Welcome back. It's been more than a month since the last mailbag, and things have improved drastically with the NFL's labor situation. By next week's edition, there might actually be some real football to discuss.
Do you see the Patriots targeting any big-time receivers when the lockout is over?
I definitely think the Patriots need to add a veteran wide receiver into the mix during training camp, and three names come to mind. First, I've long since thought Donte Stallworth would make the most sense because he knows the system, would sign a team-friendly deal and would be a positive spirit in the locker room. Second, I wouldn't be the least bit shocked if the Patriots target Chad Ochocinco if and when the Bengals release him. Ochocinco has been a bit of a character, but he's got enough respect for Bill Belichick to make football his only priority.
And as a wild card, I could see them kicking the tires on Santonio Holmes because he's a tremendous route runner who would have some insight on how to attack the Jets. I think it's somewhat of a long shot because Holmes will earn a pretty nice contract through free agency, but he seems like the type of receiver that could draw New England's interest.
Why have the Pats not signed Logan Mankins to a long-time contract? He is considered one of the top two at his position.
I'm not saying I agree with the way the Patriots have handled Logan Mankins' contract situation for the last two years, but I think I can explain why they haven't forked over any big money. First of all, the Patriots have had all of the leverage in this situation because Mankins was a restricted free agent last offseason. By retaining his rights, they weren't forced to give him a big-money deal that spanned four to six years. Then, before the lockout, the Patriots franchised Mankins for a cap number that has been estimated around $10 million for one season, and that's a heck of a payday for a guard.
And as you said, he is considered one of the best guards in the league, so he's looking to be paid in that manner. Belichick, though, doesn't give a lot of preferential treatment to the guard position. Aside from using a first-round pick on Mankins, the other three guards on the depth chart last season — Dan Connolly, Steve Neal and Ryan Wendell — were all undrafted. And while Mankins definitely improved the line while he was active, the Patriots weren't exactly suffering without him.
Because of those reasons, Belichick has chosen to continue using his leverage to keep Mankins around for as long as possible, and it appears that the Patriots will go in another direction if Mankins doesn't sign a team-friendly deal, which means his departure from New England is inevitable.
What exactly is Jermaine Cunningham's potential as a pass rusher? Does he have the ability to be a dominant pass rusher?
Jermaine Cunningham only had one sack last season, but he also knocked into Peyton Manning's arm before the quarterback tossed the game-decisive interception to James Sanders against the Patriots. I thought Cunningham was the Patriots' best player in terms of securing the edge, and that's a valuable asset in Belichick's eyes. Also, as I pointed out Thursday, Belichick's system doesn't put emphasis on straight-line pass rushers, so we might never know if Cunningham's sack totals would increase if he played for a sack-happy defense like Pittsburgh or Baltimore.
Cunningham might see his sack total rise to the five-to-eight range in 2011, and that increase should come simply from more playing time, as I would expect him to earn starting-level reps at outside linebacker. He is one of the biggest linebackers on the roster, and he's athletic. Expect some good things from Cunningham throughout his career, even if it's not as a dominant pass rusher.