Patriots Mailbag: Mario Williams Signing With Buffalo Only Increases Patriots Need For Depth

Patriots Mailbag: Mario Williams Signing With Buffalo Only Increases Patriots Need For DepthWith so much happening this week, feel free to label this mailbag in one of two ways — the first one of free agency, or the last one before St. Patrick's Day. Since there were no questions about the latter, the former might be more appropriate. Now, let's run through all of your free-agent inquiries.

With the Bills signing Mario Williams, how will this affect the draft and free agency by the Patriots?–@jeduron, via Twitter

I don't think it will really affect anything because the Patriots already knew where they could make some upgrades. First, they're set at left and right tackle, so they don't need to do anything there unless they look for depth to replace Matt Light, though Marcus Cannon can be that third tackle.

Second, the Patriots already tried to add blocking depth at tight end last year — drafting Lee Smith and signing undrafted free agent Will Yeatman, though they lost both through waivers — and there's no doubt they'll do the same this offseason. I thought that before the Williams signing, too. The Patriots might even try to get some more well-rounded depth to protect them in case Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez suffers another injury next season.

And lastly, if running back Kevin Faulk retires, the Patriots might need a more reliable running back for pass protection. Danny Woodhead does a good job, but there are times when he gets manhandled due to his size. And both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are unproven in that area.

So, to sum it all up, these were needs the Patriots had before Williams signed with the Bills, who will make life difficult for the Patriots and all of their opponents next season. Luckily for the Patriots, their frontline pieces are already in place, which is a good thing. Trying to block Williams will be the difficult part of the whole equation.

Side note: The Jets really need to upgrade right tackle Wayne Hunter. That's the AFC East team that will fear the Bills the most.

Is Brandon Lloyd is the only wide receiver out there that's worth going after? If so, they need to try and trade someone for somebody. Chad Ochocinco's contract is going to screw the Patriots this year against the cap. –Greg (Boston)

I'll go out on a limb and assume you submitted this question after I wrote this, which spotlighted some of the Patriots' targets after the first day of free agency. At that point, Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston and Reggie Wayne had already signed, and Robert Meachem was being heavily pursued. Plus, Pierre Garcon didn't help the market by being a mediocre receiver who signed an insanely pricey contract.

So yeah, unless you wanted the Patriots to give Laurent Robinson $30-35 million after his first good season in five years, Lloyd was basically the only player who made sense with a contract that could match his actual value.

Ochocinco's base salary is $3 million in each of the next two seasons, and he has already hinted at a willingness to restructure his deal. If the Patriots don't rework it to something reasonable from their perspective, they'll cut him. So there's no need to get worked up about Ochocinco's cap hit.

How about safeties O.J. Atogwe or Melvin Bullitt? Surely, Bullitt could be a great backup considering Patrick Chung's injury history, and should be relatively cheap considering his own injuries the past two seasons, but if he can replicate his 2008 and 2009 seasons, he could be a great insurance policy. Your thoughts? –John

I think Otogwe would be a much better fit because he's a definite starter. He just happened to sign a contract with the Redskins in 2011 that made him easily expendable this offseason, so the Patriots should look into him as an option, particularly if things fall through with LaRon Landry.

But if the Patriots' offseason strategy is to accumulate as many live bodies as possible at safety, Bullitt could be an option. Steve Gregory has been the Patriots' first option at the position, but he's still somewhat of an unknown. He sounds like a really solid role player with starting potential. Expect the Patriots to add more players at the position this offseason, though.

Kansas City offered a restricted free agent tender to outside linebacker Jovan Belcher. Would he be a fit for the Pats? I know Belcher should be able to slide right into the defense since Romeo Crennel is the head coach in Kansas City. Also while we are on the subject of players and the salary cap, what are the chances of the Patriots locking up not only Wes Welker, but Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to long-term extensions? –Bob (Topeka, Kan.)

I like the creativity with Belcher, but he was offered a second-round tender — a lot for a backup linebacker, in my opinion — so the Patriots won't want to cough up a pick like that for him. Plus, he's only got one sack in three seasons, so the value doesn't come anywhere near the compensation.

As for the Patriots' contract situations, both in the present and future, I actually wrote a lot about that in last week's Two-Minute Drill, so check that out for a breakdown.

One thing to keep in mind: While I'm sure the Patriots would like to get ahead of the game and lock up Gronkowski and Hernandez before their contracts expire after the 2013 season, there's a big variable in play. The NFL's new television deals start in 2014, so the league's revenue is expected to skyrocket, and that will inflate the salary cap. Therefore, the Patriots will have enough money to retain them, but until the league has an estimation for future salary caps, it will be a gamble to dish out big-money deals without having a complete grasp of the situation.

The agents aren't stupid, either. They won't be quick to sign new contracts in 2013 when they know their clients can likely get much more money when their deals expire in the 2014 offseason. It will be a very interesting transition period for the league, that's for sure.

Does center really seem like a spot of great need with Dan Koppen and Dan Connelly being free agents? Thanks. –@Giguere4211, via Twitter

This question was submitted Thursday before Connolly reportedly re-signed with the Patriots, but the entire picture isn't completely clear just yet. Everyone is working on the assumption that right guard Brian Waters will return for the final year of his contract in 2012, but there hasn't been an official announcement about his potential decision to retire.

If Waters does indeed retire, the Patriots will need a center or guard, and they'd like to know as soon as possible while there are still some good players available in free agency. But Waters is a team guy through and through, so I'm sure the Patriots are very well-aware of his thought process.

Haven't heard of any offer sheets towards Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace. Could/would Patriots make first move if no one else does?

–@AustinMcCloud22, via Twitter

The Patriots are pretty well set in their ways and confident in their convictions, so their interest in Wallace would be self-imposed, not due to a perceived lack of interest elsewhere. The Patriots' internal debate is simple. If they believe Wallace is better than they can get with the 27th pick in the draft  — either at receiver or any position, really — then it makes sense for the Patriots to offer Wallace a contract. Otherwise, not so much.

I'm still recovering from the Super Bowl. Still have so many "what ifs." Here is an interesting "what if": What if the Pats played the Packers? Or the Saints? In retrospect, maybe that matchup would have been more favorable. Obviously, it's easy to say that knowing what happened, but hear me out. Our defense was not the same defense from the regular season. I think they could have held either team to 28 points, and I honestly think we could have scored at least that. Also, I don't think either the Saints or the Pack would have entered with as much confidence (or swagger, if you will), and I think that helped out the Giants a lot. Thanks.  –Griff (Boston)

OK, I'll play this game, but I disagree with just about everything you said, no offense. The one thing I do agree with is the Giants had as much confidence and swagger as any team in the NFL, and that's definitely one of their strengths. However, if the Packers or Saints got to the Super Bowl, believe me, there would have been plenty of confidence coming from their side of it, too.

Heading into the playoffs, the Packers and Saints were widely viewed as the league's two best teams, and they would have been sizeable favorites against the Patriots — maybe by about seven points. Plus, if the Packers got by the Giants, and the Saints got through the Niners, no one would have cared about the Patriots' improving defense because of what the Packers and Saints had already defeated.

I don't know if the following will make sense in writing, but it does in my own head (famous last words, I guess): The Giants were not a good matchup for the Patriots, but they were probably a better matchup than the Packers and Saints.

But at the end of the day, the Patriots still should have beaten the Giants. They just made too many mistakes to complete the job.

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.

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