Patriots Mailbag: Lack of New CBA Will Put Pats in Draft Dilemma With Matt Light, Logan Mankins Stuck in Free Agency

Patriots Mailbag: Lack of New CBA Will Put Pats in Draft Dilemma With Matt Light, Logan Mankins Stuck in Free Agency It's been a crazy, crazy week in the NFL, but let's slow it down for a moment and open up the mailbag. There were some good questions this week, not that you should be surprised by that, since you were the ones who asked them.

We'll start it off with a logistical question about the collective-bargaining agreement before discussing a well-known Boston College linebacker. And aside from some other draft questions, we'll discuss whether or not the Patriots should hijack a few Jets.

Shouldn't the draft be moved to after a new CBA is reached because teams will not be able to sign free agents or make player trades, which would affect moves they make in the draft?
–Ron

It will undoubtedly put teams in a very difficult position if they have to go through the draft before free agency. Just look at the Patriots, for example. Under that scenario, they'll enter the draft wondering if they need to fill positions for left tackle Matt Light and left guard Logan Mankins – due to the likelihood that Sebastian Vollmer and Dan Connolly would play on the left side, the Patriots would need to fill spots at right guard and right tackle — and that could completely change the shape of their approach in the first two rounds.

From there, if the Patriots use a first-round pick on a tackle, that would greatly drive down Light's value, and he'd probably have to look elsewhere. But if there's an earlier-than-expected run on tackles and the Patriots lose out, Light would carry even more leverage in negotiations.

On the flip side, if free agency resumes in late March or early April and the Patriots manage to lock up Light (likely) and Mankins (snowball, meet hell), they could draft for luxury, maybe even by packaging their picks to move into the top 10.

The NFL has been prepared for this scenario for a few years, and it's the easiest way to go about business. Think about it. If the lockout extends into mid-August, the league would have to cram in the draft and free agency before training camp and the preseason, and the regular season might not start until October.

What are the chances that the Patriots draft Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich?
–Gene

Because Herzlich's stock could be valued more on his intangibles and work ethic than his recent game film and workouts, it's tough to tell where he'll be drafted, whether it's in the second round or the sixth round. Therefore, it's impossible to project the Patriots' chances of landing him. For instance, some team could see his potential and snag him in the second round, while the Patriots could think they've got a beat on him in the third round.

However, there's no denying that Herzlich fits the mold as a Patriots-type of player. He's got great heart and won't let anyone outwork him, and Bill Belichick loves to work with players like that. Eventually, I really think he'll be a good NFL player.

Why are all the mock drafts showing the Pats taking Cameron Jordan? I think J.J. Watt is a better player and still has the versatility that the Pats look for. Your thoughts?
–Tim

There are some real mixed reviews on Watt. Some believe he's a top-10 player. Others think he's a mid-20s player. Jordan, on the other hand, is a perfect defensive end for the Patriots' 3-4 system because he comes from a similar scheme at California. He eats up offensive linemen and can make room for the linebackers to take care of their business, and that's what the Patriots want out of their defensive ends.

So the Jets are releasing Kris Jenkins, Damien Woody, Vernon Gholston and Jason Taylor. Can you see one of them being a Patriot next year? Well, of course, if a new CBA is done and there is a free agency.
–Pierre

Woody can still play and could end up filling a need at right guard or right tackle if the Patriots don't retain Light, so he would fill an immediate need. The big question would be about his torn Achilles and how he'll recover from that, especially at 33 years old. Gholston has also been a huge bust with the Jets, and it says a lot about a guy who is supposed to be a pass rusher but can't rush the passer in New York's system, so he's out.

I know the Patriots have a great deal of respect for Jenkins, who would be a superb backup for Vince Wilfork. But is Jenkins willing to take on that type of role? Who knows. The Patriots have gone after Taylor, too, in recent offseasons, but it obviously hasn't worked out. He doesn't have a lot left now, so I don't know why the two sides would suddenly find the need to link up.

Woody would fill the most glaring need, assuming Mankins is gone, but Jenkins would add some amazing depth as a backup to Wilfork.

Hi Jeff, thanks for the great job with the weekly mailbag! My brother moved out to the Pacific Northwest a few years back, and since then, I've been watching the Civil War religiously. Anyhow, I'd like to get your thoughts or opinion on any of the following Oregon and Oregon State combine invites as possible Pats? I think the following three would be a good fit come draft weekend: Oregon State running back Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea, Oregon inside linebacker Casey Matthews, in no particular order.
–PatsFan

Well then, thank you for your great job in participating in the weekly mailbag. Great rivalry, by the way.

Matthews would be an interesting target, considering the bloodlines, but the Patriots really don't need to address the inside linebacker position. If they were interested in young developmental depth, I believe they would have given Tyrone McKenzie a spot on the active roster last season.

Rodgers was obviously a successful college back, but at 5-foot-6, he needed to show some superior athleticism at the combine for my liking, which he failed to do by running a slow 4.64-second 40. If the Patriots address the running back position, I think they should do it in the first or second round — maybe the third if there's a late run on the position — and Rodgers probably isn't worth that high of a pick. Plus, the Patriots already have their scat back in Danny Woodhead, and I wouldn't be surprised if Kevin Faulk returns, too.

Paea's stock soared when he broke the combine record with 49 bench reps, but he's more of a 4-3 defensive tackle, which would eliminate him from the Patriots' draft board, especially with his stock as a late-first-round pick or early-second-rounder.

I could see Belichick wanting to work with Matthews, but Rodgers and Paea don't really fit in New England's system.

One more follow-up on Patrick Chung calling for the fake punt: If the play was installed as long ago as training camp, wouldn't it make sense to have a player with better hands than a safety to be the signal caller on punts? That was perhaps a season-saving situation if it was only executed correctly, as the consensus seems to be.
–Bob Abooey

I see your point, but it's larger than that. First off, it's not like Chung has hands of stone, despite the fact that he mishandled the punt, but let's move onto the other logistical aspects. Chung was heavily praised for his job as the personal protector in 2010. He's got to recognize the opponents' plan, make calls, block any free rushers and then chase down the punt returner, and Belichick wouldn't use him in that role if he didn't think he could handle all of that responsibility.

Plus, it's tough to put an offensive skill position player in that role. Wes Welker is too valuable, and aside from him and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, there aren't any other running backs or wide receivers who have the physicality of Chung.

The Patriots lined up to punt 63 times last season, including five times in the playoffs and the one fake punt attempt. While Chung screwed up once, his value in the punt formation the other 98.4 percent of the time justified keeping him as the personal protector throughout the season. And if you're going to start switching players around in that role, it would be an obvious tip-off to the other team that a fake could be on its way.

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