This weekend, the New England Patriots released wide receiver Taylor Price. His release isn't exactly a surprise, but it's still frustrating to see another high draft pick bite the dust.
As we try to figure out the future of the team, the release of Price illustrates the one fundamental problem the Patriots haven't been able to fix.
On paper, the plans the Patriots draw up to remain elite are smart and make sense. Every time you try to figure out what Bill Belichick was thinking, eventually you'll see why he made each move. The coaching staff has done a good job of identifying the direction the league is going in (more offense, less headshots) and tailoring the team to go with those trends.
Planning for future is a two-part process. The first step is to devise the right plan while the second plan is to go and execute it. For the Patriots, the actual execution of those plans hasn't been that great.
Take the defense, for example. According to the NFLPA, the average career for a player is only about three and a half years long. You can blink and the next thing you'll know is that a guy's career is over. By the time 2008 rolled around, the team's future didn't look that great. The '06, '07 and '08 draft picks weren't very good, while the core of the 2001-2007 mini dynasty was starting to age, retire and leave for free agency.
What's the reasonable thing to do if you were in that situation?
First, reload the defense with young talent who are eager to make a name for themselves on D. Next, trade down and stockpile picks to fill the multiple of holes you now have. Spend high picks on cornerbacks because both Asante Samuel and Randall Gay left in free agency. Draft a safety because it's the end of the road for Rodney Harrison. Grab another defensive tackle in case Vince Wilfork leaves in free agency. Find a few good outside linebackers to team up with Jerod Mayo.
Strategically, the plan wasn't the problem. The problem was the so-so results of all that trading down.
Enough has been said about the Patriots' draft mistakes. Going forward, the team should consider changing their MO. Their attempts to address the WR and DB positions via the draft have not worked. Draft picks should be spent on other positions. Veteran pass catchers are the way to go. Bethel Johnson, P.K. Sam, Chad Jackson, Matt Slater, Brandon Tate and Taylor Price didn't fill the void. Julian Edelman is probably the best pick they've made since 2003. However, he's not much of a receiver anymore since the team now has Gronkowski and Hernandez, but he is a good punt returner.
David Patten and Reche Caldwell were free agents. Patten was a key piece of the title teams and Caldwell's numbers weren't bad when he was in Foxborough with 61 receptions, 760 yards, 12.5 yards per catch and three TD.
Furthermore, the team got good production out of Jabar Gaffney. Wes Welker was established by the time he got to New England. Randy Moss came in a trade and the results were spectacular. Donte Stallworth worked out reasonably well in 2007 with 46 catches, 697 yards, 15.2 yards per catch and three TD.
The painful loss to the Colts in the AFC Championship Game showed the team royally screwed up by not giving Tom Brady enough to work with. Naturally, the best thing to do is load up on offense to take advantage of the new rules the league set in place. Indeed, NFL defenses have slowly become neutered over the past seven or eight years with all these rule changes.
In the 90s, if a QB threw for 4,000 yards and completed more than 60 percent of his passes you'd be impressed. Today, those numbers are standard. Ever since the Patriots roughed up the Colts during the 2003 season, the league has pretty much become arena ball. Cornerbacks can't be physical with receivers anymore, you can't dive at a QB's feet and any time a defensive player lays a rough hit on a skill player he gets slapped with a stiff fine.
Let's face it, great defenses like the 2000 Ravens and 1985 Bears are extinct. The importance of defense has been diluted. Green Bay and New Orleans show you can win a Super Bowl with an opportunistic D that creates turnovers and gets stops at just the right time.
After the 2010 team wilted against the Jets, what they did in the offseason was intelligent. Restock the all important RB position with young blood. Grab a mammoth offense tackle to keep Tom Brady clean and upright. Take a hard look at the D and plug the holes with quality vets like James Ihedigbo, Andrew Carter and Mark Anderson.
In August, I thought their D was finally good enough to win. Now I see them losing in the AFC Championship Game to either Baltimore of Pittsburgh.
Usually those teams are the Patriots' kryptonite. Hopefully things will work out.
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