If you have read and/or watched any sports related media on the New England Patriots since Free Agency you may have fallen under the assumption that they lost something this off-season. I'm writing to show you that isn't even close to correct. All over the internet you can see stories headlining how the Patriots lost their entire secondary and other playmakers. I will discuss how the loss of one starter in their secondary and the loss of 3 others who were either backups or on IR isn't that great because apparently this does need to be explained.
The other "play makers" that the Patriots cut their ties with included Rosevelt Colvin who made a jaw dropping 17 solo tackles in 12 games before ending up on the IR for the second time in his career with the Patriots. Colvin was entering his 9th NFL season and his 5th with the Patriots. He was primarily used as an outside rusher in 3rd down situations. He lacked the versatility to be used in many other situations and did have a history with injuries. His lack of production, age, and his price tag all contributed to his signing with the Houston Texans. His departure freed up cap space that was used to sign many promising replacements who I will get to a little later.
Donte' Stallworth was also regarded as a loss after his tantalizing streak of 12 straight games (week 7- week 21) without a touchdown reception. He managed that run of brilliance with Tom Brady at Quarterback (you know the guy that broke the NFL record for passing touchdowns). Stallworth also lost his position on the WR depth chart about 3/4s of the way into the season to up-and-comer Jabar Gaffney. His lack of consistency and production will not be missed with the likes of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson, and Kelly Washington all still on the roster.
Now to the "catastrophic loss" in the Secondary. Yes folks, the Patriots lost CB Asante Samuel. He had 16 Interceptions in the past two seasons and was the definition of a play maker. But for those of you who only saw his Sports Center highlights there is a much bigger picture to look at in terms of his abilities. I'm not here to knock him or what he did for this team, but there's a reason he wasn't worth the $57.14 million contract to the Patriots.
He's a liability. Being 5'10 matched up against 6'5 WRs obviously puts him at an immediate height disadvantage much like most other CBs and he did well at countering that disadvantage. He made big plays when he made his reads right and could make a jump for the pick, but for every pass deflected and INT he brought in he would make a wrong read or jump to soon and force the safeties to bring down the receiver 20 yards down field if it wasn't already in the endzone. I understand how easily this could be conceived as a Patriot fan writing off the loss to make it easier, I'll be the first to tell you I'd like him to still be in New England though. But as a person who has seen every defensive snap he's taken the last 4 years I can speak for his negatives more than the people who only see his positive game changing plays.
The biggest mystery of the off-season so far for me has to be the reception of CB Randall Gay's departure. I was a fan of the guy and would still like to see him succeed, but to be perfectly honest it was laughable to me to see him land a big FA contract. I remember when he was brought in as an un-drafted FA from LSU and he somehow made the team. He was thrust into the starting lineup many times in his rookie season and even started in Super Bowl 39 against the Eagles. This was not, however, because he had shown starter potential. It was because they had been decimated by injuries the entire season and needed someone to fill in. Terrell Owens' stats that night (9 receptions for 122 yards) should speak to Gay's initial abilities since he was matched up with the severely injured WR for the game.
Gay then went on to play in 8 games in the next two seasons before finally making it through the 2007 season healthily and with a solid depth postion- nickelback. He was a backup at best, if a starter went down he'd be thrown into their spot until a better option presented itself. He's not a huge loss just because the Saints decided to pay him $17.6 million. This is the same team that traded away their entire set of picks for the 1999 draft plus a 1st and 2nd rounder for the following year for a chance to pick RB Ricky Williams. The Patriots not only have many other options to replace Gay the options they have are also better options.
If an explanation of what the specific players role on the team wasn't enough for you that's fine. I'm would hope that their FA signees and draftees who were brought in to fill the gaps would be enough for you though. The Patriots drafted 3 LBs one of which was the 10th pick of the draft Jerod Mayo. They also signed Victor Hobson who was a standout in New York and fits perfectly into the LB rotation in New Engand. With holes to be filled in the secondary the Patriots signed CB Fernando Bryant, CB Lewis Sanders, and S Tank Willaims. They also drafted 2 CBs. The Patriots undoubtedly had holes, but they weren't nearly as big as the media portrayed them to be and they no longer exist with the 2008 draft class and FA pickups coming in to fill the roles vacated by the “entire secondary” and all of those “play makers”.