An arrest just days before the draft.
A positive drug test, with rumors of multiple failures.
Lack of maturity.
These are not details or traits NFL teams want associated with potential players. But all over the league, there are flawed individuals on NFL rosters because their talent makes them too appealing to pass up.
New England isn’t alone as one of those teams that roll the dice on players with question marks. But maybe no team in the league takes as many chances with questionable players as the Patriots do. Their success record is mixed, but that’s expected when dealing with individuals.
There isn’t a secret to New England’s methods. It just does a great job of balancing low risk, high reward.
New England doesn’t have a formula or a scaled chart to help figure out whether a player will be a good acquisition, because intangibles are immeasurable. No one can assign a value to one’s maturity or character. It’s up to the team to determine through conversations with the player, close teammates and trusted coaches if a player is worth the gamble.
CB Aqib Talib is the latest gamble by New England. Talib is regarded as an athletic corner with shut-down ability. But with numerous arrests on his record, Talib is a huge risk.
Talib must prove how important football is to him in order to last the season with the Patriots. If he has another run-in with the law or doesn’t show effort on the field, head coach Bill Belichick won’t waste time discarding Talib.
The cost for Talib and a 2013 seventh-round pick was a 2013 fourth-round pick. Considering New England’s recent fourth-round selections (2010: TE Aaron Hernandez; 2009: OG Rich Ohrnberger; 2008: CB Jonathan Wilhite; 2007: DT Kareem Brown; 2006: FB Garrett Mills and K Stephen Gostkowski), it’s a small price for a known commodity.
Belichick trades for other teams' trash, hoping a winning atmosphere reinvigorates the player. It’s like shopping at yard sales for Antique Road Show finds.
The first noteworthy trade was for RB Corey Dillon, plucked from Cincinnati for a substantial 2004 second-round pick. After 1,635 yards, 13 total touchdowns and a Super Bowl XXXIX win, that second-round pick was more than worth it.
WR Randy Moss’ tarnished career was revived in New England for a 2007 fourth-round pick. Three 1,000-yard seasons and 50 touchdowns in a little more than three seasons was grand larceny.
These trades don’t always work, but Belichick doesn’t live with mistakes for long.
DT Albert Haynesworth (for a 2013 fifth-round pick) loafed for six games in New England before being released. And while the receiver formally known as Chad Ochocinco (2012 fifth-round pick and 2013 six-rounder) tried his best, he never figured out the offense and was gone after one season.
New England exercises low-risk, high-reward during the NFL draft as well. If a talented player with red flags drops, the Patriots will take a chance on the talent if the they believe the player will clean up his act.
QB Ryan Mallett has a first-round arm, but doubts about his maturity dropped him to the third round in 2011. A year after being drafted, Mallett is Tom Brady’s backup, picking the brain of one of the league’s best quarterbacks.
A failed drug test at the University of Florida, with rumors that he tested positive for marijuana more than once, sent Hernandez plummeting to the fourth round in 2010. Now Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski form arguably the most potent tight end duo in the NFL.
And CB Alfonzo Dennard was projected to go in the second round until an arrest just five days before the draft. He was rescued from falling completely out of the draft by New England in the seventh round in 2012. Finally healthy, Dennard has started two games and has two interceptions in just four games played.
As far as gambles go, Talib for a fourth-round pick seems like a safer bet than Haynesworth. According to sources, Talib has a passion for football unlike Haynesworth, who mailed it in once he signed his $100 million free-agent deal with the Washington Redskins.
Even if Talib’s motivation is financial, he has motivation to behave himself. Talib is in the final year of his rookie contract. If he stays out of trouble and plays well, Talib could earn a lucrative deal, whether he re-signs with the Patriots or another team.
This could be just a seven-game rental for the Patriots. But if Talib helps solidify a porous secondary and contributes to a deep playoff run, that fourth-round pick would be another bargain for New England.
If not, Talib is cut and the Patriots move on. As long as Belichick runs the Patriots, it won’t be the last chance they take on a player.
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