Belichickís free-agent moves ring un-Patriotic
Column: On Pro Football
By Hector Longo
THE EAGLE-TRIBUNE (NORTH ANDOVER, Mass.)
NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. ó For the first time since Bill Belichick took the big chair here at Gillette Stadium, the New England Patriots flinched. How else can you explain the recent barrage of offseason moves?
Adalius Thomas and possibly Donte Stallworth? A trade for Wes Welker? A total investment | on paper anyway | of nearly $110 million?
Talk about un-Patriotic.
Weíll start with the big fish, Thomas, the linebacker from Baltimore. A natural fit, right?
New England needs linebacker help desperately. Anyone who saw Eric Alexander try to play the position in Indy back in January understands that fact.
But Thomas and his gigantic price tag? Itís such an un-Belichick-like move.
For Thomas, a 29-year-old one-time Pro Bowler, the Pats will fork over $22 million in the first two seasons, the bulk of which is guaranteed. The five-year deal, after the first two seasons, then gets a bit murky.
According to reports, Thomasí cap number (a fairly modest $3.4 million this year and $5.4 million in 2008) leapfrogs to $6.4 million, $9.4 million and $10.4 million in the final three seasons. Years 4 and 5 look awfully hackable, considering the actual salaries of $4.9 million in 2010 and $5.9 million in 2011.
Two years, three years, five years. No matter how you look at it, this deal is not cap friendly.
In return, New England gets Thomas, a grizzled vet with 96 games of wear under his belt.
At 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds, he is a specimen who once ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash and was heavily recruited to play basketball by bigtime colleges.
He adds major speed to a defense severely lacking in that department. He is not stout at the point of attack, according to experts. Thatís a requisite in Belichick defenses. Is he another Rosie Colvin? If he is, he canít play the "SamĒ or strong outside linebacker position in Belichickís 3-4 scheme, the position of most need right now.
If he canít play "Sam," it means Mike Vrabel must, leaving a gritty-but-slowed Tedy Bruschi, an almost 40-something Junior Seau and a plate of special teamers to play inside.
Sure, Thomas can play elsewhere, but not at the same level. Why settle for 80 cents on the dollar?
That brings us to the latest acquisition, Welker.
Without dredging up the past, remember that Deion Branch and David Givens once were the starters for this proud franchise, both stepping into their prime in 2005.
Now, look at their second barrage of replacements to replace the first round of replacements | Doug Gabriel, Chad Jackson, Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell.
Stallworth, who is high on the Pats' wish list, and Welker would equal $50 million worth of mediocrity. If Iím Caldwell and Gaffney, each among the lower end type of signees a year ago, Iím wondering where my bonus is.
Welker comes in off his best season as a pro, 67 catches for Miami last year.
New England football fans, from afar, gravitate to a guy like Welker, a self-made pro with speed and guts who has come out of nowhere. They remember him torching Ellis Hobbs for nine catches and 77 yards back in October.
For the record, in his breakout campaign with Marty Booker, Chris Chambers and Randy McMichael drawing all the heavy coverage, Welker finished 24th in the conference in receiving yards.
He was 14th in the NFL in punt return average at 9.2 yards per attempt and 28th in kick returns at 22.2 yards.
For that, Belichick expended a pair of draft picks, a second and a seventh, and $10 million of guaranteed money.
Randy Moss, a Hall of Fame talent, was supposed to be deliverable at that price. But Wes Welker? The guy who said Wednesday, "I was just hoping to stick around in the league a couple years"?
A second-round pick doesnít sound like much to most fans, but Belichick has grabbed Branch, Eugene Wilson and Matt Light there. Thatís a Super Bowl MVP, a three-year starter and a Pro Bowl left tackle.
Next could be the arrival of Stallworth, who caught just 38 balls a year ago. The Pats might pay him Branch money, despite his reported membership in the NFLís substance abuse program as a first-time offender.
Stallworth, who recorded 70 catches in New Orleans two years ago, is again the anti-Belichick, un-Patriotic choice. He is a risk, a longshot as great as Moss without the potential return.
This is not to say these moves wonít work. In fact, if he boldly went after a Stallworth last year, a game-breaker type instead of the cheap, quick-fix route at receiver, Belichick would have been lauded here, starting in this corner.
This team finished one final drive from victory in Indy, a drive in which Tom Brady couldnít find any receivers to throw to, even with the Colts in a protect-the-sidelines prevent defense.
One final drive from a fourth Super Bowl in six years.
There is a sense of urgency in these moves, and thatís a good thing. Itís a tactic this organization should have taken when it became fish-or-cut bait time with Branch.
Now is not the time to panic, though.
Last August was.
Hector Longo covers the New England Patriots for The Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, Mass.
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