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Patriots Drop Bomb, Deal Mankins

We’ve seen this before.  Lawyer Milloy was traded around this time to Buffalo in 2003.  The Patriot clubhouse turned into instant turmoil, and Tom Jackson foolishly declared that the Patriots “hate their coach”.

So wha hoppen?  Jackson was outed as an outspoken dolt, and the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that season.

So far, Jackson has said nothing regarding the events of Tuesday, when the Patriots dealt longtime guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay for tight end Tim Wright and a 2015 fourth round pick.  The former first round selection out of Fresno State was a six-time All-Pro guard, but the Patriots shipped Mankins for a pass receiving tight end who has everyone in New England saying collectively, “Who?” when the name Tim Wright comes up.

For those folks with more than a casual knowledge of the Buccaneers, Wright projects as a poor man’s Aaron Hernandez.  The thinking is that his skill set will replicate the former Patriot tight end and give Rob Gronkowski back his compliment at tight end.  Wright is a pass catcher first and blocker third or fourth.  As a rookie in 2013, Wright had 54 catches for 571 yards and five touchdowns.  It figures that Wright is also from Rutgers, as the Scarlet Knights are as much a Patriot factory as are the Bucs.

Mankins had a $10 million cap hit for 2014, and was the highest paid guard in NFL history when he signed his current deal after the 2010 season.  The Patriots will get $5 million in cap relief this season because of this deal, and will save over $13 million in cash over the next two seasons.

But why deal Mankins?  In this year where you have a new position coach for the first time since 1980, and a bit of flux and transition this training camp on the o-line, the Patriots instead elect to trade their best offensive lineman.  Bill Belichick heaped a lot of praise on Mankins on his way out the door, saying that he was “one of the all-time great Patriots and the best guard I ever coached.”  Still, the deal is not sitting well with many corners of Patriot Nation, and one wonders now if the offense will wind up suffering despite Tom Brady finding a rhythm with his receivers in the preseason.

One can only guess.  So, let’s go for it.

It’s not nice to hold out

Long time Patriot All-Pro guard Logan Mankins was traded to Tampa Bay on Tuesday.
(USA TODAY Images)

Belichick can hold a grudge, and he can turn on players as quickly as he can express loyalty in them.  Players like Milloy, Richard Seymour and Wes Welker are terrific examples.  The Patriots foolishly let Mankins suffer through his rookie deal and never bothered to do the morally right thing and renegotiate.  Mankins was incensed with the Patriots and held out through the 2010 season until he absolutely had to play to accrue a season played in the NFL.  The Patriots responded by signing Mankins to the largest contract for a guard in league history.

Belichick doesn’t forget incidents like this.  And neither do the players when they feel slighted.  To their credit, Belichick and Seymour coexisted for six years before the latter was traded in 2009 to Oakland.  This is a situation where Belichick got rid of Mankins at the exact right time, in his opinion, and thus will deny Mankins the honor and distinction to play his entire career only in New England.  And the holdout four years ago likely was on Belichick’s mind when he did the deal with Tampa Bay.

Mankins good, but not “Super”

For someone of Mankins’ pedigree, his postseason record is a little checkered.  He had a key missed block in last year’s AFC Championship Game loss to Denver.  But arguably his two worst games as a pro were the two Super Bowl losses to the Giants, where in both cases he was manhandled by the Giant defensive line.

In trying to figure out how the 18-0 Patriots could have lost to an inferior Giants team in Super Bowl XLII, one of the focal points of how the Giants dominated the line of scrimmage was the matchups between Mankins and Justin Tuck and Osi Umeniyora.  Brady was under siege all game long, and didn’t establish a rhythm until late in the fourth quarter when the Giant defense actually became tired.  This matchup deficit for the Patriots was cited as one of the main reasons the Patriots lost the Super Bowl and their undefeated season.

We owed Tampa Bay, perhaps

Tampa Bay has been generous to the Patriots over the last few years, as there are some people down there with former ties with the Patriots, including Bucs GM Jason Licht.  From Tampa Bay the Patriots have been the proud recipients of LeGarrette Blount (now with Pittsburgh) and Darrelle Revis.  It could be that Licht offered Belichick the best deal possible for Mankins, who despite his All-Pro status is 32 years old and no longer a spring chicken.  It might have been a way for both men to say thanks to each other, and it is clear that relations between these two teams are pretty good to speak of.

In the end, it’s just business and nothing else

Maybe it was just time to cut ties with the aging and expensive lineman.  Guards are the least expensive of all offensive linemen, and Mankins was due to make $10 million for the Patriots this year.  Belichick has been given to say over the years that guards are very easy to find and develop.  Find them on the street, coach them up, and voila.  Russ Hochstein, Stephen Neal and Joe Andruzzi are good examples of such players.

But Mankins was a first round pick.  He was also an All-Pro several times over.  The Patriots are fortunate to have had the best guard ever (John Hannah) and the most expensive ever (Mankins).  His body of work did warrant more than just chump change, but the Patriots mismanaged Mankins a long time ago while still under his rookie deal.

This was a case where the Patriot Way jumped up and bit them on the ankle.  Mankins should never have been allowed to play out his rookie deal, then play hardball with the team and force them to sign him for big money.  The team was able to wait out Vince Wilfork and sign him to a team-friendly deal, but Mankins was a rare player who was able to stay with the team on his terms.

Now he is gone to Tampa Bay, and the Patriot offensive line goes into more confusion with nothing but question marks and speculation.  Dealing Milloy in 2003 did work out well in the end.  But there is no Rodney Harrison equivalent at guard ready and waiting to take over.

Garoppolo Pushing Hard For Brady Backup Job

FOXBOROUGH – Tom Brady still needs to be the guy.  Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking anything otherwise.

But if the Patriots suffer a repeat of the 2008 season, perhaps the most compelling positional battle of the 2014 Patriots training camp is the battle for Brady’s backup.  You have Ryan Mallett, the former Michigan and Arkansas quarterback, in the battle of his life against second round draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo.  While Mallett had the slightly better numbers on Friday night at Gillette Stadium in a 42-35 Patriot preseason win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Garoppolo gets the nod as the man of the match because he played mostly against the Eagles’ varsity while Mallett played against mostly third stringers and future cuts.

All things considered, Garoppolo did well, albeit not astounding, but showed some good stuff at times while playing for all but two offensive series of the first half.  Garoppolo was at times pressed into tough decisions and had to move around in the pocket on occasion.  But he threw some nice balls, demonstrated his quick release, and didn’t throw any bad balls nor suffer any interceptions.

The same cannot be said for his heralded skipper.  Brady suffered a pick-six on the first Eagle offensive drive of the game, and was the only one out of six quarterbacks in the game for both sides to not break the 100-point mark in quarterback rating.  On a night where defense was mostly absent and quarterback numbers were quite good, Garoppolo showed that, given the chance to play mostly against the best Eagle defenders, he held his own and showed good poise in the process.

Brady opened the game playing the first two series.  On the first possession, he drove the Patriots to the Philadelphia 30 yard line, then tried to hit newly signed tight end Steve Maneri in the left flat about ten yards downfield.  Maneri curled in when he should have curled out, and Cary Williams had a clean interception at the Patriot 21.  He took the pick and returned it 79 yards to put the Eagles on the board first.  This pick was on Maneri, as he clearly ran the wrong route and Brady threw the ball to where he should have been.

Brady had a much better second drive.  He took advantage of four Eagles penalties and fired a 15-yard scoring toss to Kenbrell Thompkins at the left pylon to tie the game at 7-7.  Referee John Parry visited the Patriots-Eagles joint practices this week, met with the players to go over the new rules, and even officiated one of the practices.  Bill Belichick implored Parry to throw lots of flags in Friday night’s game, and Parry’s crew responded with 21 total penalties on the night.  On this drive, a 26-yard pass interference call on Julian Edelman which would have put the Patriots at the Eagle 11 yard line was pushed back to the 26 when Belichick protested the spot of the foul and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.  Brady was able to overcome Belichick’s excessive complaining nonetheless.

Jimmy Garoppolo played a steady game against first-string competition against Philadelphia on Friday night at Gillette Stadium. (USA TODAY Images)

Garoppolo had the rest of the first half, and led the Patriots to touchdowns on his first two drives.  After the first Eagle offensive play resulted in a fumble recovery by Tommy Kelly, Garoppolo led the Patriots on a four-play, 33-yard drive.  Two of his passes went to reserve fullback James Develin.  He ran a nice naked bootleg and hit Develin in the right flat for 12 yards to put the ball at the Eagle 9.  Following a holding penalty on Chris Barker, Garoppolo dropped a nice flat pass to Develin, who was wide open in the left side of the formation, and he ran it in untouched from 15 yards out to give the Patriots their first lead.

The next drive featured Brandon LaFell and Brandon Bolden.  Garoppolo threw his nicest pass of the night when he floated a nice 25-yard touch pass to LaFell to put the Patriots at the Philadelphia 37 yard line.  On the next play, Bolden blasted around left end for 18 more yards.  Six plays later, Garoppolo found LaFell in the back of the end zone for a six-yard touchdown pass, a nice throw on a crossing route into heavy traffic.

The Eagles were able to hold down Garoppolo for the rest of the first half, but in doing so, the rookie never threw a bad pass or made a bad decision.  He did overthrow Brian Tyms on a sideline pattern to thwart the next drive, but two costly penalties on Marcus Cannon took care of the following drive.

Garoppolo’s final numbers were 6 of 12 passing for 72 yards and two touchdowns.  He was confident in leading the Patriots on the two touchdown drives.  His passer rating was 108.3.

Mallett did play the entire second half, and looked much better than he did in the preseason opener at Washington last week.  Mallett was 7 of 11 for 92 yards and a nice 17-yard touchdown pass to Tyms, though Tyms had to make a great leaping catch and pass a replay review in doing so.  Mallett also had a six-yard rushing touchdown, and Roy Finch chipped in with a ten-yard touchdown run in the third quarter as well. Mallett’s passer rating was 120.3.

Mallett also made no bad throws or decisions, though he was the only Patriot quarterback to be sacked (twice for 19 total yards).  His competition was against mostly Eagle players who won’t be with the team when the games get real, so gauging his performance is a bit difficult.  Another element which helped Mallett was the rushing performance of Jonas Gray, who carried 12 times for 98 yards.

The Patriots are still about Brady, and will be until the future Hall of Famer hangs up his spikes for the last time.  Garoppolo is merely playing well, at least better than his first few practices, and pushing Mallett for the backup job.  The smart thinking is that the Patriots keep all three quarterbacks, and let the competition for who backs up Brady play out as long and best it can.

The next game, at home against Carolina, will be the proverbial “dress rehearsal” game, where Brady will draw most of the snaps, at least in the first half.  The backup battle will be secondary in this game.

But the battle will, and must, continue.  Sooner or later, Brady will leave the Patriots.  Who takes his place will be the most scrutinized athlete in this area in maybe the last 50 years.

Law To Canton? Let’s Get Gino There First

Ty Law is a Patriot Hall of Famer.  Well done, well deserved.

Every corner of Patriot Nation should stand up and cheer for the former cornerback from Michigan who is tied for the franchise lead in career interceptions (with Raymond Clayborn).  Law is best remembered for his pick-six in Super Bowl XXXVI which was the linchpin for the eventual 20-17 upset win over the St. Louis Rams, but his entire Patriot career was most exceptional.  His penchant for picking off Peyton Manning in the postseason was especially pleasing to all Patriot fans.

The Patriots have not yet replaced Law in the Patriot secondary, that is, until perhaps now.  With Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner now in the fold, they are pretty much the talk of the town at Patriots training camp.  Much was made, for example, of Browner mixing it up with Kenbrell Thompkins during practice.  Every day you get reports of how many times Revis picked off Tom Brady in practice.  There is no question that this is the most excited Patriot Nation has been regarding the Patriot secondary since Law last played for the Patriots in 2004, which, coincidentally, was the last season to date that the Patriots became world champs.

There has also been a great deal of sentiment to put Law in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.  On this enshrinement weekend, which features the first punter in NFL history to be so honored (Ray Guy of the Oakland/LA Raiders), many Patriot fans want Law borne off to Canton sometime soon.  Law’s 36 career picks are far away from the most ever (81 by Paul Krause of Washington and Minnesota), so justifying Law’s induction would be largely on sentiment and non-material analysis.  Law is regarded as the best Patriot cornerback not in the Hall of Fame, as opposed to Mike Haynes, who is enshrined in Canton.

Does Law belong in Canton?  Perhaps.  At least not right now, or not just yet.

First things first.  When you talk about former Patriots who should be enshrined at Canton, you have to put Gino Cappelletti at the top of the list.  Get Gino in first, then we’ll worry about everyone else, like Law.

Gil Santos, the recently retired iconic Patriot radio announcer and longtime partner of Cappelletti, can rattle off all the reasons Gino should be in the Hall of Fame better than you or I or anyone else.  Cappelletti played his entire career in the old American Football League, and his entire career spanned the existence of the league exactly (1960-69).  He is one of 20 players to have played in every game in AFL history and one of only three players who played in every AFL game for one team (thanks, Wikipedia).  He remains one of the greatest players in AFL history, playing for a Patriot team that made the playoffs only once (1963).

Cappelletti is the all-time leading scorer in AFL history, largely because he was both a wide receiver and a field goal kicker.  According to Wikipedia, he has two of the five top scoring seasons in pro football history, with 155 points in 1964 and 147 points in 1961.  He was the all time leading Patriots scorer until Adam Vinatieri passed him in 2005.  He was the AFL MVP in 1964 and a five-time AFL all-star.

Yet for reasons no one in these parts can fathom, Cappelletti is still not enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Kickers who played other positions in Gino’s day were much more prevalent than today.  George Blanda is a legendary quarterback who also did placekicking.  Steve Myhra, who tied the famous 1958 NFL Championship Game with a field goal just before the end of regulation time, was a guard and a linebacker.  Kickers didn’t become specialists until much later, perhaps with the advent of Pete Gogolak as the first soccer-style kicker in the mid-1960s.  It made what Cappelletti did much more admirable years later.

To put what Cappelletti did in perspective, try and imagine Vinatieri being among the top pass receivers in the NFL.  Vinatieri does have one career touchdown pass, but that was on a fake field goal.  Otherwise, he was paid to do one thing.

Troy Brown goes one better than Vinatieri.  In 2004, Brown played both ways and wound up with three interceptions (his first off former teammate Drew Bledsoe).  But that was just one season, not his entire career.

Cappelletti did both receiving and placekicking his entire career.  It is a lost art today, but to excel like he did back in the 1960s at both positions was remarkable even then.  If for no other reason, the fact that he was both a standout wide receiver and placekicker for as long as he was deserves consideration for the Hall of Fame.  And it wasn’t just what he did as a Patriot; his accomplishments were among the best in the history of the AFL.  And compared alongside the NFL, which Cappelletti never played in, his records hold up as well.

If Cappelletti is being denied the Hall of Fame because he played only in the AFL and never in the NFL, that is simply wrong and unfair.  It took nine seasons, but the Jets and Chiefs eventually proved that the AFL was indeed major league.  In 1963 the Chargers, who had beaten the Patriots 51-10 in the AFL Championship Game and were considered by many to be the best team in pro football, challenged the NFL Champion Chicago Bears to an all-pro football championship game.  The Bolts said that the Bears could pick the time and place and could even use NFL balls.  Da Bears declined the challenge.

Legendary Packers head coach Vince Lombardi did indeed win the first two Super Bowls over AFL teams.  But he nearly drove himself to rack and ruin with all the pressure heaped on him to win the games, especially the first one against Kansas City.  He would die of cancer two years after winning Super Bowl II.

The Colts are still disgraced to this day for losing Super Bowl III to the Jets.  Many of the Colt players who did win Super Bowl V were still ashamed over losing two years before rather than winning that Super Bowl, which is more known for eleven turnovers than a Colt win.  It is amazing that Don Shula overcame that titanic loss to go on to become the winningest head coach in NFL history and the only coach to preside over a perfect team (17-0 in 1972).  But Super Bowl III was a convincing win by the Jets, a “leave no doubt” statement by the AFL that it was indeed a major league.

The AFL was one hundred percent legit, and if this is why Cappelletti is not in the Hall of Fame, it is a huge wrong that must be righted, and it must be done while Cappelletti is still alive.

Once Gino gets in, then we’ll get around to guys like Law.  Brady doesn’t have to worry about his eventual trip to Canton.  But until Gino is finally honored, Patriot Nation needs to keep an eye on perspective and temper its enthusiasm for the best of the best.

Patriots Win Super Bowl XLIX If…

FOXBOROUGH – Let the real dog days of August begin.

Some folks out there still hold out hope that the Red Sox will be playing deep into October.  The Celtics are stockpiling guards like Bill Belichick used to stockpile tight ends.  The Bruins are in hibernation with nothing yet to show that they’ll bring the Stanley Cup back to Boston next spring.  There is a friendly match Wednesday night at Fenway Park involving John Henry’s team, Liverpool FC, that is generating far more interest than the Revolution and their losing streak.

Thank goodness for training camp.  It’s on.  They’re training down in Foxborough.  The most wonderful time of the year has finally begun.  Football is back.

The 2014 edition of your New England Patriots is garnering a ton of interest this year, to the point where anything short of a Super Bowl appearance will result in a failed season.  To some, the Patriots need to win the Super Bowl for the season to be successful.  Nothing like putting undue pressure on the local boys to make good.

On defense, you have the addition of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in the secondary, and the return of injured stars like Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork.  On offense, you have the return of Rob Gronkowski and the addition of Brandon LaFell to the receiver corps.  It would seem that the Patriots have the weapons in place to make a deep run in the playoffs, perhaps as deep as February.

But the players out there won’t guarantee the Patriots a spot in Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona early next year.  Things still have to break right for the Patriots to fulfill their destiny and actually win the big game they haven’t been able to win in ten years.

So, if the Patriots truly are destined to win the big one, here is basically what has to happen.

You still can’t complain, but injuries do matter

Too many key Patriots are coming off injuries.  One of them happens to be the new guy at cornerback.

Gronkowski, Wilfork, Revis and Mayo are at the top of the list of injured Patriots to keep your eye on.  Of these three gents, the most debilitating loss due to injury would probably be Revis.  His arrival in Foxborough is right up there as being one of the most highly anticipated in recent memory.  Just Revis alone back there defending passes kicks the Patriot defense up a few notches.

Granted, these guys have won an aggregate total of one Super Bowl between them (Wilfork).  Their presence will go a long way towards how well the 2014 Patriots do.  But what if one or more of these guys blows out their knee or aggravates their previous injuries?  Or, what if someone else pulls up lame and heads for the IR list?  To be completely morbid, what if the Jimmy Garoppolo experiment has to begin this year because Bernard Pollard (or some reasonable facsimile thereof) still can’t be blocked?

Nobody in the NFL is allowed to complain about injuries or make excuses because all teams get them.  The Patriots generally do well in replacing injured players.  But it may only get them in the playoffs without getting them to that big game in February.

The two most important words of the season:  Third down

If you have the ball, convert.  If you don’t, get off the field.

Tom Brady needs his whole team to come through in 2014 for him to win his fourth Super Bowl.
(USA TODAY Images)

Tom Brady needs more than Gronkowski and Julian Edelman to get those tough yards to keep drives going.  This is where Shane Vereen needs to step up and become what Kevin Faulk used to be.  Vereen is the best receiving running back, taking the place of Danny Woodhead last year as the latter headed to San Diego as a free agent.  Danny Amendola, who should be classified as addenda to the section on injured key players, should also dig deep help Brady out on third down situations where a quick slant pass is the way to go, especially if defenses overplay Edelman.

Defensively, this was more of a problem last year than offensively.  The Patriots were 26th in the NFL in both total first downs surrendered on defense and percent of first downs made on third down.  If Revis and Browner (who is on suspension until after Week 4) can put the clamps on the receivers, this will help the Patriots greatly.  Either incomplete passes or coverage sacks will replace clutch third downs from opposing offenses.  The Patriots do need to upgrade their pass rush in any case, but tighter coverage in the secondary is essential if the Patriots want to get off the field better than they did last year.

Don’t settle for two, go for one

By that, we mean playoff seeds.  If it does once again come down to New England and Denver for the AFC Championship, the Patriots cannot be made to travel to Denver.  The Patriots always play poorly there and rarely win there.  To ensure their easiest path to Glendale, Arizona, the Patriots need home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  Winning at Pittsburgh and winning at Denver are two different things.  The Patriots need to be home.

Circle this date on your calendar:  Sunday, November 2.  Denver at New England.  It will be a 4:25 PM game on CBS, so they don’t have to mess with NBC.  And it will be at Gillette Stadium, just like last year.  It would be nice if the Patriots don’t make like last year and spot Denver a huge lead only to have to rely on a freak play to win the game in overtime.

And even this wasn’t enough.  The Patriots won the game, but later wound up coughing up home field advantage thanks to a shameful loss at Miami.  At the very least, the Patriots have to win this November 2 matchup.  Then they need to match Denver win for win and get the playoff game at home.  Having to go to Santa Clara through Denver is too much to ask.

Then when you do get the one seed, take full advantage

Patriot Nation might sometimes forget that Brady won his first ten playoff games.  His first postseason loss was, naturally, in Denver.  The Patriots are 9-8 in playoff games since their win in Super Bowl XXXIX.

Brady needs to regain his playoff touch from ten years ago.  If an aging John Elway can win his only two Super Bowls in his final two years, Brady can win a couple more Vinces.  Brady is at a comparable age as Elway was when he ended his career with two straight championships.

But what Brady needs is what Elway finally got:  the ability to win without him being the main reason why.  Elway could not do it himself, and when a few more component parts were added (read:  Terrell Davis), he finally got his titles.  Brady cannot be relied on to win championships all by himself, great as he is.

All eleven players on offense, starting with the offensive line, have to play their best football in January and beyond.  Defensively, the Patriots literally have to hold opponents to 20 points or less to have a chance.  The deeper you go in January, the harder the defenses are that Brady will oppose.  He needs more than just merely being immortal.

It all begins today with training camp.  It’s finally here.  Football arrives just in time to wake up the moribund sports fans around here.  Now it’s no longer important if the Red Sox are buyers or sellers.  The real boys are back in town, and life is once again good in these parts.

Ed. note — Venue of Super Bowl XLIX corrected to Glendale, Ariz., instead of Santa Clara, Calif., as previously stated.

NFL In London? Here’s A Premier Compromise

Patriots owner Robert Kraft. (USA TODAY Images)

How many billions does one or more human beings need before they can be completely satisfied financially?

Raise your hand if you’d be okay with one.  A half.  A quarter.  A tenth.  A hundredth.  A thousandth is still a million bucks.

But if you are an NFL owner, just one billion simply won’t do.  If you own Fort Knox and discover that there are ten other Fort Knoxes in the country, you’ll break your neck to try and acquire them all.  Why have more money than only Davy Crockett?  I mean, let’s lop Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and a few maharajas into the mix too.

Such is the case with this outrageous idea of the NFL trying to get a franchise in London by the end of the decade.  In hopes of making much more money, the NFL owners believe that expanding the NFL globally is a wonderful idea and an untapped gold mine.  And the idea of going to London is incredibly appealing to the owners, particularly your favorite owner, Robert Kraft.

The NFL has had several regular season games at Wembley Stadium over the years.  Your Patriots went over there in 2009 and smacked the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 35-7.  The games have been well attended, and the Britons seem to like the product a lot, even in mismatches like this game was.

But putting a team over there for keeps?  Eight games a year instead of one?  Would that lead to a team in Paris, Berlin, Rome and Barcelona also?

First of all, wasn’t the old WLAF supposed to be the measuring rod for the viability of the NFL in Europe?  The league came into being in 1991 and hung around in various formats until 2007.  The league played in the spring and was used primarily as a developmental league.  Americans had almost no interest in the league, especially when the league went all-Euro.  Interest in the league was somewhat good in Europe, but again, it wasn’t the mainstream best players in the world.  So trying to glean how well the real NFL would go over in Europe based on the WLAF might be a little bit of a stretch.

So, okay.  We put a team in London.  Then what?

First of all, how come nobody ever says anything about the 2005 regular season game in Mexico City between the Cardinals and the 49ers?  Arizona beat San Francisco 31-14 at Aztec Stadium before a then-NFL record crowd of 103,467.  That’s a crowd that you usually see in Pasadena or Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Mexico City is a whole lot closer to NFL cities than London is.  The only major problem there is altitude, but you deal with that when you go to Denver.  It could also be that the NFL views the UK’s economy as more potentially lucrative than that of Mexico (to be fair, the second richest person in the world is Mexican), and issues like quality of life could come into play in the minds of the players and staff who would have to live there during the season.

The biggest problem with a team in London, other than sustaining interest in the UK beyond just one game, is travel logistics.  San Diego is the most distant NFL city at 5,400 miles.  San Francisco is 5,350 miles away, while Seattle is just under 4,800 miles.  The closest airport to London is Logan International at 3,200 miles, while it is 3,400 miles to JFK in New York.  In any case, you would have to put the London team in the Eastern Division of whichever conference it winds up in, and it’s still a long flight for division road games.

To make it salable for the players and staff, you would literally have to cluster home and away games together to suit the London team.  For instance, don’t send them out to Denver for Week 1, then home for Week 2, then to Washington for Week 3, and so on.  Their home games should be in groups of three, three and two game sets.  The same should be for their road games.  While on the road, they should stay in the USA and move from city to city, and make their road schedule as travel-friendly as possible.  When it is time to play the NFC West, make the two road games on consecutive weeks, and ditto for the AFC West.  Try to make it so that they play on the road in Seattle and San Francisco in the same year, ditto for Oakland and San Diego.

Bye weeks should be as beneficial as possible to the London team, as well as visiting teams that have to travel to Wembley.  London’s bye week should perhaps be set at between Weeks 8 and 9 unless absolutely necessary.  It should be between a road trip and a homestand.

Of course, even if these logistical concerns are adequately met, there is still no guarantee that this idea will be good for the NFL.  Here is a nice litmus test to consider, if London and the UK are truly interested in an NFL team.

Kraft isn’t the only Boston-based owner with his foot in the door in the UK.  John Henry is actually inside the parlor, as co-owner of an EPL team based in Liverpool.  Liverpool is once again going to play on the Fenway Park pitch this summer.  Soccer games have traditionally drawn well at Fenway.

With the 2014 World Cup now over, there has been sentiment to try and bring an English Premier League team to the United States.  MLS continues to exist and grow as a second-tier professional soccer league.  But NBC has been televising EPL games, including the ever-popular Manchester United, with reasonably good ratings.  Forbes Magazine lists the top 50 most valuable sports franchises in the world, and the top three are soccer teams:  Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Man-U.  The Yankees are fourth.  (The Patriots are eighth, the Red Sox eleventh.)  Bringing soccer at the level of the EPL to the USA is not that bad an idea, at least from the point of view of the USA.

The NFL should talk to the EPL and see if they have a mutual interest in such a venture.  The EPL should pick an east coast city and put a team there and see what shakes.  New York has the most people, Boston has perhaps the best soccer fans in the USA.  Pick either Gillette Stadium or MetLife Stadium.  If Kraft makes enough of a fuss to own an EPL team to make this experiment work, even if he were made to divest himself and his family of the Revolution, the EPL team would land in Foxborough.  Otherwise it would be in the Meadowlands.

If the EPL should succeed in the USA, the NFL might have a better idea as to the viability of an NFL team in London.  Of course, you’d have to convince the EPL that this would be good for them also, and as yet, that fact is not clear.  Until then, the NFL would be wise to think this over carefully before they gamble on a market that may be okay for one game a year but not okay for a permanent resident.

One parting thought.  Let’s say Kraft did get an EPL team.  Sporting Foxborough versus Liverpool on the pitch at Gillette Stadium.  Kraft versus Henry.  Boston sports’ Civil War.  Too good to be true.

The Missing Patriot Super Ingredients?

As John Elway showed us all some years ago, it isn’t just about the quarterback.

Elway goes down in history as one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.  But he didn’t win a Super Bowl until his last two seasons as quarterback of the Denver Broncos.  Elway finished his career with back-to-back Super Bowl wins over Green Bay in XXXII and Atlanta in XXXIII before retiring.  Elway has his place in history, but running back Terrell Davis, who was MVP in Super Bowl XXXII, is largely credited with being the key component in Elway finally finishing his climb up the NFL mountain after three previous failures.

This should serve as a reminder to all who think the Patriots are all right as long as they simply have Tom Brady.  Great as Brady is and has been, he cannot do it by himself.  The sight of him screaming at his young receivers last fall was condemned by some, but praised and acknowledged by those who understand his place in team history.

The Patriots are now going on ten years without having won a Super Bowl.  Bill Belichick, with some help from Bill Parcells and Scott Pioli, put together a glittering array of talent which won three Super Bowls in four seasons.  Teams turn over within just a few years, as most NFL careers are all too brief.  Following these three Super Bowl wins, the Patriots went on to lose two Super Bowls in four seasons, both losses to the New York Giants.  It sometimes baffles Patriot fans that the Patriots could lose two Super Bowls to an inferior Giants team on paper, especially the first of the two which scuttled what was almost the first 19-0 season in NFL history.

That said, here is a list of key Patriot players and coaches who helped the Patriots win all three of their Super Bowl wins but were not there for any of the subsequent two losses to the Giants.  You can look at the list and wonder if any of these players could have made the difference in overcoming Giant teams who peaked at just the right time and actually played with more passion and intensity in both Super Bowl wins over the Patriots.

One more thing before reading on:  For those of you looking for players like Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel on this list, all three of these guys played in Super Bowl XLII for the Patriots.  Matt Light and Kevin Faulk played in five Super Bowls for the Patriots, all three wins and both Giant losses, so they also don’t make this list. This list is only the men who were there for all three wins and none of the succeeding losses.

Matt Chatham was a second string linebacker for several seasons for the Patriots.  He could never break into the starting lineup but played steady if not spectacular football during his time in Foxborough.  He was one of those players that had to “stay ready” if any starter got injured.  Of course, someone like Chatham would have to make his mark on special teams to stick on the roster for as long as he did.

Patrick Pass was a situational running back and special teams contributor.  He would catch a pass here and there, but was used chiefly on special teams for several years.  Like Chatham, this was why he lasted so long as a Patriot.

Joe Andruzzi will always be associated with September 11th, as his three brothers narrowly escaped death at the World Trade Center as NYC firemen.  On the field, Andruzzi was no slouch as a steady guard for the Patriots who departed amidst some ill will over contract negotiations.  Given how much All-Pro guard Logan Mankins struggled in both his Super Bowls against the Giants defensive line, one has to wonder how Andruzzi would have handled Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Michael Strahan.

Ted Johnson was one of the most underrated Patriots in recent history.  His work at inside linebacker was stellar and very effective.  He was also one of the few players on this list who also played in the Super Bowl XXXI loss to the Packers.  His playing time and career was cut short because of numerous head injuries.  He was also very unusual in that he had an unabashed love for romance novels.

Roman Phifer was a starter at inside linebacker for his Patriot career.  He was steady and effective though never being an All-Pro as a Patriot.  He was one of the many players who fit Belichick’s system very well.  Coincidentally, his Patriot career was 2001-04, the exact time frame for all three Super Bowl wins.

Ty Law was injured for most of 2004 and did not play in Super Bowl XXXIX.  He did play for the Patriots in three Super Bowls anyway, as he was part of the Super Bowl XXXI team.  Law is tied with Raymond Clayborn for the most career interceptions as a Patriot.  Law had a pick-six in Super Bowl XXXVI plus several picks of Peyton Manning in the AFC playoffs.  He played his best seasons for the Patriots before leaving and eventually succumbing to old age, football style.

Adam Vinatieri is still regarded as the best clutch kicker in NFL history.  He kicked for the Patriots in XXXI, then went on to provide the margin of victory in all three Super Bowl wins.  His game-winner in XXXVI remains perhaps the most iconic moment in team history.  He did win a Super Bowl with Indianapolis after leaving the Patriots in 2005.  To be fair, Stephen Gostkowski has never been in a position to win a playoff game like Vinatieri was time after time, and Gostkowski has had a decent NFL career as Vinatieri’s replacement.  But Vinatieri leaving the Patriots was like Carlton Fisk leaving for the White Sox.  It never should have been allowed to happen.

Willie McGinest was one of the key Patriots who led the team to three Super Bowl wins, but was not there for the losses to the Giants later on.
(USA TODAY Images)

Willie McGinest got over the pain of leaving the Patriots for Cleveland and the final three seasons of his long NFL career, and now professes his ex-Patriot persona every time you see him on the NFL Network.  His long Patriot career featured four Super Bowls and three wins.  His holding penalty in XXXVI which negated a Tebucky Jones touchdown caused him to break down emotionally after the game, but Patriot fans remember Will Mac fondly for his great career and for helping establish the locker room and the Patriot Way.

David Patten also might be lopped into the “underrated” category.  Patten seemed to lose out on the props that went the way of Troy Brown and Deion Branch.  But Patten had some clutch receptions for the Patriots in the postseason, most notably in Super Bowl XXXVI and the AFC Championship Game leading up to it.  He was another go-to guy for Brady who simply never got the headlines for it, but most assuredly earned all three of his Super Bowl rings.

Troy Brown turned out to be the Tim Wakefield of the Patriots.  For many years he did whatever was asked of him, whether his coach was Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll or Bill Belichick.  He did not play XXXI but did play in the three winners.  He played one token game in 2007 but did not play in Super Bowl XLII.  He retired that year as the leading receiver in Patriot history.  He also has three career interceptions, all of them in 2004, and one of them off former teammate Drew Bledsoe.  Brown personified the Patriot Way during his entire Patriot career, and remains one of the most popular local sports celebrities.

Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel coached their final Patriot games at Super Bowl XXXIX.  The shot of Belichick, Weis and Crennel hugging at the end of that game had “end of an era” written all over it.  For all those people who make a big deal out of “What did Parcells do without Belichick?”, let it be known that Belichick has not won a Super Bowl without Weis and Crennel.  The Patriots, as Bruschi pointed out, had three head coaches on their staff during those three Super Bowl wins.  Weis went on to be the head coach Notre Dame, his alma mater, then later coached one year at Kansas City as offensive coordinator.  Crennel was head coach at Cleveland for four seasons, then came back to Kansas City, as Weis did, for two seasons as defensive coordinator and one season as head coach/DC.  Pioli had moved on after 2008 to Kansas City and tried to bring Weis and Crennel together, but the experiment did not jell.

The Ten Biggest Draft Busts In Patriots History

Shopping for the groceries.  At Stop & Shop, Star’s or Purity Supreme, it’s one thing.  In the NFL, it’s quite another.

Over the years, the Patriots have had such brainiacs as Upton Bell, Chuck Fairbanks, Bucko Kilroy, Patrick Sullivan, Sam Jankovich, Bill Parcells, Bobby Grier and Bill Belichick with the shopping carts and the discount coupons and the S&H green stamps.  The most inexact science in the world is correctly predicting talent in the NFL.  No one player is “can’t miss”, even those who are.  There is always a chance that someone will not live up to lofty expectations.  Conversely, there are many players who don’t project to be solid NFL players and go on to Hall of Fame careers.

Looking for talent and finding talent are two different things.  Nowadays you have the scouting combine in Indianapolis, exhaustive scouting reports and lots and lots of people who go out to college football games, watch and evaluate.  Reading about prospects in a magazine is not enough.  Fans who think they know everything about a prospective NFL player really don’t.  You have seen Jadeveon Clowney clobber opposing running backs at South Carolina, but how well will he clobber bigger, stronger and faster running backs in the NFL?  Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo put up huge passing numbers at schools in conferences which don’t feature behemoth defenses.  How will that translate to 4,000 passing yards in the NFL?

In short, when drafting players, you really don’t know, not even if you are a seasoned NFL expert.  Trying to predict whom Belichick will take in the draft is one thing, but even more difficult is Belichick trying to predict who will fit into his system the best.  He knows better than you do, and on occasion, he is wrong.  All of Belichick’s peers are wrong some of the time, some of them more than others.

Bill Belichick knows better than anyone else what an inexact science drafting football players can be.
(USA TODAY Images)

That said, here is our list of the top ten Patriot draft busts since the 1970 merger.  There may be some players you feel should be on this list, but these players provided the most hope and delivered the least.  It should be said that one of the candidates for this list was Aaron Hernandez, due to the fact that his brilliant NFL career was cut short due to his being arraigned on murder charges, and we’ll explain why after we reveal the top ten list.

The list is in chronological order, not in an ordinal pattern.

Phil Olsen

The first post-merger pick, and the last first round pick by the Boston Patriots, Olsen was a defensive tackle taken with the fourth overall pick in 1970 out of Utah State.  Olsen had great family bloodlines, as he was the brother of Hall of Fame tackle Merlin Olsen of the Rams and the Fearsome Foursome.  Olsen never played for the Patriots.  He broke in the following year with his brother in Los Angeles, and wound up playing four seasons with the Rams and two seasons in Denver.  He played in 79 career games but started only 20.

The Patriots deserve more from a fourth overall pick than what they got.  Olsen blew out his knee in a practice for the old Chicago College All-Star Game and missed all of the 1970 season (thanks, Wikipedia).  In 1971, the Patriots traded him to the Rams for a first round pick which they subsequently traded to the Giants for Fred Dryer.  The Patriots then traded Dryer to the Rams for a 1973 first round pick (if you have ever heard of Rick Cash, you really have no life) which eventually became running back Sam Cunningham.  So neither Dryer nor Olsen ever played for the Patriots, but three years later they acquired their all-time leading rusher.  That’s at least something for their trouble, but the Patriots went through many dark years before reaping some benefit from the fourth overall pick of 1970.

Ken Sims

That last game of the 1981 season should have caused the NFL to do what the NBA would do five years later, that being to bring about something called a draft lottery.

The 1-14 Patriots were at the 1-14 Colts (at the time still based in Baltimore).  Bitter rivals in 1976-78, both teams had fallen on hard times.  The loser of this game would get the first pick in the 1982 NFL Draft.  The game was horrible and sickening to watch, as both teams tried to out-blunder and out-underperform the other.  The game ended with Baltimore “winning”, 23-21, so the Patriots would get the top pick and the Colts the second.

The game was called the “Ken Sims Bowl”.  Some experts also called it the “Marcus Allen Bowl”.  But it was clear that if the Patriots got the top pick, the selection would be Texas defensive end Sims.  Sims spent eight mostly injured seasons in the NFL, all with the Patriots.  Only in 1984 did he play in all 16 games.  For the Super Bowl season of 1985, he was famously seen on the sidelines in civilian clothes during the postseason.  For being the top pick of the draft, Sims was a huge bust.

The Colts whiffed also.  They had picks two and four, and they took Mississippi State LB Johnie Cooks and Ohio State QB Art Schlichter, in order.  Cooks would go on to play in Super Bowl XXV with the Giants but did next to nothing with the Colts, and Schlichter ran into gambling issues which ended his NFL career in 1985.  Meanwhile, both teams passed on future Hall of Famers Mike Munchak (taken at 8 by Houston, now Tennessee) and Allen (taken at 10 by the Raiders).

Trevor Matich

This is not so much about what little Matich did for the Patriots, but rather whom he was acquired for.  Matich played 12 seasons in the NFL, the first four with the Patriots.  He only played in 26 games for the Patriots as an offensive lineman, not much bang for the first round (28th overall) selection in 1985.

The Patriots got the 28th pick after a trade with San Francisco.  The 49ers wanted to trade up to the 16th slot, so the Patriots sent San Francisco the 16th and 75th pick to the 49ers for their first round pick (28th), their second round pick (56th) and their third round pick (84th).  The Patriots took DE Ben Thomas of Auburn with the 56th pick, who did wind up with the Patriots on their Super Bowl team of 1985, and they took DB Audray McMillan of Houston with the 84th pick, who did nothing for the Patriots at all but played eight years with the Vikings and Oilers.

So, whom did the 49ers take with the 16th pick?  Some wide receiver from Mississippi Valley State named Jerry Rice.  He was selected as the best player in NFL history on The 100 Greatest Players Of All Time on the NFL Network.  Short of drafting the 1985 equivalent of Tom Brady, the trade and selection of Matich was horrible given how Rice turned out.

Reggie Dupard

Dupard was a standout running back at SMU just prior to its receiving the NCAA death penalty after the 1986 season for numerous improprieties regarding boosters.  The Patriots took him with the 26th overall pick in the first round of the 1986 draft.  The Patriots already had former SMU back Craig James, as well as Tony Collins, so adding Dupard to the mix would fortify an already strong offensive backfield, and in 1986 the defending AFC champs would go on to win the AFC East but lose in the playoffs to Denver.

Dupard was no help at all.  He was bedeviled with injuries during his whole career, playing all 16 games only in 1988.  He played four seasons for the Patriots before moving on to Washington for his final two seasons in the NFL.  His output was so poor that the late Globe columnist Will McDonough called him “One Yard Dupard”.  The Patriots slid into an abyss that bottomed out in 1990 with a 1-15 record and the worst season in franchise history.

Hart Lee Dykes

Dykes was taken with the 16th selection of the first round in 1989.  The 1989 Patriots are more remembered for the three defensive players who were knocked out for the entire season due to injuries sustained in the final preseason game against Green Bay (Andre Tippett, Garin Veris, Ronnie Lippett).  But Dykes was no factor whatsoever.  He played in only two seasons, played in all 16 games in 1989 but started only eight of them.  His career totals were 83 catches for 1344 yards and seven touchdowns.  Dykes probably couldn’t avoid the problems of 1990 nor be the savior, but the Patriots whiffed badly on this pick at 16.

Eugene Chung

Chung was selected with the 13th pick of the 1992 draft.  He would be the last pre-Parcells first round selection.  Jankovich missed on this pick, as Chung, a guard out of Virginia Tech, played only three seasons with the Patriots and two more seasons after that.  He did start all 16 games of Parcells’ first season in 1993, but a 13 pick is bad when it yields only three non-remarkable seasons.

Chris Canty

All eyes were on this pick.  It was the first post-Parcells pick, made by Bobby Grier, the man Bob Kraft told to go grocery shopping instead of Parcells, which drove the latter out of town after Super Bowl XXXI.  The result was this smallish cornerback out of Kansas State named Chris Canty, or in the vernacular of Patriot Nation, “Can’t he?”  He was the 29th pick of the 1997 draft, made near the end of the first round.

Canty played only four seasons in the NFL, three with the Patriots.  He played in all but two games over his three Patriot seasons but started only ten of them.  He had only one career interception as a Patriot.  Canty was but one of many bad picks by Grier during the time when Parcells was running things with the Jets.  Being a first round pick, it is magnified even more.

Tony Simmons, Andy Katzenmoyer

The next two on this list are lopped together, as both of them are compensation picks for losing Parcells to the Jets.  Simmons was selected in the second round in 1998, Katzenmoyer in the first round in 1999.  These picks, the two “plum picks” from the Parcells exodus, would define how well, or how poorly, the Patriots would make out from losing Parcells to their hated division rival.

On both counts, decided edge to the Jets.

Simmons was a wide receiver from Wisconsin billed as tall and speedy.  He played three seasons in New England and caught only 56 passes for 981 yards and six touchdowns.  He bounced around with three teams before hanging it up in 2001.  With Terry Glenn going down the tubes and the Patriots right along with him, Simmons did not provide the needed help for Shawn Jefferson at wideout and turned out to be a miserable failure for Grier and the Patriots.

Katzenmoyer was a highly regarded linebacker from Ohio State when he was taken at 28 of the first round (Boston College center Damien Woody was taken with the Patriots’ regular pick at 17 and fared much better).  Katzenmoyer played in only 24 games with the Patriots before retiring from the NFL in 2000 due to neck issues.  He was destined to be a fan favorite and a lunchpail type guy with the Patriots, but instead became another bust for Grier.

Chad Jackson

Belichick took over the next year, and has had overall good success with drafts.  He whiffed on some of them, the worst perhaps being Jackson, a Florida wideout taken in the second round of the 2006 draft.  Looked at as a replacement for the departed Deion Branch and David Givens, Jackson showed the Patriots next to nothing in his three seasons as a Patriot.  He caught 13 passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns in 2006, was a kick returner in 2007, and then played one season in Denver before retiring.  Bad stats for the 36th overall pick in the draft.

Some guys who almost made the list include Tom Reynolds (WR, R2, 1972), Steve Corbett (G, R2, 1974), Pete Cusick (NT, R3, 1975), Bob Cryder (T, R1, 1978), Darryal Wilson (WR, R2, 1983), anyone selected in 1997 other than Brandon Mitchell, who actually did help the Patriots win Super Bowl XXXVI, Chris Floyd (RB, R3, 1998, a compensation pick for Curtis Martin), Adrian Klemm (T, R2, 2000), Brandon Meriweather (S, R1, 2007), Hernandez, and Ras-I Dowling (CB, R2, 2011).  Most of these players are noteworthy by how little they did based on their high selection in the draft.  As stated at the beginning of the article, Hernandez gets honorable (or perhaps dishonorable) mention because, despite his not being selected as high as the others (fourth round), he did blossom into a plus tight end and a wonderful compliment to fellow draftee Rob Gronkowski.  But his legal issues have ended his NFL career with the Patriots no longer being able to tap into his vast potential, and thus the mention on this list.

So, will Garoppolo or Dominique Easley appear on this list one day?  One cannot tell right now, not even Belichick.  Easley’s knees and Brady’s career longevity are the biggest factors.  But right now, with both players’ career status at 0.0, trying to guess how well they will or might do isn’t time very well spent.  The time taken to decide to draft them was, for sure.

Will Revis And Browner Put Patriots Over The Top?

FOXBOROUGH – Revis Island has arrived in Foxborough.  Really.  It’s true.

You can be forgiven if you find the sight of Darrelle Revis in a Patriot uniform a bit hard to believe.  The former New York Jet, who came to the Patriots this summer from Tampa Bay, was the star of the Patriot OTAs this week.  Along with former Seattle Seahawk Brandon Browner, the Patriots may have suddenly gone from one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL to one of the best.  Suddenly, if things go as planned, the secondary becomes a strength instead of a weakness.

Of course, there are other things to be keeping your eyes on at the OTAs.  Second round pick Jimmy Garoppolo is being scrutinized heavily, though Tom Brady has a pretty good stranglehold on the starting quarterback job.  Dominique Easley, the first round pick, is a no-show because he is still recovering from knee injuries.  The young receivers from last year, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce are now in a fight to keep their jobs heading into the season.

But all eyes are on the cornerbacks.  They are no doubt the rock stars of the OTAs.

That said, here is a quick synopsis on what Patriots Nation can expect with these two distinguished gentlemen.

Darrelle Revis

What’s to like:  Quick, name the last time the Patriots went out and signed the best player at his position in the NFL as a free agent.  Revis is the best.  He can cover any receiver in the NFL.  He takes away one half of the field with near certainty.  Brady is already sick of throwing towards him in the OTAs.  Revis almost singlehandedly put the Jets ahead of the Patriots during his tenure down south on Exit 16W.  In Bill Belichick’s two-part docu-drama on the NFL Network’s A Football Life, the loss at Giants Stadium featured an interception by Revis on a deep ball to Randy Moss that the Jets knew was coming, and the Patriots knew not to try but did anyway.

Darrelle Revis was prominent during the Patriot OTAs this week at Gillette Stadium.
(USA TODAY Images)

What’s not to like:  First of all, Revis could get hurt.  He missed all but two games of his final Jets season two years ago.  Worrying about who will get hurt and how badly greatly reduces the quality of lives in general, and is something generally not speculated on (unless the name Danny Amendola comes up in a discussion).  But if Revis suffers a debilitating injury, which causes him to miss a significant amount of time, it could have a profound effect on the fortunes of the 2014 Patriots.

Then, of course, there’s the money.  Revis is notorious for demanding to have contracts torn up and re-written to make sure he is at the top of the cornerback pay scale.  Markets are set all the time, but Revis is the one who either wants to set them or be right there with them and never below them. Revis pulled these stunts several times as a Jet.  Revis is working on a one-year, $12 million contract with the Patriots, and there is a widespread belief that Revis will not be here beyond 2014 as he will price himself out of town ife he has a season that is least 80% of his past performances.  As long as Revis doesn’t complain about making “only” $12 million this year as a Patriot, times should be good in 2014.

Brandon Browner

What’s to like:  He may not be Richard Sherman, but he’s big and has Sherman’s mentality as his former teammate.  Browner will bring a physical edge to the Patriots secondary this fall, which was a trademark of the Seahawks defense, which currently enjoys the moniker of “NFL Champions”.  He will also bring Sherman’s attitude, which can and should permeate itself to the rest of the secondary and perhaps the rest of the defense.  Browner won’t put up gaudy interception numbers, but the intimidation factor will be a nice compliment to Revis’ cover ability on the other side of the field.

What’s not to like:  Wacky tobacky got Browner in a bit of trouble.  Legal in Washington state but not allowed in the NFL, marijuana usage got Browner a four game suspension for the beginning of the 2014 season.  He will play 12 games and get paid for 8.  This sort of thing, albeit for him doing something that is now legal at home, is never a good thing when the word “suspension” is mentioned.  The sight of Aaron Hernandez getting arraigned for two more murders should give pause for anyone coming to Foxborough who is anything short of being a Boy Scout.  Granted, smoking a bone is not nearly as bad as allegedly blowing away three people, but it is still something that has to be taken into consideration.

Revis and Browner collectively

What’s to like:  Belichick has already taught the two how to interview as a Patriot.  They gave a lot of non-answers, especially Browner, when asked about how the OTAs were going.  They were frequently baited into giving answers which would provide bulletin board fodder or the lead-in on the evening sports news program, but neither player would bite.

What’s not to like:  Browner seemed like he wanted to cut loose and speak his mind, and looked uncomfortable in showing restraint.  This might mean that down the road, Browner breaks the Belichick code of honor and says something that torques off his new boss.  One need only be reminded of Wes Welker’s otherwise benign comments regarding Jets coach Rex Ryan’s foot fetish to be concerned over what Browner might say later on this season if he cannot continually show restraint on what he says.  The last thing the Patriots need is for Browner to have to sit out a quarter of a key playoff game or a key December game because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

Overall, this is a great thing for the Patriots.  Seeing the Flying Elvis on Revis’ blue non-numbered jersey was exceptionally delightful.  He looked dreadfully awful in Jets green all those years.  If the Patriots can survive the four games Browner has to sit out in September, they will be looking very good down the stretch as they gun for still another divisional title and playoff berth.

But the intent is for the Patriots to get to the Super Bowl, not to just win the division.  If they do, it’s a good bet that Revis and Browner will be a major reason why.

Patriots Draft For Now And The Future

FOXBOROUGH – Chapter 237 of In Bill We Trust has begun, bringing to New England The Injured and The Anointed.

It wasn’t like the Patriots were going to trade up to get Jadeveon Clowney or something outlandish like that. What Patriots fans usually expect on Draft Day is for Bill Belichick to trade down and stockpile for future drafts. Sometimes it seems like the Patriots are always interested in the next draft rather than the current one.

But in the first two rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Patriots did indeed make two selections, and traded out of the third round. On Thursday night, while most of New England was transfixed on this hockey game up in Montreal, the Patriots stayed put at 29 and selected Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley. Then on Friday night, the Patriots selected Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with the 62nd pick overall and 30th of the second round. The Patriots would later trade their third round pick (93rd overall) to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fourth-round pick (105th) and a sixth round pick (179th).

That the Patriots kept their first two picks without trading down was somewhat satisfying to the fan base. It was more or less who the Patriots took that seemed to make everyone stop and wonder if In Bill We Trust is still the way to go. It is still awfully hard to argue with the best head coach in the business, but the selections of Easley and Garoppolo are deserving of at least some discussion.

Easley comes from Florida, which immediately conjures memories of an alleged miscreant named Aaron Hernandez. Anyone from Gainesville is going to scare most of Patriots Nation after seeing Hernandez hauled away in handcuffs back in June of last year. Jermaine Cunningham wasn’t exactly a Boy Scout either, but not to the degree of Hernandez.

The biggest problem with Easley is his health. Easley blew out both of his knees at Florida, not just one, but both. This injury situation is what caused Easley to drop down most every draft board. Some experts have opined that, absent of knee issues, Easley was somewhat in the same company as Clowney, the top pick of the draft by Houston out of South Carolina. Easley is an inside defender who is expected to provide extra pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Given the upgrade at cornerback with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, if Easley can remain healthy, this is a good get as a compliment to Chandler Jones.

Then again, there are those knees. One might think of Danny Amendola when referencing the Patriots taking chances on guys with injury histories.

Even more intriguing was the second round selection of the Patriots. Is Garoppolo The Guy?

In terms of male-female relationships, The Guy is whom the woman expects will drop to a knee and slip a ring on her finger, asking her some question about life partnership. But in Patriots Nation, The Guy refers to the man who will ascend to the highest throne in the NFL not held by Roger Goodell. Of all the positions possible in the NFL, it is not that far fetched that quarterback of the New England Patriots is the most heralded in the league. Of course, it was Tom Brady that made it so, not something that has been the case since the NFL was formed in 1920.

Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo was chosen in the second round by the Patriots. Is this guy Tom Brady’s eventual replacement?(USA TODAY Images)

But Brady turns 37 in August, and at some point, the Patriots have to plan for the day that he is done. It may be somewhat akin to planning a burial plot for you and your spouse, in that you don’t want to do it but someday you have to. Brady will retire some day. They all do.

But is Garoppolo The Guy? Or, is taking The Guy in the second round prudent or imprudent drafting?

If the Patriots were going to use the 2014 Draft to take The Guy, many observers and experts thought that The Guy might be Alabama’s A.J. McCarron. McCarron is on record as wanting to play for the Patriots. McCarron has championship pedigree with the Crimson Tide, so he would bring that element to Foxborough with him and eventually replace a quarterback with one more career championship than him.

As of the end of the third round, McCarron was still out there, unclaimed. The Patriots took Garoppolo instead, a relative unknown who put up numbers similar to Fresno State’s Derek Carr and won the Walter Payton Award as the best player in the FCS.

The first thing that NFL Network’s Mike Mayock commented on was Garoppolo’s feet and release. He is a much more mobile quarterback than Brady, and his combine footage proves his quick release and his ability to “flick” the ball to his receivers. Garoppolo knows well that he is looking at an apprenticeship behind Brady.

Of course, like Carr, one must consider what kind of defenses Garoppolo put up all those passing numbers against. Garoppolo played in the Ohio Valley Conference, which is not exactly a power conference. Garoppolo will have to learn to make quicker decisions and deal with players that are faster and stronger than what he dealt with in college.

The overall philosophy behind drafting Garoppolo is clear. The Patriots would love to treat him like Steve Young interning behind Joe Montana, or Aaron Rodgers interning behind Brett Favre. Both men eventually replaced their iconic first stringers, and both men have won one Super Bowl in their own right. Young and Rodgers did multi-year bench duty before becoming the starter, and Garoppolo will have to do the same in New England.

The problem is, were the Patriots smart in spending a second round pick on a 4-5 year project? By spending this high a pick on Brady’s replacement, it means that the Ryan Mallett era in Foxborough is over. It also means that the Patriots are very high on this guy, unlike other lower picks in past years like Rohan Davey, Kliff Kingsbury or Kevin O’Connell. But a second round pick for the next Brady?

Again, consider Brady’s stature in the league and his importance to the Patriots. This is probably one of a palmful of players whom you draft a project to replace him this high in the draft. This pick becomes a bad one if Garoppolo isn’t The Guy. It could be that there isn’t anyone alive on Planet Earth who is worthy of replacing Brady. If Garoppolo represents the best projection the Patriots can make as to their quarterback beyond Brady, maybe spending a second round pick is the way to go.

The man who told Belichick to draft Brady in 2000 is unfortunately no longer with us. Dick Rehbein passed away in 2001, but the late quarterback coach saw the greatness in Brady when he was at Michigan and persuaded Belichick to take Brady in the sixth round. This won’t happen ever again to the Patriots. There will never be this monumental a sixth round pick in your lifetimes.

So there you have it. Easley and Garoppolo, The Injured and The Anointed. Let the dreams begin.

Patriots Swap Talib For Revis, Literally

Okay, you have a cornerback who is the best the team has had in some six years.  He is high maintenance, has problems staying healthy in conference title games, and talks like Boomhower on King of the Hill.  He hits free agency, and two minutes later, he signs with Denver for a ridiculous amount of money.  Denver adds two other big ticket free agents on defense, and now the team that knocked you out of the playoffs just got better.

So, what do the Patriots do?  Simple.  Get the best cornerback in the league dumped in your lap and sign him to a one-year deal.

Patriot Nation can now sit down and shut up.  Aqib Talib was allowed to walk away with almost no resistance whatsoever.  Meanwhile, down in Tampa, the Buccaneers decide that Darrelle Revis is too expensive to keep on the team, and seeing that no team would trade for him, they simply cut him.  About four hours later, Revis is now a Patriot.  Instead of being quite bereft at cornerback, the Patriots now have the next Ty Law.  Or the next Raymond Clayborn.

Nah.  They got the next Mike Haynes.  Yes, folks, it’s that big.

For those of you not born in the 1980s or earlier, trust me when I tell you that Haynes was not enshrined in the Hall of Fame because he bought his way in.  Drafted at the five slot out of Arizona State in 1976, Haynes played his first seven seasons in Foxborough and was at the epicenter of the first great teams in Patriot history.  Many older folks still think (like Yours Truly) that the 1976 Patriots was the best team in franchise history, a team that would have won the Super Bowl except for Ben Dreith’s call from Hell.

Revis is that kind of player.  He is the best cornerback the Patriots have had since Haynes.

Revis agreed to a one-year, $12 million deal with the Patriots on Wednesday night, hours after being released by Tampa Bay.  He and Alfonzo Dennard (or Logan Ryan, depending upon whether or not Dennard acquires an Aaron Hernandez lifestyle) will form a terrific cornerback tandem for the Patriots in 2014, one that might stabilize the porous pass defense and maybe put the Patriots over the hump as far as making Super Bowl XLIX.

Make no mistake, this is one fantastic development for the Patriots.  You get Revis for a year, let him play like crazy, then deal with him in the offseason when he suddenly becomes David Ortiz minus the charity figure/team heart and soul persona.  Revis will want a boatload of money, a boat the size of Old Ironsides.

But we’ll deal with that later.  Right now, let’s look into how this all happened.

Aqib Talib signed with Denver as a free agent, but the Patriots moved quickly to replace him with Tampa Bay’s Darrelle Revis. (USA TODAY Images)

The Patriots let Talib go without any fight whatsoever.  This was perhaps the most important player on the Patriot defense.  With him in the lineup, the Patriots had a much better chance of winning.  He was injured in each of the last two AFC Championship Games, and in each case the Patriots went south when Talib left the contest.

So, the Patriots simply let him walk?  He signs with Denver that quickly?

Something had to be going on behind the scenes.  This was too illogical for the Patriots to let Talib go so easily.

However, when you realize where Revis came from, you then begin to understand.  By the way, Revis came to New England from the same place Talib came from.

It is a fair assumption to make that the connection between Bill Belichick and Tampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano had a lot to do with Revis coming to New England.  Schiano practically gave Talib to New England two seasons ago.  Granted, the Buccaneers get nothing in this deal other than salary cap relief, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to believe, albeit the possibility that tampering rules were messed with, that Schiano helped steer Revis towards New England.

Add to that a nice one-year deal which seems that both sides are happy with, and you have a Patriot team which no longer needs to answer to its fan base about letting go of Talib with no resistance.

What will bear watching will be what the Patriots do with Revis a year from now.  In the best case scenario, where Revis plays at an All-Pro level and leads the Patriots to at least a Super Bowl berth, Revis will command more than $12 million a year beyond 2014.  And if you remember Revis’ history with the Jets, you might remember that when it comes to Revis and money, he makes Jacoby Ellsbury seem miserly.

We draw the comparison to Big Papi because of how often you hear the both of them complain about their contracts every year or so.  Ortiz is doing it right now; coming off a great year and a World Series performance for the ages, he wants a new two-year deal from the Red Sox right now even though he has one year left on his current deal and the Red Sox don’t really have to do anything.  Over the years, Ortiz has made many such demands; he remains the most beloved of all Red Sox players and the one person who can get away with cussing on live television, so management and fans put up with it but still wish he would stop whining about his contract every other year or so.

Revis will do much the same thing.  He did lots of complaining when he was with the Jets and held many training camp holdouts while trying to force the Jets to bend to his will and his every demand.  For someone whom the Jets should have held on to for his entire career, he wound up in Tampa Bay for the 2013 season following an injury-shortened 2012 season.  The knee injury may have had a lot to do with the trade, but his constant holdouts wore thin with Jet management.

At least with the Patriots, you know this will be coming in 2015.  Revis will want a monster deal and will not give the Patriots or anyone else a discount.  To the Patriots’ advantage, the salary cap is due to go up over the next three seasons (which is why Denver splurged on three defensive stalwarts), so they might want to bend a little bit in making Revis want to stay for a few more years.  If they look at Revis as the defensive Tom Brady, Revis may spend more than one season in Foxborough.

For now, good deal for the Patriots.  Receivers will find slimmer pickings in the Patriot secondary.  Revis gets to at least dream of a Super Bowl.  The Jets will have to face him twice next year.

All the Patriots need now is for some big name receiver to get cut, and then they can kiss off Julian Edelman, too.