Let’s do this. .
To Restructure or Not to Restructure
Let’s start things up with a bit of a bummer. Believe it or not, there’s a danger that Vince Wilfork, team captain and heart of the Patriots defense, may not be in a New England uniform next season.
The Patriots have been reportedly discussing restructuring the 33-year old nose tackle’s contract, one that would have an $11.6 mil cap hit this year. That’s obviously a big hit especially for a player entering the third act of his NFL career, and whom the team can’t be certain will ever return to his All-Pro level after a season-ending injury to his Achilles tendon.
Now, on the flip side, it’s hard to imagine Wilfork being super-thrilled to restructure a contract he fought hard for, even if he is one of the most popular players, not just on the current team, but in Patriots history. Talks will probably go on for a while, and there have already been rumblings that Wilfork may be cut by the team should no agreement be found.
Here’s why Wilfork won’t be cut.
Can you really imagine Bob Kraft okay-ing the release?
I don’t care how cutthroat this league is. Yes, there’s been precedent: Richard Seymour was somewhat shockingly traded after contract issues, and, of course, Wes Welker wasn’t resigned last season.
But they weren’t Vince Wilfork, who may be the third face of the franchise after Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. He’s played tremendously over his ten-year career in New England on the field, and is a huge locker-room presence and team voice. Unlike the prickly Welker or permanently disgruntled Seymour, Wilfork is pretty much universally beloved by the team and its fans.
I’m confident a compromise will be met either way, and we’ll see Wilfork manning the middle again next year.
Getting the Gang Back Together
I’ve trained myself to completely ignore the reports of teams reaching out to their free agents, and “making a push” to resign their player, because it’s usually just PR and trying to ascertain the market, etc.
But I’ll admit I’ve been frantically checking for updates on the situations surrounding Aqib Talib and Julian Edelman.
Why? You could argue that they were the two most integral members of their respective units past season. Edelman came out of nowhere to put up one of the better receiving years in Patriots history, and hushed all the whispers that he would never succeed outside the slot because of his lack of size. There are plenty of detractors saying that Edelman’s success was entirely due to the system he played in. But Edelman’s value not just as a receiver, but a punt returner, as well has his tremendous locker-room reputation, will make him a hot commodity in a class of uncertain WR options (Hakeem Nicks? Sidney Rice?? Kenny Britt???).
Aqib Talib is just as, if not more, crucial a re-signing for the Patriots. There was a more than evident dropoff in performance when he was on and off the field. Game after game, he relished taking the opposing team’s top wideout out of the equation, and if he ever had the reputation of being a locker-room problem before, he certainly pulled a 180 with the Pats. The knock on Talib is his health, which has been admittedly spotty. But on the field, Talib is a top corner in the league.
So do the Pats have a good chance at retaining both players? Eh, maybe.
The Patriots’ cap situation isn’t exactly great. Both players are coming off of one-year “prove it” deals, proved themselves more than adequately, and are now looking for a big payday. Brent Grimes was already paid a 4-year, #32 mil contract (insane), and you better bet that Talib wants to be paid more than Brent Grimes.
I do think that the Patriots will do their damndest do bring both back (and I hope that they’re Priority no. 1 this offseason), and certainly one of the two will be playing in a New England uniform.
Speaking Of Cornerbacks, the Jets released Pro-Bowl CB Antonio Cromartie. Will he end up in New England?
Crossing Every Finger
I like Ryan Mallett a lot. We haven’t exactly seen much of the 25-year old on the field, but he’s a big, strong armed QB, who was a steal in the 2011 draft even before he had three seasons of learning under Tom Brady. He’s been a solid backup who you always thought, well it wouldn’t be a disaster if he had to fill in for a quarter.
But if the reported interest by the Houston Texas in drafting Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 pick and then trading for Ryan Mallett is true, then I am taking that trade in a heartbeat and popping champagne to Kool and the Gang.
Ryan Mallett was drafted for two reasons: 1) To fill in should there be an emergency and 2) to build up value to be traded. He hasn’t had much of a chance to show his stuff, but new Texans coach Bill O’Brien like big, sturdy quarterbacks in his systems, and know Mallett from his time as the Pats’ OC (and obviously was part of the process in drafting him). If it means taking Clowney instead of one of the three somewhat under-whelming “elite” quarterbacks at the top of the draft, I can see the rationale behind the thought.
But what could the Patriots expect for Mallett? Obviously, the prize jewel would be that 2nd round pick, which is basically another first round pick, even if it meant sending a fourth round pick along with Mallett for it.
More likely would be the Texans 3rd round pick, which has tremendous value in its own right. In a deep draft, especially at the three positions of definite need for the Pats, they could still catch a potential starter at that point of the draft, and even use it as a trade chip to move back into the second round. I’m getting giddy just thinking about it.
Of course, most teams have learned not to trade with the Patriots at this point, so the chances are probably slim. But whatever, it’s fun to dream.
Set In Stone?
Mock drafts, especially surrounding the Patriots, are a fickle affair. Everyone has their personal preferences, and no one expert has a perfect idea of what each individual team’s internal discussions surrounding prospects are. Add in draft-day trades, and at this point in the game it’s a little bit like throwing darts in the dark.
That being said, it’s kinda eerie about how consistent Patriots’ mock drafts seem to be. Not just that experts are agreeing on the same two positions (defensive tackle and tight end), but that they’re agreeing on the same three prospects.
Go take a look at all the big mock draft sites. There’s a huge chance that the name you’ll see next to “New England Patriots” is either: Jace Amaro (TE, Texas Tech), Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota), Louis Nix III (DT, Notre Dame)
It makes sense. All three players fill a definite need. But if this is actually the three prospects at the top of the Patriots draft board, should they spend the #29 pick on any of them?
I like Jace Amaro a lot, and he’s not a bad fit for the Patriots. He’s a big body with pretty good hands, who has the quickness to separate in the middle of the field from linebackers. His blocking deficiencies would be hidden a bit by playing across from Rob Gronkowski, and his Combine results were promising. But should New England spend a first round pick on someone who’s almost certainly not an every-down player? Because let’s be honest, Jace Amaro is no Aaron Hernandez in the open field: he’s not going to make defenders miss, and he’s not nearly as good a blocker. The distance between Amaro and Eric Ebron (who would, in fact, be the perfect fit for the Patriots) is a lot greater than Amaro and Austin Seferian Jenkins or Troy Niklas, and it might be better to wait for one of those two prospects. Or to put it another way, I’d take Amaro in the early second round in a heartbeat, should the Patriots trade up or down out of their current spots. There’s a chance that Amaro is an animal in his pro day, but as of now, I’m a little shaky on him.
If you’re taking Ra’Shede Hageman, you are betting on his upside, which, to be fair, is ridiculously high. At 6-6, 320, Hageman is physically imposing as all hell, with a JJ Watt’s frame and physical tools. He’s got the potential to play in different parts of the Patriots scheme. To cap it off, if you YouTube “Ra’Shede Hageman highlights”, you will immediately fall in love with his power and athleticism. But what you aren’t seeing are the long stretches of games where he completely disappears, something that’s glaring off of his game tape. As a player who played less than 60 percent of defensive snaps at Minnesota, that’s pretty inexcusable, and a huge red flag for a potential first-round prospect. I do think that with the right culture he could flourish, and the Patriots are definitely that culture, but it’s still an “if.”
Personally, I’ll take a sure thing over upside any day. And Louis Nix III doesn’t have a ton of upside. But if you’re looking for a run-stuffer in this draft (and New England certainly is) Nix is an instant starter. The Notre Dame product is massive, and any team would be happy to have him as 3-4 nose tackle. But put him in a 4-3 next to Vince Wilfork? Is anyone running up the middle against them? He’s also a much better pass-rusher than advertised, and is a super high character guy (his nickname was Irish Chocolate. I mean, c’mon.). The major downside seems to be that he struggles against double-teams, but if Nix is absorbing double-teams at the pro level with Wilfork, Chandler Jones, and Rob Ninkovich on the line, isn’t that a win-win? Add in his potential to be Wilfork’s successor should the Patriots shift back to a 3-4, and Nix is my favorite of the three, to be sure. He’s the least likely of the three to be available, but he’s also, by far, the best fit.
Are there any prospects outside of those three that should be as-talked about? Sure. Timmy Jernigan might somehow fall to #29, and while he’s a bit smaller than Nix, he does have a ton of burst to get to the quarterback. Aaron Donald will almost certainly be picked long before the Pats’ pick and he’s not a great fit for what the Patriots need, but it’s hard not to fall in love with his style of play. Mike Evans would be a great fit for the team, possibly as a WR/TE hybrid type. Calvin Pryor, the safety out of Louisville, may be my favorite player in the draft, and would be killer next to Devin McCourty. And it’s possible that Bill Belichick falls in love with Xavier Su’a-Filo out of UCLA or David Yankey out of Stanford, and ignores their 2nd-round labels. And of course, the most likely option is that the Patriots won’t be picking at the #29 pick.
Which is all to say, don’t put too much thought into the universal agreement in whom the Patriots will take in May, because it’s still way early in the game.
That being said, be sure to check out my third Patriots mock draft next week (here’s one and two), and keep sending me stuff at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @isportspeters for all stuff Patriots, Red Sox, or Celtics.
Also, if you’ve been using Fanspeak’s Draft Simulator (and you definitely should be) send me your favorite results, and I’ll publish the three most interesting drafts in an article next week!