also open him up to free agency most likely. Could you see the Pats almost willing to pay him whatever he wants to come to Foxboro?
–John

I understand the infatuation with Woodley. I really do. However, Woodley has openly said he’d be perfectly fine with getting franchised by the Steelers. Even if the front office doesn’t go that route, those are some eye-opening comments coming from a big-name player who could command a lot of money on the open market, particularly because players in Woodley’s position rarely say those things. That leads me to believe Woodley wants no part in leaving Pittsburgh.

I also have a theory about Woodley that I think Patriots fans should read. I’m not saying you’ve got to buy into it, but it’s something to consider (check it out here). At the very least, it’s worth wondering if Woodley’s success would translate to New England’s system.

5. I know we are loaded with draft picks this year, but I would personally trade up to three of them to get Larry Fitzgerald, a man of unlimited talent and great character. He runs all the routes, and has the best hands in the game, something like Cris Carter had. With our up-and-coming defense and a draft stocked with defensive end-type players waiting to be drafted this season, we are going to be dynamite! Bill Belichick has once again stockpiled a bunch of picks as he usually does, and trading a few for Larry makes sense! Go Pats, as I will now turn my attention to our Red Sox, while keeping an eye out for the draft. Anything more about acquiring Donte Stallworth?
–Winning from Farmville, Va.

It would go against Bill Belichick‘s style to trade a number of high picks for Larry Fitzgerald, although I don’t disagree with anything you said about him. If I were running the Patriots, I’d be willing to give up picks 28 and 60 for Fitzgerald, but I’m not convinced that would be enough to suit the Cardinals’ demands. And with the way Belichick has drafted in the last two years, just think of the haul he could potentially snag with those first three picks, all of whom should become starters within a year.

Free agency won’t start until there’s a new CBA, so there won’t be anything new on Donte Stallworth until that happens.

6. Why is everyone overlooking running back Demarco Murray from Oklahoma. Kid looks like a stud, played in a pretty good conference this year, and showed up in the big games (Longhorns game especially). If we don’t try and get Larry Fitzgerald, why not go defensive end, defensive end, offensive lineman, running back with the first four picks. If we can’t get Julio Jones or A.J. Green, we aren’t getting a game changer at wide receiver in the first three rounds anyway. We need someone to hit a home run on offense when teams start jamming our wideouts and playing zone in the middle. I think Boise State wide receiver Austin Pettis will be available late in the third or early fourth, plus Brandon Tate and Taylor Price could finally start to get it at the next level. Any possibility of landing Cowboys running back Tashard Choice? He looks like an unpolished Kevin Faulk who may even be a better runner as well. Let me know what you think.
–Robert Todd, Conroe, Texas

Some serious questions there, Robert, so let’s get to it. Murray is definitely a good back, and he could probably go as high as the late second round if he works out well. I’m sure there are concerns over his hamstring, and he can cure those with a good set of pre-draft workouts. And finally, one thing I’m seeing across the board is that there’s concern over his vision to see the hole, as well as his home-run ability.

I don’t know if the Patriots necessarily need a game-changer at wide receiver — not that I’d be averse to it — but they mostly need a guy who can stay on the same wavelength as Tom Brady. Outside of Deion Branch, Brady hasn’t ever had a great rapport with a rookie wide receiver, so that would be a concern in 2011 if they drafted one in April.

Choice is under contract for one more season in Dallas, but it wouldn’t be overly shocking if the Cowboys parted ways with him. Even still, the Patriots love Danny Woodhead as a third-down back, and I’m sure they’d be more than accommodating for Faulk if he chose to return.

7. Can you take a stab at predicting Tom Brady’s stat line next year? Would 4,000 yards and 30-plus touchdowns be reasonable to expect? Or do you think we will see improvement from this year’s excellence and an approaching of 2007 numbers? What has been wrong with Tom Brady in the post season the past two years? Granted, last year he was coming off the ACL injury, but this year he regained his form, but lost it in the postseason. Does he have Super Bowl rings 4 and 5 in him, or have we seen his best?
–Will

I think it’s very reasonable to expect 3,800-4,200 yards and 35-ish touchdowns for Brady next season. Remember, the Patriots’ 19 rushing touchdowns in 2010 were the second most in the league, so Brady didn’t just hog stats in the red zone. As for 2007, well, that was a special season that he probably won’t ever replicate.

Regarding the playoff loss to the Jets, Brady and the Patriots simply got beat. He looked rattled as soon as he threw that first interception, and the continuous pressure had him looking over his shoulder far too often. While Brady’s receivers and tight ends combined to have a really good campaign, there were definitely times when the young guys struggled to see the right holes in the defense. With another year of development, they should theoretically be able to help Brady navigate his way through a Jets defense that confused them in the divisional playoffs.

8. Hi Jeff, just finished reading your last Pats mailbag, great job! I can’t help but look at your following statement (“Young teams don’t win many Super Bowls, and the Patriots could have used some extra veteran presence on this season’s roster”) and wonder if and when the Pats will be able to attract some veterans to get them over the proverbially Super Bowl hump? Any names for the 2011 season you can think of to get this “young” Pats team another Super Bowl?
–Pats fan

Good question, and Bill Belichick really rededicated himself to finding character guys last offseason, and he got a rock star in that department with tight end Alge Crumpler. I’ll throw four more names at you, in no particular order. Guard Alan Faneca could be a worthwhile addition if the Patriots don’t retain Mankins. Linebacker London Fletcher, who is one of the league’s best people, is on the books in Washington for about $5 million next season, so if the Redskins dump his contract, he’d be a tremendous get for the Patriots. Linebacker Kirk Morrison, a tackling machine, would be a good addition, and I believe he’s good a good reputation, too.

And finally, linebacker Takeo SpikesBrandon Spikes‘ cousin — is another guy with a great reputation and enough skills to contribute on the field. He’d be a real asset, too, because he could keep Brandon from making some dumb young mistakes.

(Side note: Brandon Spikes is a good kid with intriguing potential, and he’s got a natural leadership ability. The two mistakes he made — the Internet sex tape and the failed drug test — were nothing to dismiss, but in reality, they weren’t the most egregious errors, either. Just a young kid making young mistakes.)

Obviously, I listed three linebackers there, and the Patriots don’t have room for three more on their roster. But Belichick has always wanted leadership out of that position, so it would make sense for him to go after Spikes or Fletcher, if he’s available.

To submit a question to Jeff Howe for future mailbags, click here.

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