In a move sure to send 31 other NFL teams searching for a safe rock to hide under, the New England Patriots traded undisclosed draft picks to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for veteran pass rusher and two-time Pro Bowler Derrick Burgess.
The trade effectively puts an end to any remaming rumors concerning the Patriots and Carolina Panthers' defensive end Julius Peppers. At the same time, the Pats had to make a roster cut by releasing oft-injured offensive lineman Al Johnson.
Entering the preseason, the only flaw apparent to Pats backers was their lack of depth at linebacker. Now, with the acquisition of Burgess, they have a guy who can play both on the line and off his linemen.
The 31-year-old has recorded 47 sacks in his seven-year career, and led the NFL in sacks with 16 while with the Raiders. Coincidentally, 2005 was his first year with the Raiders, having spent the first three years of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Burgess also adds some durability to a group of oft-injured players around New England. In his career, Burgess has played in 10 games or more all but once, as he missed 15 games in 2002.
Adding a pass-rushing talent like Burgess adds an unexpected wrinkle to the Patriots' camp battles. Now, incumbents Eric Alexander, Pierre Woods, and Shawn Crable, along with re-signed linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, have a bigger obstacle to get through.
For players like Alexander and Woods, members of the Patriots for three and four years, respectively, this trade will spark a camp battle ending in the loser's release.
Crable, hobbled again in just his second year, has precedent on his side, as the Patriots have been known to be patient with young talent when it comes to injuries, like in the cases of Laurence Maroney and Chad Jackson.
Banta-Cain, brought in to solidify a pass rush, now has a greater talent vying for the same role. Earlier, it looked like he would see an increased role, but now Patriots fans should prepare to see Banta-Cain in limited action yet again.
Burgess, a "tweener" between linebacker and defensive end, will be expected to fill the role of recently-traded Mike Vrabel. Age should not be a concern with Burgess, as Vrabel had his best season statistically in 2007 with 12.5 sacks at 32 years old.
It will be interesting to see how—if the Patriots' offense is as explosive as everyone thinks it is—Burgess will perform when pinning his ears back and bull-rushing the quarterback every week.
For example, in his personal best season in 2006 and his 11-sack season of 2005, Burgess's greatest games took place when his last place Raiders team held a big lead. In a 38-17 victory over Buffalo in 2005, Burgess had both of the team's two sacks. In 2006, he racked up two more sacks in Oakland's 22-9 victory over Arizona.
The change of scenery could also play a part in future success, as in those two seasons, the Raiders won a combined six games.
With Burgess aboard, it is just short of a guarantee that the Patriots will win more games this year alone.