New England Patriots’ Decade Of Dominance: Coming To An End?
There have been some interesting developments in Foxborough over the past few months. Most of it has managed to fly under the radar, mostly due to the wild (over)hype of the New York Jets this entire offseason. To be sure, the Jets’ hype is somewhat warranted, but most of it is not. And it is definitely a construct of the fact they play in the New York market. However, there are major developments in Foxborough that can have deep repercussions for the New England Patriots for years to come.
First and foremost, most people who follow the NFL in general, and notice how the Patriots do business are pretty clear that they place NO player above the team as a whole. Over the past five years alone, they’ve either outright cut/waived, traded for, allowed to walk in free agency or franchised the following guys: DE Richard Seymour, CB Asante Samuel, LB Adalius Thomas, WR Deion Branch (a Tom Brady favorite, as he did what WR Wes Welker does for the Patriots now), LB Willie McGinest (admittedly near the end of his career, but was still a cap casualty consideration) and a few others who were marginal stars or at least steady contributors.
Interestingly enough, in the course of doing these things, especially in 2005, when contracts reached ridiculous heights across the board in the NFL, QB Tom Brady took deferred money and a “lesser” contract (compared to that of both Manning brothers, Donovan McNabb and the types of contracts Brett Favre has played under the past 3-4 seasons) for the sake of the team. The thinking being that the Patriots would in turn use the money saved while signing Brady for “less” to sign other players and keep the core of the team intact. It appeared in 2006 and 2007, this was paying huge dividends. Indeed, they were 16-0 and 18-0 going into Super Bowl XLII. However, they began allowing players to walk (Samuel) or trading them and hedging bets on future draft picks (Seymour) because they are so well known for finding slag players at Division III schools, or overlooked FBS level players. A fine stratagem if you are winning, to be sure, but when you begin to fall short of expectations, there will be a rift in the mess hall.
Seymour’s trade was unpopular with Patriots fans, and with good reason. He was a stalwart and the anchor of not only the Patriots’ defensive line, but the heart and soul of their entire defense. Asante Samuel has long been one of the best cornerbacks in football (and continued to prove it in his time since leaving New England in Philadelphia — being one of the league leaders in interceptions and tied for most amongst CBs). All along, Brady took less money so the Patriots could franchise-tag guys and sign other players.
Now that the Patriots have fallen back to the pack and Brady and WR Randy Moss’ contracts are up after the 2010 season, it begs to question: WHERE DO THEY GO FROM HERE?
Again, the Patriots are known to be frugal (or cheap, stingy, etc. whatever you want to label them) when it comes to paying their players. One school of thought is that Brady is the ULTIMATE franchise player, and they’ll do whatever it takes to sign him. Another camp would suggest that along with the Patriots’ track record, their limited cap space, the uncertainty of a 2011 season, and the need to either compensate Moss similarly (over 3 years, as opposed to the probably 5-6 years Brady will want), that the Patriots may indeed either let Brady walk after the 2010 season (hard to believe, but not unprecedented these days), franchise him (so he can get Manning money), or trade him for picks (another hard-to-believe scenario, but again, not unheard of). Time will tell, but consider this:
Brady-to-Moss has been the most prolific QB-to-WR tandem in such a condensed time. Moss joined the Pats in 2007, but all Randy Moss does is catch touchdowns like his former mentor in Minnesota. The Patriots hold the all-time points scored record for a reason, and Brady passed for 50 TDs that year — more than some #1 overall pick QB busts COMBINED in their entire careers. Think about that. Are they really going to let this guy go? It is hard to fathom, but one more point:
Brady is playing the 2010 season, coming up on his 33rd birthday. He’d be 34 midway through a 2011 season. QBs can typically be very effective into their late 30s (Dan Marino had a similarly gruesome injury in 1993, came back just as quickly, albeit with a limp thereafter and still had the biggest arm in the NFL clear until he retired, Brett Favre self-medicated his way to playing until his 41st birthday, which is coming up in less than six weeks, and avoided major injury — before the ankle injury in the NFC Championship earlier this year), and the Patriots are surely trying to insure themselves against a cap-crippling contract. Brady is the face of the team, but much as Drew Bledsoe had the same label before his own fate was sealed due to a vicious hit, that can soon change.
Personally, I believe Brady can play 5-6 more years, barring injury, and be very effective as he has been to this point. He’s not a guy who relies much upon mobility, just the occasional roll out and doing just enough to elude pass rushers to make a throw. And he still has one of the biggest arms in the NFL — a point constantly lost among some who follow the NFL. But one would have to think that given he has been “underpaid” for the past 5 seasons, that he will be looking to cash in, insure himself against losing another year toward his veteran status in the NFLPA (if there is a 2011 lockout), and also securing his final contract in the NFL without much haggle. That means a 5 or 6 year contract, worth about $110 million, about half guaranteed and spread out over three tiers of signing bonuses and roster bonuses through 2013. That would be the best case scenario for the Patriots, because they won’t be cap-crippled, Brady would be amenable to such language and they could still potentially bring Moss back, who, despite being 33 himself, is still in his prime and still faster than 90% of the league’s WR. If not more. He’s got 5-6 years left in him, should he even want to play that long, so even if the Patriots decide not to re-sign him, he’ll have 3/4 of the league knocking at his door immediately.
Interesting times beckon in Foxborough, they haven’t done too much to bolster their team on either side of the ball. They’re just counting on Brady’s being a full year removed from ACL surgery, Welker’s near-miraculous 9 month recovery from a vicious knee injury of his own — rupturing the same ligaments that kept New York Knicks’ superstar Bernard King out of basketball for nearly two full seasons — and Moss’ consistent health as being enough to at least get to the playoffs, where “anything can happen”. I just do not trust their defense, and that same defense was certainly exposed against a one-trick pony Ravens offense that was all but predictable. They still could not stop the Ravens. And they haven’t done anything startling to improve the defense.
What do you think the Patriots will do, given that they have two guys (not to mention other guys who have contracts expiring in the offseason) who will command almost $40M in guaranteed money in 2011 ALONE moving forward after this season?