I'm going on vacation next week and won't return to do any more mailbags until mid-July. At that point, if the momentum keeps building, there's a very realistic chance the lockout will be over and teams will start their final preparations for free agency. Since things will go quickly, it should turn out to be one of the most interesting stretches in offseason history.
Which Patriot would be the best addition to the Bruins?
Wow, interesting question, Rick. Since the Bruins just won the Cup, I'm going to go out on a limb and say they don't really need to make any additions, and I kind of want to tweak the question a little bit. Let's instead pick six Patriots to fill a starting lineup for a hockey team.
I'd start by putting the big fella in net. Imagine how big Vince Wilfork would look by adding goalie padding to that frame. Plus, he's extremely athletic, so he'd be a tough guy to beat. It would have made more sense to put Dane Fletcher in net, with his background as a goalie and all, but Wilfork was just too tempting. I'll go out on a limb and say Fletcher could make the transition to defenseman. Let's pair him up with Rob Gronkowski, a Zdeno Chara-like big man who would be a physically imposing specimen in front of the net.
Then I'd have Wes Welker center a line with Jerod Mayo and Devin McCourty. Welker has great hands and knows how to beat defenses, so that makes him a candidate for that position. Mayo strikes me as the type of person who would succeed at any walk of life, and he'd be a great power forward type, maybe in the mold of a Cam Neely or Milan Lucic. And McCourty is a tremendous athlete who would add speed and skill on the outside.
I'd also find a way to involve Logan Mankins, Patrick Chung, Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead.
Do you think with the new CBA we will see teams make more trades midseason?
It's a fair question, but I don't think the lack of trading has much to do with the structure of the salary cap or anything along those lines. There are very rarely any high-profile trades at the deadline for two particular reasons. First of all, it's not like the other three sports, particularly baseball, in that teams already know they're mathematically out of the playoffs because the deadline is so early. Due to that, teams aren't willing to unload payroll and build for next year. Last season, it happened during Week 7, so teams were only five or six games into their season. I also haven't really heard anyone in the NFL complain that the deadline is too early, so I doubt that it gets changed during the CBA discussions.
Building on that, the main reason there are few trades is because it's difficult to work a key player into a new system. While this offseason is different due to the lockout, teams typically start the building process in March, and it heightens to new levels in May and June before training camp begins in late July. By the time of the trading deadline, teams have been together for 10-12 consecutive weeks, the system has been firmly implemented and the playbook can be a chore to learn midway through a season.
Obviously, teams add numerous free agents throughout the regular season, but those guys are typically fringe players at best. They might play on special teams or have a small role in sub packages, but they wouldn't have the same impact as a high-profile addition at the trading deadline.
Which rookie do you think has the best season next year and which rookie will have the better career in your opinion?
It's a good question and a tough one to answer because I could go in a lot of different directions. Depending on playing time, running backs Shane Vereen or Stevan Ridley could have the greatest impact in 2011, but left tackle Nate Solder, cornerback Ras-I Dowling, quarterback Ryan Mallett or offensive lineman Marcus Cannon could all be candidates to have the best career.
I think Ridley will get more carries than Vereen, who is said to be better in space outside the tackles. But I've said before that I'm not sure if everyone fully grasps Vereen's abilities between the tackles. Because of that, he's a huge wildcard. Also, Bill Belichick really likes to ride the hot hand in the backfield, so that will play a key role in determining playing time. And finally, Ridley's role should be similar to BenJarvus Green-Ellis', while Vereen should split time with Woodhead and Faulk, so Ridley might have more of an opportunity due to less competition.
I'm very intrigued about Dowling's talent, but I think it will be tough for him to earn a lot of playing time in 2011 since he'll be behind McCourty and Leigh Bodden, and maybe Kyle Arrington and Darius Butler. I can see Dowling pairing up with McCourty as the starting cornerbacks for years to come.
I think Solder and Mallett should be two to watch over the next decade because of their positions. Obviously, if Mallett overcomes his doubters and fulfills his potential, he'll become the best pro of the Patriots' draft class, even if it's with another team. It's just too hard to argue against a quarterback in that debate.
Lastly, I still believe the Patriots will retain Matt Light for at least one more season, which will keep Solder on the bench in 2011, and I definitely think that's the best-case scenario for everyone involved. After that, Solder should grow into a very good left tackle. So, in a very roundabout way to answer your question, I think Solder has the best Patriots career from this draft class.