As such, this is one of the most jam-packed mailbags I've ever had, and we'll hit on most of those issues. Yeah, it centers around the Patriots, but the Saints' scandal kicks it off.
Can you talk about Spygate versus Bountygate? Why were the penalties so different? Does it come down to the crackdown on safety? Did the Saints' attempt to cover it up have anything to do with it? Didn't the Patriots cover it up?
–@AvkarSiv, via Twitter
First, let's break down the sanctions, just to put them alongside each other.
Here's what the Saints are facing for the bounty system:
-Saints receive $500,000 fine.
-Saints forfeit second-round draft pick in 2012 and 2013.
-Head coach Sean Payton suspended without pay (loss of reported $7.5 million salary in 2012) from April 1 through conclusion of 2012 season.
-General manager Mickey Loomis suspended without pay for first eight regular-season games in 2012.
-Assistant head coach Joe Vitt suspended without pay for first six regular-season games in 2012.
-Former Saints (and current Rams) defensive coordinator Gregg Williams suspended indefinitely through at least the 2012 season.
-Player sanctions pending.
Here's what the Patriots received for their Spygate sanctions:
–Bill Belichick was fined $500,000.
-Patriots were fined $250,000.
-Patriots forfeited first-round draft pick in 2008.
So, yeah, in terms of quantity, the two sets of sanctions aren't even comparable, but I think it's unfair to say one scandal was worse than the other, regardless of which way you're swayed. I think they're just different.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has made such an effort to increase player safety, so he couldn't afford to look like a hypocrite by letting the Saints' bounty system slide. And as you know with all of the lawsuits against the league from former players, who claimed they weren't protected well enough from injuries and the game's level of violence, Goodell couldn't portray the notion that he isn't protecting the current players.
But really, it's about the product on the field. Injuries happen in plenty of forms, but players can't be making conscious decisions to injure their counterparts. The wrong injury can sway a game — or worse, a season. And Goodell determined the Saints' behavior was "clearly out of control," which is a harsh statement.
As for the cover-up, Goodell said the Saints lied to the NFL during its investigation in 2010. When the league found legitimate evidence of a bounty system late in the 2011 season, it confronted the Saints, who eventually complied. That's not just a lie or two. That was the Saints derailing an investigation for at least a year — and maybe nearly two years, but the exact timetable was vague — and Goodell noted that played a role in the fines.
I don't think the Patriots lied about anything. Remember, Goodell forced the them to turn over all of their tapes, and if they didn't, they risked further punishment. Goodell then came out and said the Patriots cooperated appropriately.
So again, without me saying that one incident was worse than the other, I've at least tried to explain why the Saints were hit so harshly, and Goodell was able to send a viciously strong message with each instance.
Is the NFL's delay of bounty fines for players on hold really because they fear that problems will occur with the NFLPA?
–@MonotoneofBill, via Twitter
Goodell said he wanted to handle the organizational matters first, which makes sense because it gives the Saints (and Rams, who must now find a new defensive coordinator) some time to pick up the pieces and figure out how to move forward. He also said the players' sanctions will come down once the NFLPA wraps up its own investigation and interviews with players. Because of the magnitude of the violation, it makes sense for Goodell to stay on the same page as the NFLPA as much as possible.
Can we trust our running game as is without the BenJarvus Green-Ellis?
–@AJL14306, via Twitter
It's a good question because ball security is so important, particularly for someone who harps on it as much as Belichick. But here's the thing: The Patriots identified a price they were willing to pay for Green-Ellis, and it looks like they let him test the market pretty easily. Even though they spent second- and third-round picks on running backs last year, if Belichick didn't trust Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley, believe me, he wouldn't care how much they cost in the draft.
Belichick has long since developed a reputation for not overpaying anyone, but he loves Green-Ellis. If Belichick wasn't comfortable with Vereen, Ridley and Danny Woodhead, he would have kept Green-Ellis.
Who will the Pats pursue as a replacement for Green-Ellis? Obviously, they must have faith in Ridley and Vereen, but will the Pats look?
–@Dhog4, via Twitter
I think it makes the most sense to roll with Ridley, Vereen and Woodhead — and Kevin Faulk, if he returns. Clearly, the Patriots' offense doesn't revolve around the running game, so they don't need a No. 1 guy. And with the way the league is trending, that's not even a bad thing anymore.
But if the Patriots look to address the position in free agency, here are some players who are still available: Kevin Smith, Ryan Grant, Tim Hightower, Cedric Benson, Brandon Jacobs, Justin Forsett, LaDainian Tomlinson, Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle. There really aren't any intriguing names on that list except the last one. Belichick compared Battle to Peyton Hillis, so keep an eye on him. Plus, the rest of the names on that list have been No. 1 backs at some point in their career, so they might not love the idea of the Patriots' role-specific system.
Jeff, would Brandon Jacobs be a good option for the Pats? Do you think there is any interest? Can we afford him?
–John Kroehler (Manchester, N.H.)
Jacobs has the most potential of all the players I just mentioned, but he's also a very moody player. Jacobs doesn't discriminate with his outbursts, either. He'll flip on the field, behind the scenes and in front of the media. Otherwise, someone with his talent shouldn't have a difficult time finding a new team.
Is it possible the Patriots will go after wide receiver Mike Wallace?
–C. Lefebvre (Prescott, Ariz.)
Sure, it's possible, but at this point in the process, it no longer seems practical for two reasons. First, the Patriots currently have 10 wide receivers on the roster, and some good players are going to get cut. I don't think the Patriots would have added this many pieces if they also intended on targeting Wallace. And who knows, maybe they looked into Wallace first and then decided it wouldn't work, which led them to the point where they're currently standing.
The second reason is Wallace reportedly told the 49ers he wants more money than Larry Fitzgerald, who signed an eight-year, $120 million deal. Fitzgerald is a terrific player, but I don't even think he's worth that, let alone Wallace. Not only that, but any team that signs Wallace has to cough up a first-round pick since he's a restricted free agent. You know how you've got to crawl before you can walk? Well, Wallace just added a step in the middle of that by trying to hijack a spaceship.
Hey man, who do you see the Pats targeting with their first four picks? Defense over offense? Best player available? Trade down?
–@bostonsboy87, via Twitter
With the amount of depth the Patriots have accumulated in free agency, they've set themselves up to a point where they won't have to reach for any particular position, maybe other than safety. That, of course, leads to taking the best player available. However, I do think they'll lean toward defense early in the draft, aside from potentially drafting a wide receiver in one of the first two rounds.
How is Andre Carter's rehab going?
It's difficult to get answers with that one. He was still on crutches at the tail end of the Patriots' season, although that was about two months ago now. The answer you're probably looking for is that I believe Carter will be on the roster as long as he's healthy enough to contribute.
Any thoughts on if they have something in store for the money they saved by restructuring Tom Brady's contract?
–@Greggnix, via Twitter
Robert Kraft said Thursday the idea was to build quality depth, and Brady restructured the contract last week. Since then, they've signed at least 12 free agents from outside the organization, so that's clearly been the focus. But while I'm sure Brady appreciates the depth, my guess is he told the Patriots to get working on Wes Welker.
Maybe there's something bigger on the horizon after all. I've already speculated about possible trades for Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney and Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, but other than that, I'm not completely sure what they've got in store.
Could it be possible if the Pats grabbed Tim Tebow that they convert him into a running back? Is that too crazy of a thought?
–Jai (Sault Ste Marie, Canada)
This was submitted before Tebow was traded to the Jets, but I wanted to echo a point I made earlier in the week. While I could have seen the Patriots finding an H-back role for Tebow, I wondered about one thing. Belichick has so much respect for Tebow, and with that, I'm not sure if he would want to stunt Tebow's development as a quarterback by lining him up all over the map. Tebow is a great team player and all, but he just won a playoff game after reviving a team when its season was going in the tank, so he should have enough confidence in himself to believe he can play quarterback somewhere. That's my theory on the matter anyway.
How about trading Chad Ochocinco rather than releasing him?
–Paul Guidi (Indian Wells, Calif.)
Because he doesn't have any trade value.
Where do I buy a new jersey with Tebow's new team, and how do I return last's year's? I am certain if Denver does not want him, they surely would want to refund my money for last year's jersey so I can buy a new one.
–Pat Garcia (Columbia, Mo.)
Well, Cleveland Cavs fans have some interesting ideas on how to handle jerseys they won't wear anymore. Maybe you can track one of them down.
Who was the most improved Patriots cheerleader this past season, and why?
–@NESNJBeattie, via Twitter
I'll go with you. You made a transition from salty to sprightly over the course of the winter.
Is the Pats' defense better than we thought? It seems that we made big plays and had great chemistry toward the end of the year. Also, what do you think of "The Office" without me?
The defense definitely made strides with linebacker Brandon Spikes and safety Patrick Chung both healthy and in the lineup. It's still a young group, and they should benefit from a full offseason at the facility. The numbers say they had the second worst passing defense in NFL history, so that's not exactly ideal. But I expect them to play better in 2012, and an improved Devin McCourty would go a long way toward that. Remember, with the previous point, McCourty has never gone through a normal offseason in the NFL.
As for The Office, yeah, it's not as good. But new episodes are always better than no episodes.