September 28, 2016

Playing Catch Up

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Long time no see, my friends. A quick look at the datestamp on my last post reveals its been exactly three weeks since we’ve had a chance to catch up on the Pats. Tomorrow the month of April begins, the most active off-season month for pigskin-deprived fans, so we better clean up any loose scraps that have been left hanging around. Grab a broom, will ya?

BACK TO WORK

The Pats re-assembled at Gillette this week for the start of the team’s off-season program. You have to ask yourself what it’s like to go an especially reviled 18-0, lose your final game in front of millions of people all over the world, and then come back to work about seven weeks later to start the whole process all over again.  

FOUR CORNERS

Since last we spoke at length, the Pats have added Jason Webster, Lewis Sanders and Fernando Bryant to compensate, at least in part, for the loss of free agent cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Randall Gay. I guess I like their chances at this point; Bryant, a nine year vet, has started all but one of the 110 games he has played in his career, and Webster has started 75 of his 87 career games. Sanders, a career backup, is an eight-year veteran of nickel and dime packages across the NFL. All that experience is good salve, at least on the last day of March, for the abrasion that still exists on the Pats secondary. They didn’t cash all those game checks by being, in the words of Initech’s Michael Bolton, no-talent assclowns.

But there’s more to be done, as Samuel had evolved to become one of the better corners in the league before he flew to the Eagles, and experience and savvy alone won’t plug that hole. The ubiquitous Ty Law debate has commenced, though Ty is still maintaining that he’s gotta eat. I’ve read enough threads at patsfans.com to know that I don’t know what to think about a Brandon Meriweather switch to corner. I can see the demand – a young player with promise to replace the pro bowl corner. But what do you give up at safety? When he came on at the end of last season, emerging as a mobile, athletic hitter, I envisioned a Meriweather-James Sanders tandem patrolling the middle of the field for some time to come. That may not be a short-term need (not with Rodney Harrison and Tank Williams set for 08) but it is for the long-term. What of this, if Meriweather moves to the front lines?

That brings us to the coming draft, in which the Pats have four of the first 100 picks (7th, 62nd, 69th, and 94th). Turns out it’s a better than average class of cornerbacks, thanks largely to the early entry of some top ranked juniors. So doesn’t it seem like the Pats ought to be able to add a prospect (or even two) to the mix by the end of this month, and Meriweather can be spared? I can’t figure out if the Pats would take a cornerback at #7 (seems they historically have liked the inside-the-hashmark player with their earliest picks), nor can I figure if there’s a ton of difference between the 1st and the 10th players to be drafted at that position. The draftniks all say that this year, there will be second and third round corners that will become starters in the NFL before long. So how does all this affect the ‘value’ standard the Pats will apply to the seventh selection of the draft? In other words, why pick a corner at 7 when you may have an equal chance with the guy taken at 62?

That’s the fun of the draft. Until it actually happens, anything is possible, and in our minds, quite likely.

HIS RIGHT FOOT

For awhile there, it looked like the Pats would take a flyer on Adam Seward, the restricted FA LB from the Panthers, and try him in the middle with (or even for) Tedy Bruschi. Yet nothing apparent has emanated from his visit to Gillette early this month. The theory is the Pats are stringing it out to make it less likely that Carolina would match an offer. Maybe so. But maybe they just got a good look at his right foot.

Linebacker is another area that’s attracting the attention of the draftniks, who dearly love to nail those top ten picks. The names of Vernon Gholston and Derrick Harvey are being uttered liberally these days, and fans envision an invigorated pass rush in 08. But as with corner, will the Pats actually take a linebacker at #7? It’s said there’s a better than average chance that Gholston will be gone by the time they pick, and while Harvey has been a decorated player, it’s uncertain whether he warrants the financial commitment that comes with 7th selection in the draft. It’s that commitment, and what it means to the team’s salary cap, that has some observers convinced the Pats will trade down. Which is cool with me, as long as I understand the following: who’s trading up, and for whom, and with what? If the Pats don’t want that pick, why does somebody else? And how bad do they want it? As bad as we think? The other day our pal Mike Reiss blue-skied a trade with the Panthers at #13, which would net an additional fifth round pick, or perhaps Seward instead. Seemed sort of underwhemling to me. I guess in that case, I’d rather have the 7th pick. I understand the concern aboout having a certain percentage of the salary cap tied up in an unproven player, but aren’t they all unproven players at some point? Wasn’t Richard Seymour (the only other top 10 pick the Pats have had in this decade)? Doesn’t it still come back to a test of your core principles in scouting a player? You’d have a hard time convincing me that there won’t be a single player available to the Patriots at #7 that won’t ultimately prove to be worth that investment. The trick is in finding him, something the Patriots are supposed to be good at.  If they pick the right guy, then over the long-term, the return dwarfs the initial risk, and they’ll be happy to have had that commitment. Even with Seymour’s durability issues throughout his career, the commitment they made to him in 2001 has since been more than justified. 

THANKS TROY

There may never another Patriot quite like Troy Brown, whose 14 year run with New England appears to be over. He came from humble beginnings, but he leaves  a king. No one got more from what God gave him than Brown, who rose from the 198th pick in the 93 draft to become a dynamic returner, a record setting receiver, and finally, an all-purpose Mr. Gadget who lined up at cornerback and even quarterback for the Pats. Through all of it, he was the epitome of everything we implore our athletes to be – humble, diligent, smart, talented, and more often than not, just plain heroic. Doesn’t it seem that one of the giant murals that hang outside the Gillette Stadium gates should be of Troy Brown? For good? Starting today?

All that said – I’m bouyed that the Patriots refused to be tugged by sentimentality here, now of all times. For now, their eyes must be fixed on the horizon, not on the past, as glorious as it often was. If you were ever going to linger too long, it would be for players like Brown, author of so many everlasting memories. But you do that, buster, and you’re only a few steps away from the white track suit, the whithered tan, and the delusional insistence of ‘greatness’ even as your team goes 4-12.

Nobody wants that.

THE MAN HAS A FAMILY, FOR GOD’S SAKE

I noticed this the other day; Aaron Schatz of FootballOutsiders.com took to ESPN’s web for a look at which quarterbacks took the most physical abuse in 2007. Check out #3. Aaron suggests that if you throw the ball on a preponderance of occasions, even above-average pass protection won’t keep your quarterback upright. And people of New England, I say to you: hail Aaron! Finally, a kindred spirit from the just sling it wilderness. Let’s build some Internet momentum on this grass roots movement. I hear all the time about the impact of candidate sites and blogs on the current presidential race; well, that’s fine, but doesn’t it seem like time the Internet was used for something important? We get this ‘Run First, Ask Questions Later’ movement on the rails and we’ll intimidate the Patriots offense all the way back to 1978.

LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS

I mentioned earlier I enjoy lurking on the message board at PatsFans.com, especially lately when the daily news on the Pats has thinned out. Yet if someone somewhere wrote something on the Pats, there’s usually a thread about it at PatsFans. It’s there that I first learned of a message board poster called ‘NEInsider’, who has been gathering some Internet attention (and let’s face it, that’s the best kind) with his posts on an ESPN message board. Allegedly, NEInsider is exactly that, a team employee with access to information that message board denizens would trade their prized avatars for. Hey, he spins a good tale, which he’s done on a few occasions to date. This is always picked up by someone who rides through the Internet countryside on horseback, alerting all the cybervillages that new word has come down from ‘inside’. At times, I’ve found myself hoping he was ‘inside’, especially when he breaks down on Spygate (Verdict: Pats Real Victims), or suggests that Dom Capers, known for his hyper-aggressive, blitzing defenses in Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, has already made a significant imprint on the Patriots defensive plans for 2008. One patsfans poster smartly suggested NEInsider’s Internet ‘credibility’ came mostly from the fact that he was telling other posters exactly what they wanted to hear. Guilty, here.

I can’t say I’ve been as impressed with his recent efforts (a little too heavy on the Goebbels for my taste, and that’s saying something), and his sporadic posts are now greeted with extended debate as to their veracity. Now I’m hoping he’s just Dave Somebody from Anytown, USA, havin’ a laugh, just livin’ the Internet dream, baby. He’s a pretty big deal down at the cracker factory. His every keystroke reverberates. I’m sure he’s noticed.

Because if it’s NOT that…..ugh. There’s something kind of ‘Ben and Jed, Theo didn’t make the Beckett trade’ about that thought.

APRIL FOOLS DAY

Every year I wonder if we should do some April Fools Day thing, but considering we haven’t posted in three weeks, I’m pretty sure that would be the proverbial tree falling in the forest. But if I did do something, it would have to be BELICHICK BANNED FOR LIFE! Someone could cause a panic with that, worse than any Lite Brite contraptions.

Of course, after April 1 comes April 2, which means there’s only 24 more days to the NFL Draft. I’ve got all my magazines (Lindy’s, Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly), which I plan to read real soon. I’m actually better with pictures – hey, there’s Glenn Dorsey on all three covers. I think they should get him. Seriously, I’m astounded by all the stuff that’s available to us these days, whatever it’s worth. I kind of lean towards Pro Football Weekly, as they have historically found something to dislike in everyone, which does wonders for managing my expectations. I like SN’s ‘Stacking the Board’ feature, where they slot players based on what their value is, instead of where they’ll be picked in the draft. Lindy’s has the excellent scouting reports of NFL Draft Scout, the great web site that’s home to legendary draftniks Rob Rang and Dave Te Thomas. I heartily recommend all three to you fledgling Larry Johnsons out there.

Anyway, short story seems to be that the draft is rich in tackles, running backs and wide receivers for the offense, and ends, outside linebackers and cornerbacks for the defense. If you’re looking for quarterbacks, tight ends or interior linemen, you’re up against it. If you’re in the market for defensive tackles, inside linebackers or safeties, you may have to wait at least another year.  

RUMOR INVENTORY V.2

 I’m still keeping track of draft rumors as best I can, and I figure it’s time to post an update, which is linked here. There remains a steady flow of scuttlebutt, and our list is now up to 55 players, with a concentration of cornerbacks and outsixde linebacker types at the top of the board. Have a look.

I should note a couple of changes to the chart: I’ve added a second contact column as Gillette visits begin to be scheduled, and the Sporting News has been added to our round projection calculation.

WHAT WE DID ON OUR MARCH VACATION

A couple of us have been combing through the results of the last eight Patriots drafts, on a mission that I’m quite sure we can’t define at this point. We’re concerned that if we try to rationalize this effort, we’ll have to confront the obvious fact that it’s pointless. It beats watching the snow melt though, so on we forge. We are chronicling our tentative yet courageous journey through the already-quite-widely known, and we hope to report back to you soon on the senselessness of our efforts.

WRITERS WANTED

I’ve mentioned this before, but we are sincerely interested in adding more voices to this page as we move towards the 08 season. Particularly if you see the games from a more technical standpoint, from position assignments to offensive and defensive schemes to weekly game plans, and you can clearly articulate what you’re seeing every week. It’s our intent to emphasize that sort of analysis this year if at all possible, so if you think you can help us do that, I’d love to get an e-mail from you at [email protected]. The same goes for you guys that might be a little more, uh, visceral in your analysis of the Patriots. Anyone who can write and wants to is welcome to do so – there’s plenty of room for everybody. I’ll tell you what I tell everybody else – there’s no money in it, and people are going to try to hurt your feelings. I know, I know, it sounds too good to be true. And it is! I’ll look forward to hearing from you soon, then.

DON’T BE A STRANGER

We’ll be posting more often this month as the draft approaches, so check back when you can.

Draft Rumor Inventory v.1

Patriots Daily Staff
[email protected]

You may remember that last year at this time, we began collecting all the Patriots’ draft rumors we were finding at some of our favorite on-line haunts. We called it a rumor inventory, or a list of players that had been contacted in some way by the Pats during the post-season all-star games, the Combine, pro days, individual workouts or team visits.

The idea was that taken in the collective, the rumors may give a sense of what side of the ball, or even what position, the Pats may be focusing on for the draft. Of course, there’s also the chance that the rumor becomes our first introduction to a Pats pick.

We’ve got another one started again this year, which we’ve posted below.

(Note – If you want to view the entire spreadsheet on your screen without scrolling, click here.)

Let’s quickly run through a key to get you oriented.

POS = Position
UC = Underclassman
SCHOOL = College or University
CONF = Athletic Conference
SOURCE = Source of rumor
DATE = Date of rumor
CONTACT = Where Pats contact was reportedly made
HT,WT,40 = Player measureables (source: NFL Draft Scout.com)
SI = Scouts, Inc. projected draft round
DS = NFL Draft Scout projected draft round
AVG = Average. Players are sorted by average draft round, lowest to highest.

About the Projected Round numbers – Let’s use Kansas junior cornerback Aqib Talib (#3 on our list) as an example. Scouts, Inc. believes Talib is a sure first round player, hence the 1.0 rating. NFL Draft Scout, however, thinks there’s also a chance Talib could slip into the second round, so their rating becomes a 1.5, and the average naturally finds the mid-point between those two numbers, for the purposes of sorting our list. Those numbers will no doubt change as pro days and individual workouts occur, and we’ll update them each time we post another version of the inventory.

Some early looks at the list:

The Pats have contacted more defensive players (about six of every ten) than offensive players to date;

More than a quarter of the players contacted to date have been cornerbacks;

Nearly a quarter of the players contacted have been wide receivers;

Those two positions dominate the top of our first inventory; cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of Tennessee State, Talib of Kansas and Arizona’s Antoine Cason join receivers Limas Sweed of Texas and James Hardy of Indiana as possible first round players the Pats have contacted;

As they have historically, the Patriots have largely focused on players from the SEC (23%), Big 12 (20%) and Big 10 (20%). From 2000-2007, almoost half of all Pats picks have been from those three conferences (17% from the SEC, 15% from the Big 12, and 13% from the Big 10).

A great big caveat – there’s a good chance that 97.9% of this material is useless. Last year, our rumor inventory grew to 95 players by draft day, but in the end only draftees Brandon Meriweather and Kareem Brown appeared on our final list. So consider this as you march ahead. Still, thanks to the good folks at Scouts, Inc., NFL Draft Scout, Scout.com and PatriotsInsider.com, Patriots Football Weekly, and of course Mike Reiss, Chris Gaspar and John Tomase at the Globe and Herald for all the good info, which keeps the football flame burning for many. Naturally, we encourage you to patronize all of their fine establishments often.

That’s it for now. We’ll be back periodically over the next six weeks with updated inventories.

Looking Up

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

The Pats lost Asante Samuel just as soon as free agency started, and it seemed for awhile they’d reached an impasse with uber talent Randy Moss. On the heels of a historic Super Bowl loss, things seemed to be getting worse for New England. News has gotten a bit better of late, albeit in a more understated way.

WE’RE PUTTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER

With all the sound and fury signifying Randy Moss, the re-signings of Jabar Gaffney and Kelley Washington slipped under the door with relatively little notice. I thought that Gaffney deal was bit odd – a year? – but that was kind of an important get for the Pats, given Moss’s return and the seeming commitment to carry forward the passing assault that set the record books on their ear last fall. For the second straight year, Gaffney stepped it up as they neared the wire. The game winning ‘catch’ in Baltimore stands out for me. If Gaffney had gotten away, the Pats may have struggled (based on the current roster) to find the right guy to fill his spot and force defenses to reckon with the Patriots other wideout. What happens after this year, who knows.

From my biased vantagepoint, it was also good to see Kelley Washington make his way back to Foxborough – his incredible palm block of that punt against the Jets elicited what was probably my single biggest “YEEEEEAAAAAAHHHHH” of the season. And I will steadfastly maintain that Washington flashed a little something as a receiver last August, before the big kids got out of school. I had visions of a big, intermediate receiver with a little pop after the catch. A nice fifth, or even fourth guy, if he can be consistent. I have no idea if that’s just my imagination. I hope not. 

Because with Stallworth gone, the Pats have a need in those 4th and 5th spots. You’d think the 36th pick in the 2006 draft would, by now, be ready to ascend into a regular rotation with the spread-em-out Pats, but Chad Jackson’s done so little in two seasons that he remains an unknown as he begins his third. We know Washington’s earned a spot on the team with his special teams play, but he may be asked to do more if Jackson dawdles much longer.   

Tedy Bruschi is back, and I think it was a Pats Fans poster who summed it up for me when he said (essentially), “glad to hear it. Hope it’s not to be a starter.” I revere Bruschi, but like the Wisconsin papers cried this week, time passes. And now it’s time to get going for the Patriots. Bruschi – at a pace that allows him to be at his best – can be a big part of sending them successfully on their way, and the rest of us can see once again a player who has long exemplified every single thing you’d want your team to stand for. 

As did the Great Troy Brown.

YOU’RE MY BOY, BLUE

Randall Gay must be the new Patron Saint of UDFA’s with this deal he just signed with the Saints. First, he got almost four million to sign, which is probably more than he’s made in his entire career. Six million is guaranteed of a possible seventeen over four years. He’s with his hometown team. Nothing wrong with that. You had to pull for Gay, the undrafted free agent who made it to the Super Bowl twice. Even my wife will tell you that Randall Gay Is One Of The Most Consistent Tacklers On This Team!, because I only yelled that at her thirty-three times this season. But this is the nature of the league – all they are is dust in the wind, is what I’m trying to say.

THE NEW FREE AGENTS ARE HERE! THE NEW FREE AGENTS ARE HERE!

As I’m writing this, John Tomase is reporting the Pats have signed former Titans safety Tank Williams to a one-year deal. Williams had been with the Vikings, with whom he suffered a shattered kneecap in 2006. He’s just 27, and the worst of his comeback has to be behind him by now (he played 13 games with only two starts in 07), so maybe this is a player who could log significant time behind Rodney Harrison and James Sanders this season. What does this mean for one-time cornerback Brandon Meriweather, by the way? Anything?

Anyway, I have to say that for all my fretting about the center of the defense after Vince Wilfork, signing an 27 year old safety called ‘Tank’ is hitting me right where I live, brother.

The Pats are collecting the down-on-their-luck defensive backs. Jason Webster missed all but a few minutes of last season, and now the 30 year old will step in for Gay, or even Samuel, for all I know. He’s almost always been a starter over nearly 90 games in the league, which is why it’s so embarrassing that I have no memory of this guy whatsoever. I was thinking the LSU Webster, but I think that’s Corey. Jason? Uh uh. But the Pats have taken a primary hit in the secondary, so all hands on deck. He’s got to remain upright, though, something he’s had a hard time doing lately.

I know who Sam Aiken is, because he’s actually played the Pats a number of times when I was conscious. Plus, who’s not going to immediately go, “hey, the Jills suited up Clay Aiken!” when he runs across the screen? But he is kind of the Kelley Washington of Upper New York State, and the Bills have always known what they’re doing when it comes to special teams.  So I am all for the special teams arms race the Patriots are in.

IT’S PRETTY MUCH MY FAVORITE ANIMAL. IT’S LIKE A LION AND A TIGER MIXED, BRED FOR ITS SKILLS IN MAGIC.

So where do they go from here? How much more of the team can be built before the draft? There’s still free agents to visit I’m sure, though if I recall correctly, things have a way of slowing down after a few weeks. Can the Pats make a dent in rehabbing their defense before the draft, or will they look to fill in elsewhere?

Offense - you can’t say quarterback or running back is worth focusing much on now, provided Sammy Morris is okay. Receiver? They did appear to have an interest in Marty Booker for awhile, maybe to be the fourth receiver we talked about earlier, though I don’t know if that puts them in the market for Bryant Johnson or D.J. Hackett, two of the more recognizeable, and remaining, free agents. Guess who the best available blocking tight end is? Kyle Brady. So I figure the Pats draft there. I haven’t heard of any linemen that the Pats seem interested in, though they could always stand to work on their depth – again, the draft seems to be where it’s at, as they’ve never been shy in using draft picks on the line. Wild guess, but until the draft, they don’t sign any offensive players that aren’t special teamers first, like Aiken.

Defense – Speaking of depth, I think of the defensive line, though they seem to like Mike Wright and I saw some spark in LeKevin Smith at times. They still don’t have a backup proto-plugger to Wilfork, but I’m looking at the list of names and the UFA’s are guys like Ted Washington and Keith Traylor. Back….to the Future! At linebacker, Junior Seau’s still up in the air, where he will remain for awhile, I suspect. Mike Reiss reports tonight that former Panther Adam Seward will visit soon. Noteable thing is that he’s a restricted free agent who would cost the Pats a fifth round pick if he signs. He comes from a 3-4 background in college and projects as an inside linebacker for the Pats, according to Reiss. He has the size, evidently, and he’s 26 this June. He’s got only 2 starts as 31 games as an OLB in the Panthers 4-3. Not much to go on, but it would at least be a young player at a position that needs one. At worst he’s another special teams player, something he apparently did well for Carolina. A few Pats fans are clamoring for Victor Hobson, and Clark Haggans may fit as a pass rusher, and there may be other Sewards out there – unrestricted ones –  that will pop up. People have talked about Reynaldo Hill, the restricted CB from Tennessee, who would cost just a seventh if he joined the Pats. He’s another who’s been a starter for the Titans, and he’s only in his fourth year. It seems like the defense is where the Pats will focus if they try to build depth before the draft.   

Freak In

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

Well….heh, heh……um….this is kind of awkward, isn’t it?

So despite my last minute appeals, the Patriots have chosen to hitch their wagon to the supernatural force that is Randy Moss, agreeing to a three-year deal that is said to be worth $27 million.

The Pats guaranteed more than half that amount ($15 million) to lock up Moss, despite reported efforts by the Philadelphia Eagles to steal the veteran in the final hours of negotiations. Moss’s agent Tim DiPiero told the Boston Globe that his client turned down a more lucrative offer to remain with New England.

When Moss was acquired from the Raiders in a draft day trade last April, it was commonly believed that the all-pro receiver’s stay in Foxborough would be brief. The conventional wisdom was that Moss would rehabilitate his reputation with the Pats and use that to cash in on a long-term deal with another team when the 08 free agency season commenced.

A funny thing happened on the way to that forum – Moss broke the single-season touchdown record for a receiver and became such a pivotal piece of the Patriots’ offense that many fans came to believe that losing him would be nearly as devastating as the Giants’Super Bowl upset of New England a little more than a month ago.

The Pats evidently agreed, and now one of the most prolific receivers in pro football history has turned a one-year lease on life into a long-term stay. The Patriots, who lost the noteable Asante Samuel and role players like Randall Gay and Donte Stallworth in the early hours of free agency, have stemmed any real or perceived roster bleeding with a band-aid as big as all outdoors.

For the life of me, I don’t know how anybody could see that as a bad thing. Right? Heh, heh….um…..so anyway, how ’bout those Bruins?

Everyday I Write The Book

by Scott Benson
[email protected]

It’s been said many times by many others, but I remember the great Elvis Costello once opining that songwriters do their best work when their personal lives in are in tumult. Peace and tranquility make a lousy muse for artists like Elvis – there’d have been no ‘Watching the Detectives’ or ‘Accidents Will Happen’ if ol’ Declan had been spending his days contentedly doting on a wife, kids and a home in the suburbs.

I’m getting that, in a relative sense, of course. Our football team was undefeated through 18 games a while back, inconceiveably, yet while it was all going on, I found fewer and fewer reasons to write about them. What do you say? “They’re awesome! I think they were even more awesome this week than last!”

Nobody wants to hear that.

Not a problem anymore, folks. Since the calendar turned to February 1, it’s been all uphill for Our Beloveds. And I have never been more inspired.

That’s sick, I know.

GO YOUR OWN WAY

It’s a Seventies Saturday here on WPD! Maybe I’ll title the next bit ‘Carry On My Wayward Son’.

So the idea that Randy Moss could sign with someone other than the Patriots is now going mainstream, as the NFL Network’s Adam Schefter and other nationals have learned (as have our locals) that the Pats and Moss aren’t close to a new deal. Conventional wisdom has been that the veteran all star would gladly return to the Pats and particularly Tom Brady, and his departure after one heady season in New England would no doubt be viewed by some, even many, as a blow on the order of the one laid on them about a month ago.

As Butch Stearns is fond of saying – I’m not so sure about that.

First, let us praise Moss, a unique talent if we ever saw one. And despite his lengthy rap sheet, real or perceived, Moss has by all accounts been a great teammate and leader with the Pats. There’s no missing the connection forged with Brady. From where I sit, he played hard every week, changed the offense like no one since Brady, and would have scored the winning points of the Super Bowl had the Pats had one more defensive stop in them. Even accounting for the ugly incident in Florida, Moss wildly exceeded any expectations we could have had for him. And certainly, his departure would leave a big hole in the Patriots offense, the dominant arm of the team.

So why am I kind of hoping he gets a better deal elsewhere?

Personal bias is reason one, I admit. Given my druthers, Sam Cunningham, Andy Johnson and Don Calhoun would still be plunging off the left side for the Pats. Every once in awhile they’d change it up and go right. Their biggest wrinkle would be an occasional bootleg by Brady. It would be great.

That aside, there’s something else. Doesn’t it seem like Moss is less a player than he is an intoxicant? How do you NOT make him the focal point of your offense? His incredible hands, his uncanny ability to establish position when the ball is in the air, his still-there explosiveness – how do these things NOT become the answer to every challenge you face?

The same kind of thing has overwhelmed coaches before. Denny Green had some threatening teams in Minnesota, but in the end, weren’t they over-reliant on chucking the ball up to Moss? And Mike Tice – the Randy Ratio says it all. Yet it was never enough.

I might argue that the wheels started to come off the Pats wagon when they fell into the same trap. Certainly in the axle-busting loss to the champion Giants. Without the ability to easily put the ball in Moss’s hands, there was suddenly nothing Super about those Perfect Pats. Gradually, everything else broke down around it.

That’s how addictive Randy Moss’s game is – it even took down the mighty Bill Belichick. In the end, the Patriots were too much about offense and not enough about defense and special teams, leaving a decided list in the proverbial three-legged stool.

If he returns, how does that change? How do the Pats become a balanced team again with such a dominant presence in their midst? How does it NOT become all about Brady and Moss again?

BRADY CRUNCH

Kyle Brady was an extremely effective blocker for the Pats, perhaps even outdoing Daniel Graham in New England annals. His size, that of an offensive tackle, brought a needed physical element to the Pats front. But he’s 36, and coming off a shoulder injury, and you can see where this is going. I doubt Brady was ever considered to be a long-term fixture along the New England line anyway.

Still, its another loss for the Pats, who don’t have anyone to fill that role on a go forward basis. They do have Dave Thomas, but he’s a different kind of player, and besides, until he actually plays for the Pats again, its hard to say where he fits in any plan.

Maybe they figure they’ll be able to rope in another veteran blocker to fill the same role as Brady, and not lose any of the production. It remains to be seen if such a player exists.

LITO….WOA-O-O-OAH!

WPD……less talk, more mellow rock hits….

The rumor mill says that now that Asante Samuel has landed in Philly, the Eagles will entertain offers for their own Pro-Bowl corner, Lito Sheppard. Naturally, every observer and his brother puts Sheppard right with the Pats. Nice, neat package.

You know, acquiring Sheppard is no way to lure Moss back in the fold. I doubt Randy would relish the thought of seeing Sheppard every day in practice, not with the way Lito treated him last season.

Sheppard is said to be perturbed by his contract, which apparently nets him about $2 million annually. A change of scenery undoubtedly means a new deal, which is only practical, as Sheppard is nearing the end of his current pact. Any suitors, though, will have to consider that he’s played only 11, 13 and 10 games in his last three seasons.

So if he’s unhappy with $2 million, what does it take to improve his disposition? It doesn’t seem like doubling, or even tripling, his salary is going to work. Wouldn’t he just be looking for the same kind of money that Samuel just got? Or somewhere in that neighborhood, given their differences as far as durability and rings. That appears to have become the going rate for players of that caliber.

I guess I don’t understand how Sheppard to the Pats would work, then. It seems like if you’re just switching out players at roughly the same salary, the Pats would have been better off sticking with the devil they did know.