Patriots Mailbag: Vincent Jackson in New England, Kevin Faulk’s Return, Re-Signing Matt Light

Patriots Mailbag: Vincent Jackson in New England, Kevin Faulk's Return, Re-Signing Matt Light For starters, there were a number of questions about Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

It’s only natural for Patriots fans to inquire about the availability of one of the best wideouts in the league.
Once again, he can definitely be had, but I still don’t think it would be a fit for the Patriots because they don’t have the quarterback the Cardinals are looking to acquire. With New England’s host of draft picks, it’s possible, yes, but I still just don’t see it happening.

Moving on, there were a lot of great questions this week, so thank you to everyone who participated. I’ve really enjoyed this project over the last month, and without the help of all of you, this wouldn’t be as fun to write. My apologies if I couldn’t get to your question, but try to get them in again next week or hit me up on Twitter.

1. Jeff, is Kevin Faulk coming back and at what capacity will he be used? Is he fully recovered?
–Kevin

I’m not comfortable making a prediction with this one, but I know Faulk would like to come back if it all works out. He’s going to wait to see how he feels after recovering from the injury, and he’s been in good spirits in recent months, which is a good sign. The league’s labor situation will also play a role, as any extended lockout would likely push a number of players into retirement. And then, Faulk and Bill Belichick will have to determine the significance of his role on the field. My gut tells me if Faulk wants to come back, the door will be open, and he’ll split duties with Danny Woodhead.

2. Jeff, I have recently seen the names of Steve Smith and Vincent Jackson tied to the Pats as trade candidates. I’ve read something along the lines of the Chargers putting the tag on Jackson, then trading him for Logan Mankins and a second-rounder. What are your thoughts on this? As you stated last week, they do need better production out of the third receiver slot, but upgrading their No. 1 would automatically upgrade the third slot, since it would then be Deion Branch. I can see the trade for Jackson making some sense for both sides but unsure of Smith. Your thoughts? Have you heard anything on either and what are your thoughts? Thank you.
–Dustin

I’m assuming you mean Steve Smith from Carolina, who is signed through 2012, but I’ve never been high on him. He’s just too much of a distraction. If you mean Steve Smith from the Giants, he’s a free agent who is coming off microfracture surgery on his knee. He’d be an interesting target because a team could sign him to a multi-year deal based on incentives because he won’t do much in 2011. All signs points to him returning to the Giants, though.

From what I can gather, that Mankins-for-Jackson proposal is just a rumor. No way is Jackson worth Mankins, especially with a second-rounder thrown in there. Jackson has been franchised — if that’s even worth anything going forward — by the Chargers, and while he might be a helpful addition, he’s not a possession receiver. Jackson would have too high of a price tag, and it wouldn’t be worth it for the Patriots.

3. How much would Takeo Spikes cost us per year?
–Robert Todd

Spikes’ salary in 2010 was $2.25 million. He had a good season, but he’s 35 so he could likely be had for the same amount of money on a one-year deal. The toughest part would be finding room on the roster for him, but he’d be worth it as a veteran leader and mentor for his younger cousin, Brandon Spikes.

4a. With the Patriots being so stacked this year with draft picks, do you see Bill Belichick trading some for already proven players or drafting and developing the youth or a mix of both?
–Scott D

4b. Is there any chance the Pats package some of their picks to move up and draft an elite player. If so, who do you think would the Patriots target and why?
–Mike

I wanted to combine these two questions because they’re related, and I’ll make a few points. First, I think the Patriots would be very inclined to move up in the draft if there’s a new CBA in place with a rookie salary scale. Otherwise, I’d be good money on them moving down and then trying to trade into the first round of next year’s draft, which I’m 100 percent certain—based on information from league sources and my own opinion—will have a rookie scale.

Second, the Patriots had nearly two dozen players on their roster from the 2009 and 2010 draft classes. It’s good to see them getting young, but they only have room for so much youth. That’s why I think it’s important for them to land impact players in the first and second round, because the chances of third- through seventh-rounders making the roster will be miniscule.

Third, if the Patriots can trade into the 7-12 range in the first round, I think they should do it with the hopes of getting North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn, Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus or California defensive end Cameron Jordan, who I’ve had falling to No. 17 in all three of my mock drafts but could wind up as a top-10 pick.

6. The past [six] seasons, the Pats have moved to a more pass-happy offense to maximize Tom Brady. However, they won their Super Bowls with a stingy defense and a running game where the line always won in the trenches. Do you see the Pats moving back to that direction? Defensively, it appears so, but I’m not so sure on the offensive side of the ball.
–One man is not a nation

Actually, if you’re talking about the makeup of the team, I think it’s the opposite of that. The Patriots had a very veteran group on defense when they were winning Super Bowls, and their offense was the younger side of the ball. Now, I think it’s the other way around.

Anyway, to your initial question, the midseason trade of Randy Moss and reacquisition of Deion Branch showed me the Patriots were trying to get back to a more simplistic, possession-style offense that fits Brady’s game. They had a special running game with Corey Dillon in 2004, and that probably won’t be replicated, especially since the league has centered so much around the passing game in the last few seasons. The defense is improving, and it will continue to get better, but the offense has definitely gotten back to its roots, too. That’s why Brady was the MVP in 2010.

7. Hope this doesn’t sound too stupid. The 2010 NFL season was unique in the sense that it featured no salary cap, allowing some teams, namely the Jets, to spend a lot of money in an attempt to take advantage of the situation and try to win it all. The Pats, conversely, spent the third least among teams. My question: will the salary cap return to the NFL in 2011? Or is that another area in which the union and owners must agree? I was somewhat surprised that the Pats didn’t spend more during last year’s uncapped year, and for some reason, I got the feeling that their reason for this was that it would hurt them in the future, but I’ve never read any convincing reason why. Despite their going-for-it-all approach, the Jets still seem to be in a decent position to compete. Cheers for answering.
–JD in the UK

That number was actually incorrect, and it can be tough to find a reliable source for concrete team payrolls in a given year due to bonuses and such. One thing I’ve been told is the Patriots were definitely not in the bottom three in spending, so you can be assured of that.

As for the cap, the general feeling is that it’s gone for good, but I’m not sure if that’s set yet. The league obviously operated fine without a cap this season, but it’s unfair to measure it right now. If the cap disappears, we might not see a difference until three to five years from now, and the fear could be that big-money teams could form dynasties like the Cowboys did in the 1990s.

8. Jeff, will the CBA negotiations affect the Patriots’ approach to the draft? If there is a lockout, then rookies will not be able to participate in any offseason programs until that is resolved, making their chances of learning the system and having an impact even slimmer than it usually is. Would that make the Pats more inclined to trade up for a player that may need less of that training to be effective? Would it make the Pats more likely to trade pick(s) away for a 2012 pick? –Ron

None of that is completely set just yet. In the event of a lockout, the two sides could reach temporary agreements to allow players to work out or conduct offseason camps to get up to speed, and that could include a rookie camp. But again, nothing is certain yet there, so don’t worry about rookies falling behind at this point. And as I addressed in a previous question, the Patriots' willingness to trade up or back into 2012 will hinge heavily on the rookie salary scale.

9. How likely do you think it is that the Pats make a strong push for Willie Colon, and what type of contract do you think he would command. Also, what are your thoughts on Marcell Dareus, from what I’ve seen of him I think he would be a great complement to Wilfork, but is he worth trading up for? Thanks.
–J.C.

I could see the Patriots kicking the tires on Colon, but I doubt he’d be a major priority. Really, Belichick has never gone after a big-time right tackle, and he’s more comfortable drafting and developing one. The Patriots’ best-case scenario, in my opinion, is re-signing left tackle Matt Light to a two- or three-year deal for $7-9 million per year, keeping Sebastian Vollmer on the right side and developing a right tackle to take over when Light retires and Vollmer takes over on the left side. As for Colon, because of the Achilles injury, he could probably get anywhere between $8-12 million per season for four or five years.

Part II: I’m really high in Dareus, especially in the Patriots’ system. He’s versatile and could play all three spots on the line, and he’d just be a great asset for New England. I had him falling to No. 16 in this week’s mock draft, but that’s way too low for him. If he made it into that 10-14 area, where teams are looking to fill other needs, someone will trade up to draft him. But then again, Dareus could even go in the top five when it’s all said and done.

10. Hey Jeff, what would you say to using the No. 17 pick on an outside linebacker or defensive end and No. 28 on the Baylor nose tackle Phil Taylor? That way you could use Vince Wilfork at defensive end most the time and be free to try to get LaMarr Woodley or someone like him as a free-agent signing. You would also have a young nose tackle for the future, and we know how hard it is to find a big run stopper in the middle for a 3-4 defense.
–Raymond Bergeron

First, the easy one: The Patriots aren’t getting Woodley. There’s just no chance he leaves the Steelers, and if any team is going to bowl him over with a giant contract, history dictates it won’t be New England.

Taylor would be a great addition, but some analysts think he could even crack the top 20 by the time he gets through interviews and clears up any character concerns that led to his departure from Penn State. At that point, do the Patriots want to use the 17th pick on a nose tackle when they already have Wilfork? Well, maybe not. I’ve already said I think it makes sense to go after Taylor because the Patriots could swing Wilfork to defensive end, and Belichick would also have more options when it comes to rotations and substitutions. There are a lot of reasons to like Taylor on the Patriots, but you can be assured they aren’t worrying too much about a nose tackle of the future after they gave Wilfork five years and $40 million in 2010.

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

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