Patriots Mailbag: Matt Forte Not Realistic Possibility, Patriots May Look to Trade for Defensive Help

Patriots Mailbag: Matt Forte Not Realistic Possibility, Patriots May Look to Trade for Defensive HelpThis is the final mailbag for March, which means the owners meetings are over and draft hype is about to get crazy.

The Patriots have done a good job to this point in the team-building process, though they still have some areas to address, particularly with a front-line player on the edge of the defense. With a pair of picks in each of the first two rounds, they’re more than equipped to keep making improvements.

I’ll get to that later, but let’s start off with the hottest rumor of the week. It’s got no substance, but it’s fun to discuss nonetheless.

Hey Jeff, do you think the Patriots might take a look at Bears running back Matt Forte? He’s not happy about Michael Bush joining the Bears on top of his lack of a new, richer contract. So do you think the Patriots might have a possible trade with the Bears and then sign Forte to a long-term deal? –Patrick (Lakeland, Fla.)

No chance, and this rumor has very, very little credibility. Because Forte received the franchise tag, the Patriots would have to surrender two first-round picks to sign him. And the Bears could trade Forte for less, but what’s the point when they’ve got all the leverage in the situation?

The Bears have really treated Forte like crap, and the situation has gotten much worse than it should have. Will they break and let him go? I seriously doubt it. Two first-round picks is way too much to sacrifice for a running back with the way the game is changing.

And that’s where the Patriots come into play. They just don’t value the position that much, and they’ve always been ahead of the curve in that regard. As I’ve said many times before, Bill Belichick‘s philosophy on the running back position changed in 2005 when Corey Dillon’s injury completely derailed the offense, and the Patriots became one of the first teams in the last decade to use a committee approach when they used a first-round pick on Laurence Maroney in 2006. With both instances in mind, there’s just no chance Belichick would offer up so much to acquire Forte.

The interesting thing about Forte, though, is he’s one of the select few feature backs in the NFL who is still worth a big chunk of money, and that’s because he’s such a great receiver, too. Forte has caught at least 51 passes in each of his four seasons, and he has crossed 1,000 rushing yards twice (and 900 yards two other times).

Forte is a heck of a player, but the compensation doesn’t jive with the Patriots’ philosophy.

What are your thoughts on saftey O.J. Atogwe? I think that if the Patriots were to sign him, he could step in and start at free safety from day one while Pat Chung plays strong safety.        –Connor (Norwood, Mass.)

I think Atogwe makes plenty of sense. He had a pretty good year in Washington and obviously fits one of the Patriots’ greatest needs. I agree that he could start right away, though the Patriots have already given starting-caliber money to Steve Gregory, and I wonder if that has kept them away from Atogwe. It’s also weird that such a talented player would still be on the market, so I wonder if there are any red flags. Lastly, Otogwe has expressed interest in playing for the Lions, so he could be trying to explore that avenue first.

What do you think the situation is with the safety position? It was clearly a weakness last season, so is Steve Gregory really going to be the only addition? Is there any interest being shown in O.J. Atogwe or Brian Dawkins? Is there a chance that Devin McCourty plays safety and a cornerback is drafted, or that Bill Belichick decides to trade up for Mark Barron? Thanks! –John

One player who isn’t often mentioned is Josh Barrett, who finished his last two seasons on the Patriots’ injured reserve list. The Patriots still have hopes for him, though it’s been difficult to see his potential due to the injury issues. He struggled at times at the start of last season, but he couldn’t ever shake his hamstring and calf issues, so his health is going to be a huge factor.

As for Dawkins, reports have indicated it’s Denver or nowhere for him. Does that mean he wouldn’t answer the phone if Belichick called? Would Belichick even be interested? I’m just not sure.

My gut still tells me McCourty will stay at cornerback, but that decision has been concealed in a major way. And in all honesty, it’s possible Belichick told McCourty to prepare for both this offseason before seeing how things progress in camp.

I also wish I had the answer for you on the Barron question. One thing’s for sure: Belichick will have a top-notch scouting report from Nick Saban, and that should include Barron’s question marks over his double hernia surgery. Because Barron is the only high-profile safety in the class, any team with strong convictions over his talent would be inclined to trade up.

It would certainly break from the Patriots’ mold to do it, but if he starts slipping into the range of the 20th pick, they might have to think about moving up if they really like him. The only way Barron falls to No. 27, in my opinion, is if his medical tests are sketchy, and if that’s the case, is he even worth it? It’s a tough call.

Do think it would be worth trading a second-round pick for Jonathan Stewart, or are they confident with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead? –Brian Randall (Saskatoon, Canada)

I don’t think Stewart is worth it for the Patriots because they just don’t emphasize the position enough to give up a second-round pick a year after using second-and third-rounders on Vereen and Ridley. Plus, Stewart is in a contract year, so the Patriots would have to cough up an asset in the draft and then sign him next offseason to make the deal worth it. If the Patriots wouldn’t give BenJarvus Green-Ellis $3 million per year, I don’t see them doing the same, or more, to keep Stewart around.

Building on the last point, if the Patriots weren’t confident in Ridley, Vereen and Woodhead, they would have kept Green-Ellis, no question about it. The Patriots only need a complementary piece at this point, maybe in the form of a goal-line bruiser, and they won’t overpay for it.

What’s with clearing all of the cap space? Is it just to get these larger sums into 2014 when the cap is going to grow a ton? –@Giguere4211, via Twitter

That’s one theory, but I don’t think I’d go that far. Also, the owners and NFLPA have conflicting views over the cap growth in 2014, so who knows what direction they’re heading in a couple years.

When Brady restructured his deal — as is the case with any superstars who do the same — the general question is, “What’s next?” Would they sign a big free agent, pull off a big trade, build a stairway to the moon?

The illusion, though, is that news broke more than a week after it happened, and after the Patriots signed about 10 free agents. They used this extra room to build quality depth, and owner Robert Kraft said that was the goal. I’d still be surprised if Brady went to the negotiating table without Wes Welker in mind, so I’d have to believe something is coming in that regard. Still, Brady’s deal saved the Patriots cap space this year, and a long-term deal for Welker would do the same, so the two might not be completely related.

How do the Patriots feel about the progress of Ryan Mallett? Haven’t heard much about him since the preseason. –@dblockk188, via Twitter

Mallett showed a strong willingness to learn right out of the gate by staying after practice to work on his mechanics, most notably his footwork and agility, which were big knocks against him coming out of Arkansas. He continued to stay after practice throughout the season, and he was also involved with the team on the field during pregame warm-ups, which I hadn’t seen before with a Patriots backup who wasn’t slated to be in uniform.

The bottom line is they like him, but it’s hard to really get a feel for his development when he’s not playing in games. He’ll definitely be one of the most heavily watched quarterbacks across the league in the preseason.

One other thing to note: When the Patriots used a second-round tender on Brian Hoyer, it showed they were prepared to move on without him if another team offered a contract. Part of that was dangling the bait to see if they could land a draft pick, but the other part was a vote of confidence that Mallett can be the backup if needed in 2012.

When will the defensive side of the ball be addressed?  –@RedRedSox, via Twitter

The Patriots have already added three potential starters — or, at the very least, quality depth — on defense with linemen Jonathan Fanene and Trevor Scott and safety Steve Gregory. I know those players won’t match the jersey sales of defensive end Mario Williams and cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan, but you already knew those weren’t realistic options for the value-conscious Patriots.

The Patriots are in a good position to make some upgrades early in the draft. They should be able to add at least one quality front-seven piece in the first round, and they could net a second if they don’t like the remaining options at cornerback and safety.

Again, there weren’t a lot of upper-echelon free agents on the defensive side, and the demand for their services caused them to sign heftier contracts. I broke this down last week after the bigger names were signed.

Will the Patriots continue their trade streak with the Eagles this draft? –@NESuperFan, via Twitter

It’s gotten to the point where Belichick and Eagles head coach Andy Reid joke about it, so why not?

Do you think Ryan Mallett will start a game for the Patriots this year? –@TWTrey5, via Twitter

Well, that’s basically like asking me if I think Brady will suffer a serious injury, or if Mallett will overtake Brady on the depth chart. So, no.

Have a question for Jeff Howe? Send it to him via Twitter at @jeffphowe or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

Photos via Facebook/Mark Barron and Facebook/Matt Forte

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