It’s time for the final mailbag before free agency, which begins at 4 p.m. Tuesday, and there are plenty of questions about the Patriots’ potential targets. So let’s run through a jam-packed edition to get you primed for a fun week.
Thank you for all of your questions, and don’t forget to come back for next Friday’s mailbag.
With a full offseason, will the Patriots go back to a 3-4 or 4-3 look, or will the draft decide that for us? Thank you.
–@Giguere4211, via Twitter
That’s really one of the most important questions the Patriots face this offseason, but I’m not sure how they’ve approached it. Last offseason, the personnel additions really dictated the Patriots’ defensive front, and the 4-3 worked very well for them. However, Bill Belichick also said the decision to transition to a 4-3 had to do with the lockout cutting into the offseason program, which greatly diminished the teaching period that he believed was necessary for the 3-4.
Since defensive ends Andre Carter and Mark Anderson are free agents, Belichick could let them walk and then just reconstruct his 3-4 system with the personnel that is better suited for it. But again, I think the Patriots need to keep the 4-3 base intact due to its success. Of course, the available personnel will always factor into that decision.
What about Saints guard Carl Nicks and former Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior? Sure, Nicks would be expensive, and that is a lot of money locked up into the offensive line, but surely protecting Tom Brady and potentially extending his career is worth it. Also could Farrior be a good backup for inside linebacker? He knows the 3-4 system, and with the injury history of Brandon Spikes, having Farrior would be a great backup. Is it realistic?
I understand the sentiment about Nicks, but it sounds like he wants to be the highest-paid guard in the NFL, which means he’ll be looking for about $9-10 million annually to surpass Logan Mankins‘ average annual value of about $8.5 million per season. The Patriots would never be OK with that.
Plus, aside from Mankins, the Patriots have gotten by very well without using huge resources on interior linemen. Center Dan Koppen was a fifth-round pick, and Dan Connolly and Stephen Neal were undrafted. Brian Waters signed a two-year deal last year worth $2.9 million in base salaries, and it’s hard to believe Nicks would outplay Waters in 2012.
Farrior could be a decent option, but I’m not sure he’d be the right fit. The Patriots need an upgrade in coverage skills from their linebackers, aside from Jerod Mayo, who is pretty good in that area. One of the Steelers’ biggest issues with their defense has been the openings in the zone behind the inside linebackers, so I don’t think Farrior would be the right fit.
I think you keep Chad Ochocinco (and of course Wes Welker and Deion Branch) and get Randy Moss. That sets the offense. Then, concentrate primarily on defense in free agency. Look at both sides in the draft. I’ve seen what Chad is capable of doing, and we all know what Randy can bring. The primary focus should be immediate defensive help! (I know you don’t agree on Moss.)
–Bob (Lexington, Ky.)
Well, I appreciate that you’ve paid attention to my take on Moss. I really don’t want to get back into that because I’ve covered it a lot in the past month, but I do want to touch on two quick points. First, I agree that the Patriots should retain Deion Branch (and Wes Welker, obviously), but if they’re as aggressive at wide receiver this offseason as many believe they’ll be, Branch will be forced to make the team in camp.
On Chad Ochocinco, the notion that the Patriots want him to restructure his contract makes it sound like they’re hoping an offseason in the system will give him the opportunity to learn his route assignments. I’m not sure how possible that can really be, but I do think it’s telling because it shows the Patriots know Ochocinco still has his talent and his physical ability. The mental aspect is the ultimate factor for Ochocinco in New England, but if it doesn’t work with the Patriots, he might still be able to succeed in a simpler offense.
I think they should trade Johnson for a second- or third-round pick and get Reggie Wayne or Brandon Lloyd.
–Evan (Warren, Maine)
I’m going to assume you mean Ochocinco since the Patriots don’t have any other “Johnsons” on the roster. But the Pats have just as much of a chance to get a second- or third-rounder for Bethel Johnson or Charles Johnson as they do for Ochocinco. If the Patriots begin shopping Ochocinco, the league will realize they’re on the verge of releasing him, which would greatly diminish his value. They’d be lucky to get a sixth- or seventh-rounder for Ochocinco, but I don’t think he has any trade value.
Just a week or two ago, I thought Reggie Wayne should have been one of the Patriots’ top priorities, but it sounds like he wants to remain with Peyton Manning. Since the believed pursuers — Miami, Arizona, Denver and Seattle, among others — could also use Wayne, I’m believing more and more that the two are a lock as a package deal.
I’ll get to Brandon Lloyd later in the mailbag.
Jeff, the Patriots’ history at drafting wide receivers is not the best, to say the least. So they should stick to what they are good at, drafting linemen on both sides of the ball and looking for a reliable option at running back. That being said, wouldn’t it make sense for them to go strong after Mike Wallace and secure Wes Welker? As you stated before, it would weaken the Steelers, and at the same time, give Brady a major weapon for the rest of his career.
–Chris (Somers Point, N.J.)
Here’s a list of the nine wide receivers who have been drafted by the Patriots since Belichick arrived in 2000: Deion Branch (second round, 2002), David Givens (seventh round, 2002), Bethel Johnson (second round, 2003), P.K. Sam (fifth round, 2004), Chad Jackson (second round, 2006), Matthew Slater (fifth round, 2008), Brandon Tate (third round, 2009), Julian Edelman (seventh round, 2009) and Taylor Price (third round, 2010). I don’t need to analyze the list because you know how each player worked out.
I do believe the Patriots will address the defensive front in the draft, but their plan for the offensive line will be more defined once they get through the early stages of free agency. And after spending second- and third-round picks on running backs in 2011, I’d be surprised if they used an early pick on that position this year. They could still add a back in the draft — pending the future of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Kevin Faulk, of course — but I’d suspect it wouldn’t happen until the later rounds.
As for Mike Wallace, I’ve been much more critical of his game than most, but I also believe he could fill a need for the Patriots. If they believe that need is worth a first-round pick, I’d feel confident that they’re making the right decision. The other thing is the value of that pick. If the Patriots think Wallace could help them more than someone like Alshon Jeffery, Stephen Hill or Rueben Randle, among the other crop of receivers who are borderline first-rounders, then it’s worth getting aggressive for him.
And yes, it would make the Steelers worse, which is valuable, but I don’t think that would impact the Patriots’ decision as much as taking away from an AFC East opponent like the Jets.
All I heard was Brandon Lloyd saying he wants to go where Josh McDaniels is. What are the odds that happens?
–@Leach24, via Twitter
Yeah, Lloyd has definitely said that, but the odds are completely reliant upon the Patriots’ interest being reciprocal. If they want Lloyd, they can get him, and it’s that easy in my opinion. The snag is Lloyd is represented by agent Tom Condon, who hasn’t spoken to the Patriots since the Bush administration. If the Patriots contact Condon and Lloyd, it should work.
Lastly, here’s a note from my Feb. 17 mailbag, which details why I believe Lloyd should be very affordable for the Patriots. The point was to emphasize why he’d be a valuable fit for New England, but not so much anywhere else.
“Lloyd will be 31 in July and hasn’t had much success outside of his two very good runs with Josh McDaniels. Lloyd led the league in receiving yards in 2010 after seven seasons of blah with the 49ers, Redskins, Bears and one year in Denver. Then after a slow start in 2011, Lloyd found it again with McDaniels in St. Louis after a midseason trade. In 2010 and his St. Louis stint in 2011, Lloyd had 128 receptions, 2,131 yards and 16 touchdowns. The rest of his career, he’s amassed 183 catches, 2,653 yards and 15 touchdowns.”
Can Matt Light and Brian Waters still contribute to the Pats in 2012? If so, we don’t need to focus on the offensive line in the draft.
–@AJL14306, via Twitter
I definitely believe both can help the Patriots in 2012 based on their respective performances in 2011. They’re both under contract for one more season, but there are more layers than just that. There’s been some speculation Light won’t be back next season, either due to retirement or the Patriots’ decision to forge ahead with Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, with Marcus Cannon being the primary backup.
Waters could still retire, but I’m guessing he’ll return for one more run. From there, the Patriots will have to sign either Koppen, Connolly or one of several solid free agents to start at center. The Patriots might draft for depth, but I wouldn’t expect it to happen until much later. They’re very confident in Dante Scarnecchia‘s ability to coach up his offensive linemen.
Where do you see Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill going? Some people have him going in the first round. Should the Patriots consider taking him with the 27th pick or the later first rounder? Thanks!
I had Hill going 26th to the Texans in Thursday’s mock draft, and I think he could be as high as the third receiver taken after Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd. Hill will still have some competition with Kendall Wright, Alshon Jeffery, Mohamed Sanu and Rueben Randle for that perch.
Hill apparently blew the doors off Lucas Oil Stadium at the combine, and that’s where the hype started. However, he only caught 28 passes as a junior in 2011, and he had 49 total receptions in his collegiate career. I think it’s also dangerous to believe Hill can be a star just because former Yellow Jackets Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas have done it.
I think the Patriots should consider Hill, but I’d be wary of him. The hype, due to his combine workout, looks almost too good to be true when considering his statistical output in college.
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.