All right, let’s all put down the pitchforks and torches and consider what transpired over the past three days in our little corner of football nerd heaven.
And let’s start with this simple truth —Bill Belichick has standards. They’re his standards. They’re the standards that won him three Lombardi Trophies and millions of haters and will have him handing out cold fish handshakes all the way to Canton, Ohio. He’s going to stick to those standards no matter how emboldened his critics feel or how panicked Patriots fans feel about their team’s disturbing erosion of talent the last couple of years.
Now, I’m not some contrarian columnist here to shame the fans for losing faith in their genius coach, or remind them he knows more about professional football than any combination of them, Mel Kiper, Trey Wingo, Todd McShay and/or Chris Berman, who doesn’t even know when his own microphone is on anymore.
I was with the lynch mob on Thursday. My blood started boiling with the first trade down. By the time Devin McCourty’s name was announced, I was taking up a collection around the newsroom to commission Kitty Kelley for a tell-all biography that would reveal Belichick had started using crystal meth moments before 4th-and-2 in Indianapolis.
Belichick was skewered in the media and on the talk shows on Friday, and I still maintain that it was justified.
It really doesn’t have anything to do with McCourty himself. All reports indicate he will be at least a special teams demon at first and a solid No. 2 corner once he develops. Setting aside the fact that the last Patriots draftee described as a “special teams demon” was the unimpressive Matt Slater, it seems this guy isn’t the next Chris Canty.
Or Darius Butler.
Or Terrence Wheatley.
Or Jonathan Wilhite.
That is where the criticism is warranted. Those are the cornerbacks Belichick selected in the second, second and fourth rounds, respectively. In today’s spread-happy NFL, you need more than two or three cornerbacks who can cover. But five? Obviously, Belichick has decided that none of those three are good enough to play opposite veteran Leigh Bodden, signed to a recent long-term extension, and may not even be able to push the ancient Shawn Springs into retirement.
It’s not unusual for even good drafters to have a run of bad picks at one position. Everyone agrees the secondary still has holes, but what has Patriots fans so frustrated is Belichick has spent a lot of money and high draft picks trying to fill those holes, and he hasn’t done it. Add in the fact that the team has even more glaring needs entering a draft everyone thought contained first-round talent capable of addressing those needs and you’ve got everyone wondering if it’s time to take a new approach.
Everyone except Belichick.
The buzzword when it comes to Belichick and the draft is value. It doesn’t matter what the Patriots’ needs are, Belichick looks for value in each pick in each round, and as the coach has demonstrated time and time again by trading down, if there isn’t a player that meets his value standard for that particular spot in the draft, he isn’t going to be drafted by the New England Patriots. If no one meets that standard, the Patriots aren’t going to make a pick there and will make a deal with someone who will.
Patriots fans are sick of the word value. They’ve watched trades, free agency defections, spotty drafting and poor signings that were based on value dissolve a once great defense (in addition to age).
Last year, they watched Drew Brees and even Chad Henne pick the young secondary apart because the front seven never got within spitting distance of the pocket. They’ve also watched division rivals Miami and New York acquire Pro Bowl receivers to improve their passing games this off-season while the Patriots counter with the All-Pro receiver formerly known as Torry Holt, now referred to by Randy Moss as “Pops,” and they hear Tom Brady’s biological clock ticking.
As they pleaded “Do something!!!” to Belichick on Thursday, the fans saw him still trying to fix what they hoped he’d fixed last year. Another defensive back seemed to confirm what many have feared — the Patriots are running in place while the Jets and Dolphins are blowing past them on a go pattern.
While the fans stewed on Friday, the Patriots planned what would be the most important round of this year’s draft — Round 2. With three picks, Belichick quelled the rebellion, at least temporarily, because not only did he find the value he demands, but he also addressed some of New England’s most pressing needs, and he actually traded up instead of down to do it.
As unsettling as Thursday night was, Friday night served as a nice tranquilizer (despite the Red Sox bullpen and Zdeno Chara’s dunder-headedness). He must love Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski, fans assured themselves, because not too many teams would trade up for a tight end who missed all of the previous season with a back injury. Florida teammates Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes have us dreaming of the next Willie McGinest and Vincent Brown, respectively. Third-round pick Taylor Price drew praise simply because he’s a wide receiver who doesn’t remember the Carter administration. Fourth-round pick Aaron Hernandez, yet another Gator, was further acknowledgment that Brady needs weapons. And fifth-round pick Zoltan Mesko was a feel-good pick, if a bit of a reach, simply because of the cool name and the fact that we don’t have to watch Chris Hanson kick anymore.
None of us know how these guys will pan out, least of all me. Because of my schedule, I watch more Canadian football than college football. But I do like the fact that NFL.com refers to Spikes as an “old-school middle linebacker” who plays with a mean streak, something the Patriots have been sorely lacking on defense. The idea of him lining up next to Jerod Mayo and trying to gouge Rex Ryan’s eyes out has me drooling. I like Gronkowski’s size, potential and enthusiasm, and I think Hernandez is a good complement to him. I’m also impressed that Price was as productive as he was at Ohio after watching his highlights on YouTube because apparently Steve Sax was his quarterback.
But until we see them on the field, the biggest thing we can take away from this draft is that it isn’t so much “In Bill We Trust” anymore in New England. It’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately.”