So far the off-season books have myself as well as others very nervous about the New England Patriots for next season...as a fan. However, as a believer in the Belichick system, the moves being made make me think they are all for good reason.
After Scott Pioli left for Kansas City he had the luxury of taking Matt Cassell and Mike Vrabel. The back-up quarterback that replaced Tom Brady both on the field and on paper last season, and a veteran inside/outside linebacker that was the backbone of our championship teams over the past few years. In return for two big names in the New England dynasty era, we received the 34th overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft on April 25. Most analysts feel that we gave up too much for too little in this deal, and as a Patriots fan, I agree!
As a football fan, we gave up what would have been an extremely overpaid backup quarterback and a great veteran linebacker who may not have anything left in the tank. As much as I love Mike Vrabel, look at some other decisions Belichick made when getting rid of players that we doubted him about in previous years. Adam Vinatieri who went from the greatest clutch show on turf to the biggest bomb in big situations with the Colts (you're welcome Peyton!), Willie McGinnest to the Browns with Romeo Crennel who went from a sure Hall of Famer to another disappearing DE/OLB in the league, Donte Stallworth who went from a speedy threat to compliment Randy Moss to an average #2 receiver in the NFL and last but not least, the highest paid disappointment in Philadelphia, Asante Samuel who only shows up in the playoffs. So all in all, I'd say Bill Belichick knows what he is doing when it comes to personnel.
Uncle Sam Wants You!
With 10 draft picks this year, 6 of them are in the top 100 on draft day. Anyone who knows anything about odds can say that six out of the top 100 players in the NCAA can have an immediate impact within three years in the league. Undoubtedly April 25th is going to be a big day for us. Most scouts believe that the Patriots will address their need for an OLB in dismissal of Vrabel with their first round pick and select Clay Matthews from USC.
Then only eleven picks later we have the 34th overall pick that we got from Kansas City. This is where we can address yet another need with a high ranking prospect coming out of the NCAA.
We have also made some off-season free agent moves to improve ourselves on both sides of the ball. We acquired a great veteran running back in Fred Taylor formerly of the Jacksonville Jaguars for the steep price of the league veteran minimum. Yes, that's right, MINIMUM! What better to compliment the backfield that was banged up last year than another plodder who is playing for a championship in what could be his last few seasons. Although Taylor's numbers look like they went down horribly last season, remember that he split time with Maurice Jones-Drew. That's just our M.O. though isn't it. Corey Dillon, Randy Moss and anyone else in the future who has been a great player on a bad team with a bad relationship with their owners. The safe haven, come to New England and win a championship right away! Who but Bill Belichick can offer that as a pitch to a prospective player?
We also picked up Shawn Springs from the Washington Redskins to help our defensive backfield have some veteran leadership. Another player whose numbers look as if they are declining, but notice that he only played in 9 games last season and his averages even out comparable to his yearly production.
A Shot at #4
For those of you sitting at home biting your nails and thinking that the dynasty has come to an end, remember who we are. We lost Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel and still won it all. So don't worry about Josh McDaniels and Scott Pioli. I just hope the same thing doesn't happen to them that happens to everyone else that left us, but you can ask Jay Cutler about that so far. We may have lost some pieces of the puzzle from our 18-1 run, but that was also the case last season and look at what we accomplished with a backup quarterback that hadn't taken a live snap since high school. We went 11-5 and just missed the playoffs, plagued by injuries and doubt. So now what? We lost some puzzle pieces and the off-season is the time for Belichick to find new pieces that fit better. Have faith and trust the man.
So the breakdown for this season leaves us with what? One gap to fill at outside linebacker that probably would have needed to been addressed anyway with our well known aging linebacker core. I wouldn't be surprised if we complemented our all first round pick defensive line with some first and second round pick linebackers to support Jerod Mayo and work toward defensive backs the following year. But I'm getting ahead of myself, let's keep it in the present and see what happens on April 25th.