Interest In Bledsoe Is Interesting

Bob George
March 23, 2002 at 5:09 pm ET

C’mon, NFL. Don’t all rush at once to get your hands on the quarterback of your dreams.

To most Patriot fans, Drew Bledsoe represents something he’s never been in his entire Patriot career: a draft pick gold mine. The Former Franchise was injured, lost his starting job, and his replacement winds up being Super Bowl MVP and cops a trip to Honolulu. That’s how you go from the future greatest player in team history to prime trade bait.

The trouble is that the bait is there, but the fish aren’t biting, for now. But it is a little surprising to Patriot Nation that Bledsoe is not as hot a commodity as everyone thought he might be.

To say nothing of how Bledsoe must feel.

Washington drags in Danny Wuerffel because his old college coach wants him back at his side. Chicago watches Jim Miller get pulverized in the playoffs by Philadelphia’s Hugh Douglas, and re-signs him straightaway. Carolina professes their love for a nearly-30-year-old rookie named Chris Weinke, a 38-6 loser to Bledsoe’s current team last season. Bledsoe’s hometown team, Seattle, professes its love for the pride of Walla Walla by committing to the pride of Fresno, Trent Dilfer.

And so on.

Then on Friday, reports surface out of Cincinnati that Bledsoe finally got a nibble, except that Bledsoe’s agent, David Dunn, told a reporter that Bledsoe would not accept a trade to the Bengals. The unsubstantiated story in the Cincinnati Enquirer said that the Bengals expressed interest in Bledsoe, the first team to do so. But the Bengals were apparently asking Bledsoe to undergo a major contract restructure for a trade to be feasible. Reports say that Bledsoe is loath to play in Cincinnati to begin with, and a restructure would thus be insulting first and impossible second.

Okay, what’s the real deal here? Is Cincinnati really that bad a place? Is Bledsoe really not the team guy we thought he was? Is this story really true in the first place?

Actually, the biggest question that needs to be asked is this: How really marketable is Bledsoe, and is this lack of interest merely just a huge bunch of posturing by the league in general, the Patriots included?

Shopping Bledsoe in and of itself is one of the most incredible and unlikely New England off-field sports stories in recent memory. Once thought to be one of the biggest institutions in Boston sports history, an untimely injury and an incredible run of success by Tom Brady has relegated Bledsoe literally to JAG status (“JAG” is a term coined by Bill Parcells, and it means “just another guy”). It is perhaps the biggest fall from grace by a major sports star in this area. It is like Roger Clemens in a way, minus the bad feelings between the former Red Sox pitcher and former GM Dan Duquette.

Clemens went on to three more Cy Young Awards and a few rings with the Yankees. Will Bledsoe do the football equivalent?

If someone can figure out the answer to that question, you’ll then finally get the market established for Bledsoe. Despite Bledsoe’s Canton-like numbers throughout his Patriot tenure, there are perhaps several NFL executives out there who think that Bledsoe is overrated, and is not the upper-echelon quarterback that everyone in New England knows him to be.

In deference to fairness, a case can be made on both sides. Any team that takes on Bledsoe takes on some measure of risk, never mind the salary cap problems. But any team that takes on Bledsoe gets a quarterback who has won both of the AFC Championship Games he has played in, a guy with a proven record for competitiveness and toughness matched by few in the league.

Bledsoe goes counter to several prototype quarterbacks of today, which might tend to turn some teams off. Bledsoe can’t run, which will steer teams who want a quarterback like Donovan McNabb, Aaron Brooks or Steve McNair. Bledsoe likes to throw passes in the 20-30 yard range, which won’t fly with West Coast offenses or teams that want a Brady or a Dilfer.

Another unfortunate statistic that hurts Bledsoe is his won-lost record of late. Bledsoe has won only five of his last eighteen starts. Of course, in those eighteen games, he didn’t have an improved offensive line to protect him better or to open up holes for someone named Antowain Smith. But many general managers will fail to look past the won-loss record, and perhaps see an overpaid quarterback in decline rather than a superstar with many good years left.

There are also many who believe that Bledsoe is not a real smart quarterback. On numerous occasions Bledsoe has made decisions that appear like a regression to his early years rather than a progression of constant learning. Meanwhile, Brady has emerged as a better reader of defenses, and may have solidly established himself as a keeper by shaking off a poor first half against the Jets in the Meadowlands on December 2nd to rally the Patriots to a one-point win over a team that Bledsoe usually plays with zero confidence against.

Of course, New Englanders will look at Bledsoe and see nothing but positives, and can’t believe that he has to go, and wants to go.

Bledsoe is nobody’s backup, and ought never to be. Bledsoe doesn’t deserve to spend the rest of his Patriot contract backing up Brady, no matter how correct the decision may be to have given Brady the starting job. Many would look at pulling Brady out of the starting job right now as insane.

Bledsoe has embodied the true warrior image in his nine years in Foxborough. Despite his ups and downs, his overall performance has been one of a definite leader with a great arm and capable of putting up huge passing numbers. Bledsoe is one of the toughest players in the league at any position, a fact borne out that despite getting nearly fatally injured by Mo Lewis, Bledsoe played one more series before leaving the fateful game despite bleeding internally at the time.

And after the injury, his fate as Brady’s backup sealed, Bledsoe did everything possible the rest of the way to help Brady succeed and for his team to win. In the one game Bledsoe did play, he came in after Brady got hurt and merely led his team to a Super Bowl berth. Bledsoe was the most professional he has ever been in 2001, and it serves as a model for self-centered whiners who don’t understand that there really is no “I” in the word “team”.

As for Bledsoe possibly turning Cincinnati down, casting him as something less than the “team guy” he’s always been, comment is better reserved until all the facts are in. The credibility of the story is in question, but Bledsoe turning down the Bengals is not without merit. The organization has been a loser for the last twelve years and has perhaps the worst owner in the business. With how poor their money situation is, any money concessions from Bledsoe in restructuring a deal might be huge.

The general thinking is that interest in Bledsoe will pick up as the draft gets closer. Even if no deal is made prior to the draft, the Patriots still own Bledsoe through 2010. He doesn’t have to leave, though it’s likely he’d report to Smithfield as grumpy as Terry Glenn was last August.

Reports are that Bledsoe literally hates Bill Belichick, and the way he handled the quarterback situation last year, and wouldn’t play for him for anything. But if the supposed animosity isn’t as bad as some think, perhaps the Patriots might consider allowing Bledsoe to compete for his old job in camp. The Patriots don’t hurt themselves at all by holding on to Bledsoe other than salary cap ramifications.

Still, you have to think that sooner or later, teams will come after Bledsoe. The Patriots may not get the king’s ransom that they crave. But chances are that the Patriots will get a nice package for Bledsoe, and the hope that Bledsoe can resume his career as a starting quarterback somewhere else springs eternal.

For the best for all parties involved, Bledsoe does need to go.

It’s just that everyone will feel better when we think in terms of “when” and not “if”.

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