There were more questions than I knew what to do with for this week's mailbag, so I want to thank everyone who submitted one. In reality, I could have used 20-30 of them, and the readers deserve a pat on the back for that.
Let's get it going.
Hi Jeff, when are the Patriots planning to sign their draft picks? Do you know if they are any closer?
— @hhRafael24, via Twitter
To my knowledge, as of this writing, none of the picks have been signed. Yet, as one source said, "These things take minutes now." Granted, that was an oversimplification, but with the new CBA and the structured rookie contracts, they are much easier to address nowadays.
The other thing is there's still not a ton of urgency. The rookies don't need to be signed in time to attend this weekend's rookie camp. Typically, they'll sign an injury waiver, and the team will negotiate the contract in good faith if the player suffers an injury during rookie camp.
While I appreciate your enthusiasm for Matt Light into the Hall of Fame, keep in mind that Leon Gray is not in the Hall of Fame. If John Hannah says Leon Gray should be in the Hall of Fame, I believe him. Matt Light was a solid and, at times, average left tackle. Not Hall of Fame material. And Mike Vrabel is not Hall of Fame material either. You are too young. You only see the Pats as a fan. Wake up.
–Anonymous (Brookline, Mass.)
OK, where to begin. First, I should clarify to the readers that the questioner was referencing this week's Two-Minute Drill, which I used to lay out Light's best case to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I also never wrote that Light is a Hall of Famer, so let's stop jumping to conclusions.
And another thing: I strongly believe if Light was being considered for the Hall of Fame, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick would vouch for him, either publicly or to the committee, and I wrote that in my story. So, if Hannah's words are good enough for you, I'm pretty sure I can assume Brady and Belichick would carry similar weight.
As for Vrabel, I said he would be a Patriots Hall of Famer, not a Pro Football Hall of Famer. He was an integral piece of the defense for three Super Bowls and was said to know the playbook better than anyone on the team. And he caught go-ahead touchdown passes in consecutive Super Bowls. Vrabel might not get into the Patriots' Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility, but he's getting in.
Brain Waters: yay or nay he plays this season?
— @NESuperFan, via Twitter
Waters will play. He hasn't been at the workouts because he really likes staying close to his family during the offseason, which is a normal routine for him. But unless there's a serious change of heart, he'll be back.
Which undrafted free agents should we look out for? Belichick seems to find places for these guys.
— @Fusi2315, via Twitter
Yeah, you can probably count on one of them making the team, though this year will be difficult because it's an extremely deep roster. I can't answer the question now because I need to see them in action with the rest of the team. I'd like to think I'll have an answer for you by the conclusion of minicamp in June, but you really get a feel for the undrafted players by the end of the first week of training camp.
Do the Pats look to trade Brian Hoyer during camp?
— @DavidBird1717, via Twitter
I don't think they'll actively try to trade him unless they see that Ryan Mallett is truly ready for the backup role. If that's the case, it makes sense for the Patriots to see what they can get for Hoyer before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
That equation will change if another team loses its quarterback during training camp and gets desperate to make a trade this summer. If that happens and the Patriots can take advantage of a seller's market, they'd be more inclined to take a gamble on Mallett being ready for the backup job.
Who do you think will pick up where BenJarvus Green-Ellis left off? Stevan Ridley? Danny Woodhead?
— @jack_sheridan7, via Twitter
I think it's Ridley's job to take the responsibilities between the tackles, but the offense will be role-specific for the running backs. I think Shane Vereen could get more opportunities to carry the ball than we realize at this point, too. For more on this, check out my Two-Minute Drill.
Two-part question: Which wide receiver will have the most catches, and which running back will have the most carries in the 2012 season? No, wrong answer here.
— @DietrichDeeds, via Twitter
Well, it's only wrong if I get it wrong, right? My prediction is Wes Welker reports on time and leads the team in receptions for the sixth consecutive season, and Ridley has a strong second season to lead the team in carries.
What is the team doing about Welker's contract? If the team doesn't sign Kevin Faulk to play, will they sign him to coach?
— @PabsFromEverett, via Twitter
I'm under the impression there hasn't been any progress made this week with Welker, and I'm not exactly sure when things are going to pick up. As I said in the previous question, though, I believe things will be resolved.
Good question on Faulk. He wants to play, but I'm guessing Belichick will want to gauge Faulk's progress with his knee. Remember, Faulk suffered another knee injury during last season's Steelers game, so it hasn't been a perfectly clean recovery.
Faulk definitely wants to coach, and I believe he's got some interest in doing it in the NFL. It would definitely be a good match, even if he's assigned the general role of a coaching assistant. I just wonder if the timing is right. Should it happen this year? Next year? Five years from now? I don't know, but I'm sure Faulk would love to further his coaching career by serving under Belichick for as long as possible.
Why hasn't Jermaine Cunningham been productive?
— @scottchop, via Twitter
The answer depends on your perspective. I thought he had a good rookie season, even though he wasn't a big pass rusher. Cunningham was very solid at setting the edge, which was important in 2010, and there was some potential there.
As for last season, well, I wonder how much of it had to do with the lockout. I wrote a few weeks ago how Kyle Love was the only second-year defensive player who got off to a good start in 2011, so I believe there's something to that theory. (Brandon Spikes was terrific when he returned from injury, but he got off to a rough start.) Then, Cunningham had the injury that derailed the rest of his season.
I'm not sure if Cunningham is a 10-sack player, and I don't know if the Patriots ever envisioned him in that way, either. But he could still be a strong player on the edge if he can stay healthy.
Why would the Pats sign another tight end given their depth at that position?
— @jimmy0917, via Twitter
I answered that exact question right here.
Jeff, I'm thinking the AFC East might be the toughest division in football. I have it going: New England, Buffalo, New York and Miami. How about you?
–@xraymission, via Twitter
Great question. I think it's a tossup between the Jets and the Bills, though I'll give the Jets the slightest edge because they've proven an ability to win games late in the season, whereas the Bills have faded after hot starts in recent years. Obviously, the Patriots are in their own class right now, and the Dolphins have low expectations for 2012.
I'd say the four best divisions in the NFL are the AFC East, the AFC North, the NFC North and the NFC East, though the latter is contingent on more "ifs" than the first three. The NFC North might have the best division with the Packers, Lions and Bears, who were very good last season before a horrific string of injuries. And in the AFC North, I think the Steelers have tailed off a bit while the Bengals are still on the rise, but those two should have a small edge on the Jets and Bills given the way 2011 played out.
So, after talking my way through this, I'd say the NFC North looks like the strongest division, followed by the AFC North and AFC East.
In terms of talent and depth, is this year's roster better than 2007?
— @BrockOgami, via Twitter
Wow, good question. I'll say this: If you can find a deeper roster than the one in New England, I'd like to see it. The Patriots are stacked from top to bottom.
But they're not better than 2007. The reason I'm comfortable saying that is the 2007 Patriots still had Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Vrabel and Asante Samuel on defense. If the younger players on New England's current roster reach their potential in 2012, there might be comparable talent, but until I see that, I don't think it would be right to compare the two.
How much better will this secondary be assuming the pass rush will not be that much better than 2012? No Mark Anderson and no Andre Carter.
— @matthewfjensen, via Twitter
Don't rule out Carter just yet. But the Patriots should feel optimistic about their secondary because there's a lot of promise. They have to believe Devin McCourty will return to form, and things will be much improved if Patrick Chung and Ras-I Dowling stay healthy. So yeah, the secondary should be better, no doubt.