Somewhere on the NFL’s boulevard of broken dreams, there is an exit. All individuals who put on a uniform have to take it. This is the road to retirement. After cruising along for eight, nine, ten years, there is no shame in hitting the blinker and seeing what’s around the bend. It’s a road that some players are forced to take when their careers hit a bump or suffer a breakdown. Often, they are looking for second chances.
Most players in the NFL only get to stay on it for a few short years and then they are exploring other options. The higher the draft selection, the longer your careers are expected to last. Seventh-round selections have to fight for anything that they get. Picks in the third round are given a bit more leeway. If you’ve invested a first-round draft pick and selected one of the top 32 players to come from a college that year, you will try to make those investments return dividends.
When it becomes clear that it is simply not worth it, a team may be faced with the painful thought of cutting or trading that player. Sometimes, waiting for them just prior to final off-ramp is Bill Belichick. He’s not begging or holding a sign of woe. The car he’s in is not trying to get off of the same exit. No, he’s the traffic cop. He’s pulling you over and giving you one final chance to follow his rules. And maybe, just maybe, you have a chance at continuing on with your NFL career. The New England Patriots have given you a second chance.
The Moving Parts
The Patriots seem to collect former first-round picks lately. In addition to the 3 on the active roster at the moment, along with Isaiah Wynn on the IR. The Patriots have six first-round selections that they have acquired by trade or signing. The current roster includes Adrian Clayborn, Stephon Gilmore, Cordarrelle Patterson, Danny Shelton and Corey Coleman on the practice squad. This includes all the various other reclamation projects that they have worked on in recent years. Brandin Cooks, Jonathan Cooper, Barkevious Mingo, Kenny Britt, Shea McClellin and Michael Floyd all have contributed to the Patriots.
Why does Belichick do this? What motivation could he have for picking up another team’s castoffs? Why is he trying to reclaim and revive those players? Is it because the New England Patriots suck at drafting? Not at all. Is it because every other team is making a mistake by getting rid of the player? A little.
The biggest reason is the measurables of the player. The prospects that get drafted in the first round are all the biggest, fastest most explosive players at their positions for the most part. And even within round one, there are drop-offs. The first ten picks are usually reserved for the elite athletes that will make an immediate impact at their positions. Then, from 11- to around the mid 20’s depending on the draft, you go from elite to the very good or question marks. Then, when you start talking about the last part of the first round (where the Patriots are usually selecting), you have to pick and choose from the good with question marks to the good athletes, but not very good football players yet.
Occasionally, a player will go against the grain and measure outside the accepted range of the ideal NFL player, but not often. Not every short defensive tackle is the next Aaron Donald despite how many people say they are. So when Belichick is trading for a former top 10 pick that is not making it with his old team, he’s not trading for Jonathan Cooper. Belichick is trading for the guard that was 6 ft 2 in and weighed in at 311 pounds. He’s trading for the guy that jumped a 27 inch vertical, a 9 foot broad and ran a 5.07 40-yard dash. That’s the guy that Bill Belichick wants on the Patriots and hope he can get a good football player out of him
The New England Patriots are also banking on a team’s discouraged expectations. When the Cleveland Browns selected Danny Shelton with the 12th pick of the 2015 draft, they were hoping that they were getting more than a run stuffing nose tackle. The Patriots traded a 2018 third rounder for an interior defensive tackle that is excellent against the run and weighs 345 pounds all while getting a 5th round pick to add on. It’s all about the expectations and the quality of player they are getting exceeds the rookie that they could draft anywhere in the 3rd through the 5th in any draft. There is an argument over taking on a rookie contract in its final year versus having a young, cost-controlled rookie, but that is an entirely different article.
Finally, the Patriots represent a sort of Holy Land for a certain population of NFL Players. For those that have been drafted high in the first round and have played on teams like the Cleveland Browns, the Oakland Raiders, the Chicago Bears, their career has thus far been lacking in January football. When a player has a chance to play in that game that he has not experienced before, you are getting a highly motivated individual. They may do things they never considered when playing in December before. Instead of going shopping, they may be staying for that extra couple of hours of film session. That extra piece of pie can look inviting, but if you want to run the ball in the Super Bowl you may hold off.
It is certainly a risk and Belichick has probably been wrong on half wrong more times than he’s been right. This is a risky business and you have to take chances. When you are perennially playing deep into the playoffs, you have to look at inventive ways to acquire talent. This has proven to be an effective one. Belichick will undoubtedly continue to look for bargains in the second chance bin at the store.
All photos courtesy of Getty images unless noted otherwise.
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