It's almost that time of year again, training camp. A time when dreams become a reality.
Or, it can be a time when dreams get squashed, usually by an old guy with a whistle (RE: Coach Belichick). The New England Patriots will take the field someday soon, and start preparing for what is sure to be a long, exciting season.
Before we get there, though, there will be player cuts. Marcus Stroud was signed by the Patriots before the lockout for two years and $3.8 million. The contract included only a $150,000 signing bonus, so New England could easily cut the decorated veteran if he doesn't fit in well (a la Derrick Burgess, who ended up being traded).
A year after the Patriots finished a stellar 14-2 regular season with a disheartening, confusing and frustrating 28-21 loss to the hated rival New York Jets, New England is looking to come back solely focused on the ultimate goal: another Super Bowl.
Like Tom Brady likes to say, "My favorite ring is the next one."
Here are five veterans who may not make it through Bill Belichick's training camp this offseason, and with such a large infusion of young talent, this could be a little different than Patriots fans expect.
(I am counting anyone with more than five years of experience a veteran, and I am including players who I expect to resign once the lockout is lifted)
Faulk is a free agent this summer, but if he doesn't resign with the Patriots, I would expect him to retire. He has been a Patriot his whole career, and we have been lucky enough to have him.
You could call him the quintessential Patriot (not to take anything away from Teddy Bruschi).
Drafted in Tom Brady's 1999 draft class, Faulk has been a model citizen and player ever since. Watching him go down last season with that knee injury was awful, especially once Danny Woodhead exploded as a local hero. You just felt bad for Faulk.
As a Patriots fan, you just feel like he didn't deserve it.
He served this team and this organization so well, and so professionally, it would have been much nicer if he could've retired on his own terms.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen. His body gave out on him. After all of those years of being Tom Brady's safety blanket, being the guy who always found a way to come up with the big first down, Kevin Faulk will most likely be cut this offseason.
The only other scenario I see is that the Pats resign him, and out of respect for all he's done, give him a roster spot as an emergency backup.
Kaczur had the great luck of being drafted in 2005, right after the Pats had won three of the last four Super Bowls. Unfortunately, they haven't been able to get another one since.
Being part of the Patriots organization is something many players would die for, and Kaczur got it his whole career. The problem arose last season, though, when he severely injured his back and was placed on the injured reserve list. With his season over, and with all of the terrific young talent brought in through the draft, New England is most likely finished with Nick.
He was a dependable, solid starter in the NFL for about five seasons, which is more than you can say for a whole bunch of other players, but Kaczur never really turned the corner.
The right side of the Patriots offensive line always seemed like the weak link.
Pro Bowlers Matt Light, Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen were always the ones recognized for their abilities, and rightfully so. Playing next to the oft-injured Stephen Neal didn't help Kaczur, but getting destroyed by Robert Mathis and LaMarr Woodley didn't help either.
Kaczur will be an expensive player to cut, and he could potentially be valuable as a veteran backup, but it's time for the young guys to start learning.
RIch Ohrnberger, Marcus Cannon and Ryan Wendell are really the future for the Patriots offensive line (along with Sebastian Vollmer who is already a starter).
It's their time now, and Kaczur must go.
If you're not a Patriots fan, you are probably thinking, "Rob Ninka-WHO?"
And I guess you have a reason.
Ninkovich was a solid player last year, but he really doesn't bring much to the table. He isn't a good pass rusher, doesn't have great hands and he is an OK tackler. Typical Belichick.
The Pats don't ever draft dynamic pass-rushers, instead electing to plug in guys like Rob Ninkovich. Maybe they were hoping he would turn into the next Mike Vrabel. You know, same number, same body type, etc. And for a little while, it looked like they were right.
Ninkovich had a great game against Miami when he had four tackles, a sack, and two big interceptions.
Slight problem though. It seems that Rob can only do it against Miami. Take a look:
Against Miami (two games): three sacks, two interceptions, one fumble recovery
Against everyone else (14 games): one sack, two fumble recoveries
Weird, right? While Ninkovich did prove his worth in some games that were against other opponents (most notably in the comeback against Baltimore when he had eight solo tackles), his lack of strength and playmaking abilities make him a defensive liability.
New England has Jermaine Cunningham, Tully Banta-Cain, Dane Fletcher and Eric Moore as replacements, so if Ninkovich doesn't show any improvement, expect Belichick to cut him loose.
Crumpler's effect is a lot like Kevin Faulk's current effect: leadership.
He didn't do anything spectacular last season, numbers-wise, but he was a team captain, and he mentored two young, great tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
The thing that Crumpler had going for him was his spectacular run-blocking ability. He is one of the best in the business at opening up holes for the running back, and punishing over-aggressive linebackers (see: his ridiculous hit on James Harrison in week 9).
A problem has arisen, though, because the Patriots drafted his replacement. Lee Smith, who's a gigantic 6'6", 266 pounds, was picked as a direct result of Crumpler's impending departure.
Don't count Alge out though.
If the rookie's game doesn't translate on the NFL level, Crumpler will surely be held on to. Despite a mindbogglingly bad dropped touchdown catch against the Jets in the playoffs, Crumpler does have the talent to get down field and make plays.
Don't forget, Crumpler was once considered among the tight end elite. Also, last year, four of his six receptions were touchdowns.
Marcus Stroud used to be considered a beast.
One of the best in the game.
He is still a beast, but only in size, not talent. I really do like that the Patriots signed Stroud, and I do hope he makes the team, but it just seems like all of these 4-3 defenders who come to the Patriots fail miserably. Stroud had already started to regress in the 3-4 when he was in Buffalo, and playing New England's two-gap style doesn't seem to fit his aggressive style of play.
Just because of his size, you should not compare him to Ted "Mount" Washington or Keith Traylor.
Stroud has agility, acceleration, and an ability to chase the quarterback. He can't play the role of "space eater" like those two other guys.
I think Marcus still has a good year left in him, I just don't think New England is the right destination. Not when we already have Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Mike Wright, Ron Brace, Gerrard Warren, Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick and Myron Pryor.
These five cuts might seem tough right now, but you know how the saying goes:
"In Belichick We Trust!"
Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think!