Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Doubting Thomas

After the initial "Jaws"-like feeding frenzy of NFL free-agency many of the pundits are declaring the 49ers and Patriots the early winners and a number of them are even saying that the Patriots signing of Adalius Thomas is going to put the Pats in the pole-position for the Super Bowl next year. I don't quite buy it.

The Patriots were thirty minutes away from the big game this year, and likely would have beaten the Bears in Miami (although I will grant that's not guaranteed). However, when you look at what happened to that flu-stricken defense (not an excuse considering pretty much the same defense stricken with the flu got the job done against the Steelers in the playoffs two seasons earlier) in the second half against the Colts, I find it hard to believe they were one player away. I suppose you could argue that a healthy Rodney Harrison and Thomas would amount to two impact starters that they were missing - but you have to play with what you've got.

Here's what the Pats have - the most coveted defender on the free agent market who came from a team whose best players have traditionally failed when they have moved on.

Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli are very good evaluators of talent, often finding value over the years in late round draft picks (Tom Brady), other team's cast-offs (Heath Evans, Antowain Smith, Rodney Harrison), and rookie free-agents (Randall Gay, Stephen Neal). Even so, they have been very erratic in the free-agent market. Yes, they acquired Harrison via free-agency and Mike Vrabel that way - but they also brought in Monty Beisel, Chad Brown and even traded for former Raven Duane Starks.

On paper - I love the additions. Kyle Brady can be a punishing blocker, Wes Welker reminds me of Troy Brown - only faster, and with the Pats committing to Laurence Maroney as the feature back, I think Sammy Morris is a good complimentary piece. Of course the additions of Welker and Morris are important because they also hurt a division rival.

I don't expect Thomas to be the force he was in Baltimore in much the same way that Rosevelt Colvin's roll differs now than the one he filled in Chicago. Thomas will still be an impact player - and be used in multi-faceted rolls, but I figure Belichick will sit down with his defensive coordinator this offseason to look at how they can really utilize someone like Thomas. He'll get his sacks and tackles - there just might not be as many.

This looks like a stronger free agent class than they have had in several years, but until they strap on the helmets in September looks don't mean a thing.

From a GM standpoint - the other teams in the division, who I believe all made good steps in regards to improving themselves (the Jets getting a legitimate backfield threat, Buffalo shoring up the offensive line, and the Dolphins hoarding draft picks while getting Joey Porter), those GMs can't be happy that the Patriots still hold six picks in the draft (including two first rounders) and are expecting two compensatory picks for free agents lost last year. Trading away one of those first rounders could easily result in the Patriots having ten picks in the upcoming draft and still leave them with a first round selection.

And really - the Patriots have made a living this decade out of selecting players outside of the first round - Brady (6th round, 2000), Stephen Gostkowski (4th, 2006), Jarvis Green (4th, 2002), Ellis Hobbs (3rd, 2005), Nick Kaczur (3rd, 2005), Dan Koppen (5th, 2003), Matt Light (2nd, 2001), Garrett Mills (4th, 2006), Ryan O'Callaghan (5th, 2006), Patrick Pass (7th, 2000), Asante Samuel (4th, 2003), James Sanders (4th, 2005), David Thomas (3rd, 2006), Eugene Wilson (2nd, 2003). the second round since 2000 the Pioli and Belichick have found a starting left tackle and starting safety. (2)
Third round - their second string tight end, a starting corner/kick returner, and a starting right tackle. (3)
Fourth round - kicker, rotational defensive end that could start on other teams, a back-up tight-end/fullback, franchise cornerback, and back-up safety. (5)
Fifth round - Back-up right tackle with the size and potential talent to start, starting center (2)
Sixth round - franchise quarterback (1)
Seventh round - fullback (1)

Fourteen players who are significant contributors - most starters, in the later rounds with most of the damage in the middle rounds.

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