Over the past 10 years, the New England Patriots have been the NFL prototype for success. While other teams have gone through a number of peaks and valleys, the Patriots have remained the NFL’s most successful and stable franchise.
Since 2001, the Patriots have won three Super Bowls in four appearances and have made the playoffs eight times during that span. New England has won at least nine games in 10 of the 11 seasons Bill Belichick has coached the team.
Much of New England’s success is built around getting the most out of the players they have. Rarely do they have a roster chalked full of big name stars. Many of the free agents they bring in are often thought to be over-the-hill.
So it should have come as a surprise to no one when troubled DT Albert Hayensworth and attention seeking Chad “Ochocinco” were traded away by their respective clubs and landed in Foxboro.
If either player has anything left Bill Belichick will get it out of them.
Here are 10 veterans who found new life with the New England Patriots.
New England had one of the top passing attacks a year ago and cruised to a 14-2 record.
Despite their regular season success, the team lost in the Divisional round of the Playoffs to the eventual AFC champion, New York Jets.
After trading Randy Moss last season, the Patriots had no true No. 1 receiver to rely on.
Ochocinco gives them a reliable downfield target to go to late in games. Antics aside, he is still a quality pass catcher.
The critics will write him off as over-the-hill and immature, but “85,” as he sometimes refers to himself, will post big numbers in New England.
Coincidentally, Randy Moss arrived in New England under intense scrutiny back in 2007 after coming off of a lackluster season in Oakland. Moss would go on to post career bests and set an NFL record for most touchdown receptions in a single season (23) in his first season with the team.
Might we be in for a case of de ja vu with another aging, star wide receiver.
In 2008, Albert Haynesworth was named Defensive Player of the Year and was considered by many to be the best Defensive Tackle in the NFL. Haynesworth was named to his second straight Pro Bowl that year as a member of the Tennessee Titans.
The following offseason Haynesworth signed a $100 million contact to become a member of the Washington Redskins.
Haynesworth was anything but dominant in Washington and after two disastrous seasons the team sent him packing to New England for a fifth round draft pick.
Haynesworth will now lineup next to Patriots star defensive lineman, Vince Wilfork. He has yet to take a snap in New England but at age 30, it is hard to believe that he doesn’t have a lot left in that 330 pound frame.
Look for “Big Al” to return to his Pro Bowl form in New England.
His career looked to be headed for the abyss after back-to-back unproductive seasons in Oakland. Many questioned his commitment, effort and it was thought that his best days were behind him.
After a 2007 Draft day trade sent him to New England, Moss quickly proved he was still the best receiver in the game and, along with Tom Brady, put together a record-breaking season.
In 2007, Moss snagged 98 passes, hauled in 1,493 yards and caught 23 touchdown passes, breaking Jerry Rice’s record of 22. (Rice only played in 12 games because of a strike-shortened season).
The Patriots would finish the regular season 16-0 and win their first two playoff games to advance to the Super Bowl. Moss put up respectable numbers in the Super Bowl: five catches for 62 yards and a touchdown but it wasn’t enough. The Patriots were upset in Super Bowl XLII by the New York Giants.
Moss would post 1,000 yard seasons in 2008 and 2009 before being traded four games into the 2010 season.
In 2007, the Patriots would trade their 2nd and 7th round draft picks for Welker. Welker’s signing flew under the radar due in large part to the hype surrounding the trade for Randy Moss.
Welker was not as flashy as Moss and but he was arguably more effective. Welker finished with a team record 112 receptions, for 1,175 yards and caught eight touchdown passes.
While Moss was largely ineffective in two playoff games, Welker caught 16 passes for 110 yards and added in two touchdowns.
In the Super Bowl, Welker would tie Jerry Rice’s record of 11 receptions in a single game.
Welker would catch another 100 passes in 2008 making him the first Patriots receiver to record consecutive 100 catch seasons. In 2009, Welker caught a career high 123 receptions and was named to the Pro Bowl.
However, Welker’s season would end during a week 17 loss to the Houston Texans in which he tore his ACL.
2010 was the first season in which Welker didn’t catch 100 passes but he posted respectable numbers with 86 receptions for 848 yards, seven touchdowns and was named to the Pro Bowl.
Welker has become Tom Brady’s favorite and most consistent wide receiver.
For six seasons Corey Dillon ran in the virtual wasteland that was the Cincinnati Bengals franchise. Dillon didn’t let his surroundings stop him from succeeding, however. As a rookie, he set the single-game rookie rushing record with 246 yards.
In his time with the Bengals, Dillon made three Pro Bowls and broke the NFL record for rushing yards in a game with 275.
After six tumultuous years in Cincinnati, the Bengals shipped Dillon to New England for a second-round draft pick.
Finally with a winner, Dillon did not disappoint in New England. In the 2004 season, he ran for a career high 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Dillon was a big contributor for a New England Patriots team that went on to win their second-straight Super Bowl and third in four years.
In the Super Bowl, Dillon rushed for a game high 75 yards and scored a touchdown, he also had 31 yards receiving.
After the 2004 season, Dillon would never again rush for 1,000 yards but he did score 25 touchdowns the next two seasons in New England.
Following his release by New England in the spring of 2007, Dillon decided to call it a career. Although he only played three seasons with the team his contributions were enormous and New England has struggled to find a consistent running back to replace him.
Antowain Smith spent his first four seasons running for the Buffalo Bills. His career appeared to be on a downward spiral until he joined the New England Patriots in 2000.
Once in New England, Smith saw a revival of his once faltering career. Smith ran for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns in the regular season. He would run for another 204 yards in the playoffs, 92 of them coming in a Super Bowl XXXVI victory over the St. Louis Rams.
Smith would post more modest numbers in 2002 and 2003 but led the team in rushing both years. In the 2003 playoffs Smith ran for 252 yards and 2 scores and the Patriots won their second Super Bowl in three years.
Smith led the Patriots in rushing all three years he played for the team and scored 21 rushing touchdowns.
Joe Andruzzi’s road to championship glory was long and hard.
Andruzzi was signed as an undrafted rookie by the Green Bay Packers in 1997. Andruzzi played three seasons for the team before signing with the Patriots in 2000.
As a member of the Patriots Andruzzi started 72 regular season games in five years. He wasn’t named to any Pro Bowls but was a valuable part of the offensive line that kept Tom Brady upright for three Super Bowl victories.
Roman Phifer is one of the best examples of a veteran player making the best of a fresh start.
In 2001, New England signed him to a 1-year contract of $520,000. Phifer started all 16 games for a Patriots team that went on to win the Super Bowl, he recorded 93 tackles, 2 sacks, and forced and recovered two fumbles.
Phifer was even better the next season. He made 109 tackles and was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl.
Phifer was also a member of the 2003 and 2004 Super Bowl champion Patriots teams. His play on the field and off the field leadership was invaluable to the Patriots franchise.
Rodney Harrison built a reputation as one of the hardest hitting and most intimidating players while playing in San Diego for the Chargers. As a member of the Chargers, Harrison was named a two-time Pro Bowl selection.
The Chargers cut Harrison in 2003 and a few weeks later the Patriots swooped in and signed him to a deal. Harrison would make an immediate impact on the field and in the locker room.
In the 2003 regular season Harrison recorded 94 tackles, 3 sacks and 3 interceptions. He would also make two key interceptions in the playoffs. First he intercepted Steve McNair in a Divisional round game and the Patriots went on to win 17-14. The next week in the AFC Championship, he intercepted Peyton Manning and forced Marvin Harrison to fumble. The Patriots went on to win Super Bowl XXXVIII over the Carolina Panthers.
The following season Harrison had another standout year and registered 138 tackles in the regular season.
In the Divisional round of the playoffs, Harrison intercepted a Peyton Manning pass for the second straight season. He followed that up by intercepting Ben Roethlisberger for an 87 yard touchdown in the AFC Championship helping the Patriots to a 41-27 win.
The argument could easily be made that Rodney Harrison was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXIX.
He finished the game with seven tackles, a sack and two interceptions. Harrison’s final interception stopped an Eagles drive with ten seconds left in the game.
After the 2004 season, Harrison was slowed by a number of injuries. Despite being part of a Patriots team that won its first 18 games, Rodney Harrison will probably best be remembered for the catch David Tyree made over him in Super Bowl XLII. The Patriots lost the game 17-14, ending their chance for NFL perfection.
After being plagued by a number of injuries, Harrison retired after the 2008 season. Bill Belichick said “Rodney Harrison is one of the best players I have ever coached. In the biggest games, in any situation and on a weekly basis, his production was phenomenal.”
Sometimes a player must endure heartbreak and failure before he can reach his full potential. Thus is the story of Mike Vrabel.
After failing to crack the starting lineup, Vrabel was let go by the Pittsburgh Steelers after three seasons and seriously considered retiring but he opted instead to sign with the New England Patriots before the 2001 season.
Once in New England, Vrabel became a standout linebacker and even played tight end in goal line situations. Although he made his money on defense, Vrabel is one of only 17 players to catch two touchdown passes in a Super Bowl.
Vrabel was a member of all three New England Patriots Super Bowl championship teams as well as a member of the team that went 18-1 and lost Super Bowl XLII. He was also able to successfully make the transition from outside to inside linebacker to fill the void for injured players when needed.
Mike Vrabel’s contributions to the New England franchise are immeasurable, he was named to the Patriots 50th Anniversary Team as well as Sports Illustrated All-Decade team in the 2000’s.