April 28, 2007
Patriots Draft Leaves Us Perplexed
BY: Kevin Rousseau
The most interesting offseason in recent Patriots history just got a little more intriguing on Saturday when the team ended up taking University of Miami safety Brandon Meriweather with the 24th pick in the first round. As the team made the pick, I said to myself "Meriweather, Meriweather.why does that name ring a bell?" Keep in mind that I watch about ten college football games a year, so Mel Kiper, Jr. I am not.
After the obligatory two clips showing Meriweather making game changing plays, the reason his name rang a bell became clear when ESPN showed the clip of Meriweather stomping on the head of a Florida International player in that Orange Bowl streetfight last fall. Then Chris Mortenson mentions something about a "gun" incident and my usual first-round draft euphoria melts like the polar caps.
I'm betting that Meriweather will be a model citizen when he arrives in Foxboro. After all, he is already at the plate with two strikes against him. But what is so shocking about the pick is that the "model franchise" would risk a significant first round signing bonus on such a player. Does the histrionics of the Terry Glenn era ring a bell? For once and for all, the mirage that many have built up (including myself, frankly) that the Patriots only take "character" guys has been shaken. Let's be clear, they are picking players for a football team, not altar guild. In that light, Meriweather likely fits a need for secondary help. After all, the Patriots have an outstanding track record of first-round success so there is no reason to think that this year will be any different.
Four picks later, the team did stay in character when they traded their second first round pick to San Francisco for a fourth this year and a first next year. At first glance, this is a disappointment. An impact linebacker chosen at that spot would have solidified my belief that the Patriots are the far away favorites to win Super Bowl XLIII. Such a player would have put the Patriots 2007 offseason express into overdrive.
After the disappointment of the trade has worn off, you can perhaps see where the Patriots are coming from on this one. They trade a 28th overall selection this year in a weak draft for a pick that is one Frank Gore injury away from being in the top ten next year. Nobody was under the illusion that the Deion Branch-induced first round pick was going to be any lower than the 20th spot when the deal was struck last September. And besides, like we did with Seattle this year Patriots fans will have a rooting interest in 49ers games during the 2007 season.
Despite the mixed bag for Patriots fans, it could be a lot worse. You could be a Miami Dolphins fan. Traditionally the Patriots biggest rival, the Dolphins botched the 9th overall pick and foresaked the chance to take a franchise quarterback in Brady Quinn. Since Dan Marino retired, the Miami quarterback position has been about as stable as the current Yankees pitching rotation. From a Patriots perspective, after Comissioner Roger Goodell announced the Ted Ginn selection I'm sure you were as relieved as I am. "Well that's a break, we won't have to worry about Miami making a run at us anytime soon," I uttered to my 15-month old sleeping daughter Evelyn as we wasted a perfectly good afternoon falling in and out of consciousness on the living room sofa.
Leading up to the draft, it's been an incredible offseason for a team that was a minute away from the Super Bowl in January. Days after sticking my head in the oven at the conclusion of Super Bowl XLII, I was blown away that the Patriots landed the biggest fish in the free agency pond in linebacker Adalius Thomas. Leading up to the start of free agency, none of us were delusional enough to think that Thomas was heading our way. So much for the Patriots being frugal in free agency.
Then in quick order, the team smartly signed key pieces like RB Sammy Morris, TE Kyle Brady, WR Wes Welker (a Patriot killer for years, folks), WR Donte Stallworth, WR Kelley Washington and CB Tory James. Phew.
The main reason--besides superior coaching--that the Patriots have three Super Bowl championship banners hanging in the southeast corner of Gillette Stadium is because they had the best personnel from position 23 back to 45 when matched up with an opponent. No question that they have enhanced that advantage for 2007 via free agency this offseason.
So the $64,000 question is where does this all leave the balance of power in the AFC? Let's assume for a minute that we should just concern ourselves with the Chargers and Colts. The Chargers, apparently satisfied with the personnel that lost a favored home playoff game, have not made any significant moves via free agency and have lost linebacker Donnie Edwards and head coach Marty Schottenheimer. And don't forget that besides a new head coach, there will be two new coordinators since Dallas and Miami yearned to tap into the magic that was the 2006 San Diego Chargers. Sure, the perceived game of the year is the November 4 tilt with Indy, but the one that will make me pee in my pants with excitement is the week two Sunday night streetfight with San Diego in Foxboro on September 16.
Why, do you ask? Youtube.com, that's why. With a new cable modem, over the last month or two I have wasted countless hours watching old John Wensik fights, Dropkick Murphys videos and Patriot clips. The videos that have peaked my interest the most are the ones related to the San Diego-Patriots divisional playoff game. First, we have a pre-game yahoo rally in San Diego where Shawne Merriman promises to "hit Tom Brady right in his mouth.". Next, we have this clip from NECN where Phillip Rivers sounds like an adolescent boy whose voice is changing and Rosie Colvin claims that "the lights are out. There's a power outage.". And finally, we have Tedy Bruschi in a post-game rant inside the Patriots locker room wishing the Chargers all-pros a good time in Hawaii..
As for the Colts, they've lost everyone this side of Bert Jones this offseason and the free agency spending of past offseasons has finally caught up with them. Simple math would say the Patriots have tipped the balance of power between them given their offseasons. But unfortunately for Patriots fans, simple math in the offseason doesn't dictate who raises the Vince Lombardi Trophy the following January.
The only litmus test of the 2007 NFL draft that matters is whether it wins you championships in the coming years. Who cares who is ranked as having the "best draft" on the Monday afterwards? I sure don't. While a second selection in the first round would have put the foot on the gas pedal in the AFC, a hard-hitting safety (Meriweather) and a playmaker who the team acquired with its 2nd round pick (Welker) will still go a long way in ensuring the leader in the clubhouse continues to be the Patriots as the season begins in a few months.
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