And because of that, we've got a jam-packed mailbag here. The Patriots have a chance to be aggressive during the offseason, and let's roll through a number of their options.
Is Mike Wallace a logical option for the Patriots?
–@GriffinMorrow, via Twitter
Oh, absolutely. Since the Steelers reportedly won't franchise Wallace — which makes sense because they're hurting to restructure a bunch of contracts right now — they'll tender him as a restricted free agent with first-round protection. The debate for the Patriots is simple: If they're planning to address the wide receiver position early in the draft, is Wallace better than what they can get at the end of the first round?
If they believe he is, then it makes sense to pry him from Pittsburgh. But if they're confident in the draft class or the rest of the free agents, they'll hold back and see what they can get in April. The good thing is we'll have that answer in a couple weeks.
What about the Patriots solving the deep-threat problem through trading for someone like Kenny Britt or Mike Williams from Tampa Bay? What would that cost? Would it be cheaper than spending a first-rounder potentially on Mike Wallace?
It's an interesting thought, but I don't think either player would be an ideal fit. Britt has an insane amount of talent, but he's a loose cannon off the field. Obviously, Bill Belichick hasn't had a problem taking chances on players with character concerns, but I don't know if the Titans would be overly receptive to trading Britt because they've got to make life as easy as possible for quarterback Jake Locker. Because of that, the Titans would probably ask for more than necessary to part ways with Britt, and it might require a second-round pick.
The Bucs would probably be more willing to trade Williams because he reportedly partied too much last season and didn't spend enough time in the weight room, which caused him to struggle with press coverage later in the year. (Click here for a link to the report, though it should be credited to WalterFootball.com, which didn't have a direct link to the story.) The problem is the character concerns date back to at least his days at Syracuse, and that led to him falling to the fourth round in 2010. Because Williams also had a poor statistical season in 2011, his value shouldn't be high. He can probably be had for a third- or fourth-rounder.
If the Pats lose Wes Welker, would Hines Ward be a cheaper alternative for them?
–@Bobalu10, via Twitter
Cheaper, yes, but it wouldn't be the solution. I wrote about this in February, so you can check that out for my full opinion. The gist of it is I like Ward as a player, but I don't think it makes much sense for the Patriots at this point. They need to upgrade the position, and the best way to do that is by keeping Welker and then signing or drafting one of the upper-echelon receivers on the market.
Do you think the Patriots will pick Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick if he falls in the draft?
–@Fidelgabriel, via Twitter
I don't know if they will, but I definitely believe he'd be on the Patriots' short list because, first, he's a really good player, and second Kirkpatrick has played for Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who is obviously close with Bill Belichick.
I just don't see Kirkpatrick falling to No. 27 unless there's an unforeseen red flag on the horizon. I could see him going as high as No. 10 to the Bills, but I'd be surprised if he fell past the Lions at No. 23. I've had Kirkpatrick going 14th to the Cowboys in both of my mock drafts, and I could also see him getting taken by the Seahawks (No. 12), Cardinals (No. 13), Bengals (Nos. 17 and 21), Chargers (No. 18), Steelers (No. 24) and Broncos (No. 25). Some of those teams have more pressing needs than a cornerback, but since Kirkpatrick looks like one of the three best corners in the draft class, he could get taken anywhere.
When the Pats use the 27th overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, do you expect them to use it on offense or defense?
–@celticsfan2584, via Twitter
It really depends how the Patriots view the class of receivers and which ones are still on the board at that point. If they think Alshon Jeffery is a steal at that point — and he really might be — then sure, that could be a possibility. More realistically, due to the fact that there will be a lot of front-seven talent on the board at that point, I'd say there's a much higher probability that they take a defensive player first.
Here's the wrinkle: Let's say the Patriots' top-rated remaining wide receiver has a grade of 7.5 out of 10, and the next crop of receivers are graded between 6-6.5. Let's also say there are five players in the front-seven with a grade of 7.5 and five more with a grade of 7.0. By that logic, the Patriots might be more inclined to take the wide receiver at No. 27 and take their chances on a front-seven player at No. 31 (or even later if they trade down). That's the value philosophy.
I agree on James Sanders being a former Patriot, but I liked Brandon Meriweather during his time here. LaRon Landry would be my first pick in free agency and then Tom Zbikowski, but do you think they will go to the draft or free agency to get a safety to pair with Patrick Chung?
–Evan (Warren, Maine)
This was in reference to my free agency primer on the safeties, which ran earlier in the week. I really liked Meriweather's potential — more than most people — in 2009, but he was far too erratic in 2010 and might have actually regressed during training camp in 2011. The talent is there, but it hasn't fully materialized.
I think the Patriots should try to be aggressive in free agency, but one of their potential targets was taken off the market Thursday when the Raiders reportedly informed Tyvon Branch that he'd receive the franchise tag. That means Michael Griffin is clearly at the head of the class among the free-agent safeties, though Landry would be a great option if he can stay healthy, which is a legitimate concern.
The draft class is extremely thin at the position, too. Alabama's Mark Barron will be the only safety to go in the first round, and there might not be another safety with as much as a second-round grade. Barron could conceivably slip to the Patriots, but the odds appear to be very much against that.
Hi Jeff, can you tell me what the problem was with Chad Ochocinco getting on the field? I thought he was supposed to be a top-tier receiver and was happy when the Pats got him. Why was he such a bust? Thanks.
–Steve Cramer (Los Angeles)
I was told as early as training camp that Ochocinco couldn't get a grasp of the playbook, which was much more complicated than Cincinnati's system. Basically, in Cincinnati, the play would call for Ochocinco to run a specific route, and that's what he did regardless of the coverage. But with the Patriots, the play call would be far more complex, and receivers are expected to alter their routes once they recognize the coverage. ("Is the cornerback in man or zone? Is he leveraging me to the inside? Is the safety double-teaming me? Is the outside linebacker blitzing, picking up the running back or shading me in a zone?" And so on and so forth.) All the while, the receivers have to think the exact same thing as Tom Brady to make it work.
So, when you hear someone say Brady doesn't trust so-and-so to be in the right place, that's what it means. After a number of plays last season, Brady gestured to Ochocinco to let him know how he should have reacted to the coverage. And that's why Ochocinco couldn't stay on the field with any level of consistency over the course of the season.
Roughly where do you see Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe going in the draft? Top 10? Many early mock drafts had him falling to the Pats at No. 27. Obviously, that won't happen now, but do you think it would be worth it for Bill Belichick to do something crazy and trade up to draft him? What would that cost? Poe and Vince Wilfork would be scary.
Poe is a very interesting case because he had one of the most eye-opening workouts in recent combine history, but his game tape is inconsistent. He could have been one of the most dominant players in college football, but the effort wasn't always there. He'll have to answer for that in the coming months during more in-depth interviews with NFL coaches and scouts. If he's impressive enough — and he only needs to impress the right team — he could be the first defensive tackle taken in the draft, which would put him in the top 10.
Otherwise, he could really go anywhere. I've got him going to the Broncos at No. 25 in my most recent mock draft because of the inconsistency issue, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to see him go in the top 10. If the Patriots traded up that far, it would take two first-round picks, a second-round pick and one or two picks in the later rounds. I went really in-depth about the new trade dynamic a couple weeks ago, so check that out for a complete breakdown of why it would cost so much for the Patriots to move up.
What exactly is Rob Gronkowski's injury? I'm curious as to why a high ankle sprain would require surgery.
–AJ (North Hampton, N.H.)
Well, a sprain means there's a slight tear in the ligaments, and severe cases require surgery to repair the issue. Since high ankle sprains can really linger if not treated properly, it wasn't surprising that it needed surgery. Gronkowski was vague about his recovery process last week, but it might eat into his ability to run through offseason camps when they start in mid-April.