Welcome to another season of Patriots Game Day here on BSMW. Our past editions have focused mainly on the actual games, as we prided ourselves on getting game stories out to the public before the newspaper hit the stands the following morning. This year we hope to continue that and add to our coverage here.

Instead of having one person do previews and reviews here on the blog, we’re going to split up the post among three and perhaps four people. We’re going to add midweek discussions on the Patriots, offer analysis of how things are going, and hopefully bring you some statistical analysis that you haven’t seen before. We’re going to have roundtable discussions on the state of the club, and get into the local media coverage a little more as well.

We hope that all of this will result in a resource that Patriots fans will enjoy and benefit from. We hope to fill in the holes that we see in the local coverage and target the subjects that fans really are concerned about. We welcome your feedback and suggestions for topics that we should address here on the blog.

Football is back! Enjoy the season…

To kick things off, we decided to address a few of the issues that seem to be on the mind of Patriots fans heading into camp. Rather than wailing and moaning over free agent losses as the media seems wont to do, we try to tell you the reasons behind those losses and who might step up into their places. Instead of trying to stir up controversy by imagining that Tom Brady isn’t throwing as hard as he did last training camp, we’re looking at the reasons why the Patriots make the decisions that they do.

So without further ado, here are some of the issues we think are on the minds of the fans, and our thoughts on them:

The reasons why the Patriots didn’t make a bigger push for Ty Law.

Bruce: It seems pretty obvious that they just didn’t feel he was a significant enough upgrade for the money to make it worth their while to sign him. It says a lot about the Patriots that they had the available money this year to sign Ty and still chose to pass on what he and his agents were demanding.

I’ve heard a lot of talk in the media about the importance of a “shutdown” corner, and how this team isn’t going to the Super Bowl without one. In the past, the Patriots have made it clear that if the rest of the defense, specifically the front seven, are strong, then the shutdown corner isn’t as important. This was demonstrated in the 2004 playoffs.

Scott: Why didn’t they make a bigger push? The other day, Mike Reiss reported that Ty could make as much as $8 million this year simply by making it through Kansas City’s training camp. That ought to answer the question.

I like Ty Law. I’m sure that Ty is a better corner right now than anyone on the Patriots roster, but what I don’t know is how much difference it would make to the end result. Would it be an $8 million difference?

I also don’t know how much, if any, Ellis Hobbs progresses, or if Asante Samuel will ever prove that he’s the #1 corner he says he is. Or if Eric Warfield has anything to offer, or if Chad Scott can stay on the field.

But I do know that there was no freaking way the Patriots were paying Ty Law $8 million this year.

Greg: I’m not sure what not making a bigger push means, except that they didn’t beat out Kansas City for his services. He would have helped. But he is 32 years old. I am sure they would have given him a reasonable deal for this year, but knowing the Patriots, it was likely incentive laden and without much guaranteed money that would carry into future years. I really can’t fault them. Everyone questioned them last year on the decision, but how much did the Jets decision to give him the contract he wanted help them? And sure, you can say the Pats didn’t repeat either and that losing Ty Law was one of the reasons. But he wasn’t the sole reason. And would have Ellis Hobbs gotten on the field as much if they had kept him last year? Doesn’t Hobbs experience from last year help the Patriots this year? Again, it would have been nice to have Law. But the Patriots understand that you have to set a price and stick to it. That is what they did here.

*Why weren’t the Patriots more aggressive in free agency?

Greg: I think the free agent class wasn’t all that impressive this year. And the Patriots are not just preparing for this year, they are preparing for down the road as well. When other teams are cash strapped for having rushed up to the new cap levels under the recently negotiated CBA in future years, in theory, the Patriots will have room to sign guys they feel make a difference. You don’t just sign guys simply because you have the cash. There simply weren’t many difference makers out there in free agency. Over the course of time, however, some will appear and it won’t necessarily be this year. The Patriots should have room to be competitive signing guys over time, not just this offseason.

Bruce: Again, it comes down to value for the money. The Patriots had the cap room, but obviously felt that they were better served promoting from within and drafting rather than going after high priced talent. The small moves they did make were aimed at specific needs. I think you’ll see a transaction or two take place during training camp as well.

Scott: I’m not sure there’s any evidence that being ‘aggressive’ in free agency buys anything but the March-through-July admiration of agents and football writers. I’d say the Patriots have been pretty aggressive in free agency when they believed it would improve their team (Rodney Harrison and Rosevelt Colvin being the best examples), but generally, you know how this stuff goes. They try to draft well, enjoy all the benefits of young, productive players at affordable rates, and fill in their roster with role-playing guys that Warren Sapp likes to feel superior to (while he’s watching from the stands). And by the way – the Patriots still have most of the starters from their last Super Bowl team, so how many free agents did you think they needed to sign?

The next time their championship ‘draught’ extends beyond, say, 24 months, let me know. In the meantime, I’m not going to demand a new approach because they lost out on Joe Jurevicius.

*Reasons why they haven’t given poor Deion Branch what his agent wants.

Bruce: Not to sound like a broken record here, but again value. If you believe what Ron Borges wrote in the Sunday Globe of July 23rd, the Patriots have offered Branch a deal that falls around a million plus dollars short of what the franchise tag number for the wide receiver position would receive. For someone of Branch’s production, that figure seems about right, but Branch and his agent seem to be taking the tact that Branch’s numbers would be much higher elsewhere, in a different system that didn’t spread things around as much.

Scott: Hey, what kind of muckraker is writing these questions? Jeez! I feel like I’m trapped in a hellish Ask Nick mailbag here. I’m telling you right now, if there’s a question about the red jerseys coming up, I’m bailing.

As Tom E. Curran wrote in his delightful, Jason Chayut-skewering column on Thursday: “To be paid like a free agent, you kind of have to be one.”

I’m like anybody else – I prefer tranquility over conflict. And I like Deion Branch, plenty. I think the Patriots do too (the alleged 5 million-per offer seems to validate this), but not so much that they’ll throw out their whole business plan (maybe that should have read ‘wildly successful business plan’) for him. And we shouldn’t want them to.

Greg: Deion Branch is a very good receiver. Not great, but very good. But he hasn’t been mistreated. He’s under contract. The Patriots are offering a fair new contract. He is choosing, apparently, to hold out. He isn’t a hero. He isn’t taking a moral stand. There isn’t a moral question involved in the difference of a a few million dollars in a contract to a football player. He’s been very well paid. He’s done his job and he should continue to do so until his obligation is fulfilled.

*Why Adam Vinatieri and Willie McGinest were deemed expendable.

Scott: The inevitable consequence of winning Super Bowls. The players all want their share of the windfall. Plus, all the other teams want these players, even if only as talismans. So let’s not act like this is the first time it’s ever happened.

I’m not sure the team decided either player – or David Givens, the third member of the troika – was ‘expendable’ per se. I’d guess that no one in Foxboro is sure that they have a kicker that will inspire the same confidence as Vinatieri, and no one there believes that Big Play Willie will be easily replaced. God knows the receiver position is a question mark. I’d be very surprised to find out that anyone down there was doing back flips over finally getting rid of three players who had meant so much to the team.

I think it’s far more likely that they decided they could not accede to the salary demands of each while holding firm to their roster building model. It happens. You can’t keep everybody. The trick is keeping the right ones. And the proof of that will come with the pudding.

Bruce: As a group the losses of Vinatieri, McGinest and David Givens seem devastating. Looking at each case individually, you can see some logic in letting them move on. To me, Vinatieri’s loss is more heartbreaking to fans than devastating on the field. It seems for some time there was a disagreement between he and the club as to what his value was. If you coldly look at his performance, which the Patriots do so well, you see a kicker that is getting a little up there in age, there were some curious decisions made on field position last season that in the past would’ve been an automatic kick from Adam. He isn’t the best on kickoffs, though he seemed to do better last season in that area. There have also been rumors of back problems. In Stephen Gostkowski, I think they’re looking at a guy who is younger, an athlete like Vinatieri and a bit stronger. The billion dollar question is of course if he can kick in the clutch like Adam could.

With McGinest, again this was emotional. But it was also clear that he was more valuable to the Browns than he was to the Patriots. They need his leadership in that lockerrom. The Patriots seem to feel that they can replace his production with Rosevelt Colvin and Mike Vrabel by hoping that Monty Beisel improves inside next to Teddy Bruschi.

Greg: I don’t think they were expendable so much as its a question of priorities. You can’t sign everyone. You can’t pay everyone exactly what they want every time. On a team that has won three Super Bowls in recent years, there are going to be plenty of guys who have performed well and contributed greatly to the success. Sometimes they are going to cash in on that success elsewhere. In a perfect world, I am sure the Patriots would have preferred to keep both Vinatieri and McGinest. The Colts seem to think losing their running back, but gaining a kicker makes them a better team. Why didn’t they just choose to pay the running back and sign a veteran, cheaper kicker? They play in a dome in ideal conditions, couldn’t a competent kicker do the job in those conditions? And when they gambled on letting the running back go, they reportedly coveted Lawrence Maroney in the draft who ended up with the Patriots. The Colts then had to settle for a slight reach and their second choice in Joseph Addai. Could that have been an unintended consequence of choosing the kicker over the running back? The point is, decisions on who to sign have consequences. If not this year, eventually. Its the nature of a cap system. And the Patriots were only willing to go so far for a kicker, even one as good and productive as Vinatieri. And they stuck with it. Time will tell how many Super Bowls the Colts win choosing to go for the kicker as the difference maker.

*Players who will step up and be better than we think.

Greg: I’ll go with Jarvis Green. He slipped slightly last season, but I think this year they’ll work him in more and use 4-man lines more often that will help him team on the same line as three first round picks. I think he is poised to live up to the promise he has shown at times in the past, especially in big playoff games. I also like this kid Willie Andrews they drafted. He appears fast, athletic and versatile. He may stick as a special teams and dime back this year and be a surprise contributor as a rookie.

Bruce: They saw something they like in Reche Caldwell. I think playing with Tom Brady automatically makes him better. I see Ellis Hobbs making a big leap in his second year in the league.

Scott: I’ve got two. Jeremy Mincey and David Thomas. No particular reason – wishful thinking mostly. In a perfect world, Mincey’s raw skills enable him to contribute right away as a spot edge rusher, and Thomas, the third tight end to be certain, makes us forget about Red Zone Mike Vrabel.

*What ARE they going to do, if anything, with that $15 million cap room?

Bruce: I still think something will get worked out with Branch at some point. I see a pickup or trade or two coming during training camp as the coaching staff sees what they have, and what might be available as surplus from other teams. Daniel Graham will also be up for a new deal next season, and while the drafting of Dave Thomas might be with a view of replacing Graham should he leave, the Patriots really like Graham’s blocking skills and would like to keep him – as always, at the right price.

Scott: They’re going to keep it, and split it between their greedy executives. Best case scenario: some players and their families starve as a result.

Miguel, the Internet Cap Guy over at patsfans.com, noted the other day that as much as $6.6 million of the available space could go to an August roster bonus for previously-put-upon Richard Seymour, he of the lucrative new deal (hint, hint….sometimes these things work out despite the five alarm headlines). Another option is for the Pats to spread out that payment over a period of years, but maybe they’ll decide to dispense it in one whack in exchange for some breathing room in 07 and beyond.

Naturally (see above), I’m guessing that some of that cake goes to Branch, and maybe to other solid players like Daniel Graham and Dan Koppen, both of whom are entering the final year of their deals. Of course, there’s always the possibility that they’re not done acquiring players for 06, and considering they were a bit cash strapped when trying to deal with 05’s myriad injuries, they might do well to hang on to a bit of mad money for just that purpose.

Greg: Nothing much this year. They’ll use some of it on Seymour’s new deal when it kicks in. They’ll probably re-sign some of their own players as the season gets close. Deion Branch will likely get a deal. Graham is a possibility. And they are targeting to have room next year, as well, if they have to absorb some possible dead money should they cut ties with, say, Corey Dillon following the season.