As the NFL tries to cram 6 months of offseason activity into two absolutely frenzied weeks of nonstop trades, acquisitions, and drama, I’m finding it hard to keep up. I’ve stopped returning my friends’ phone calls and I don’t even pretend that I’m doing anything productive at work anymore, but it still seems that every time I get up to remind Hal, the Jets fan who sits down the hall from me, that Nnamdi Asomugha is a Philadelphia Eagle, I miss at least five new transactions across the league. I’ve more or less resigned myself to the fact that I’m not going to be able to keep myself abreast of every new move as it takes place, and I’m OK with it.
What I haven’t missed, however, is one minute of the Patriots’ offseason. I’ve been following every trade, signing, and release, and I’ve been following them closely. With the first full week of practices beginning today, I thought it would be a good time to take a look at what the Pats have done so far and rank what I think their best moves have been up to this point. While there are still a lot of days to X off before New England travels to Miami on September 12th, and while I don’t think they are quite done making moves just yet, here are what I think the Patriots 10 best offseason transactions have been so far.
10. Signing UFA Jeremy Ross. Ross was my sleeper rookie free agent for 2011, and I was very happy to hear the Pats picked him up. His numbers weren’t staggering in college, and his 4.4 40 time didn’t really translate into his play as a receiver at Cal, but Ross is a physically gifted athlete with the tools to be a productive WR in this league with the right coaching. Plus, he has potential to be an absolute monster in the return game; a formation featuring Ross and Tate in the backfield could be the league’s most dangerous return tandem and could sway the field position game heavily in the Patriots’ favor. Or, I could be out of my mind and they could just cut Ross before the season even starts.
9. Resigning Brandon McGowan. This is one of those signings that is easy to lose sight of among the other big moves the Patriots have made so far. But McGowan hit the ground running the day he landed in New England in 2009 and proved to be a solid member of the defense. McGowan also brought great spatial awareness and a refreshing blend of savvy and toughness with him from Chicago, and I’m hopeful he will be able to return to 2009 form this season. I’m not sure how his sitting out all of 2010 due to injury followed by a lockout-lengthened offseason is going to affect his readiness, but worst-case scenario McGowan makes training camp more competitive for the safeties and pushes the rest of the secondary to be that much better.
8. Releasing Tully Banta-Cain. While TBC’s release came as a surprise to a lot of us, I was actually pleased with the move once the initial shock wore off. Yes, Banta-Cain led the team in sacks over the past few seasons, but he was never the answer to our pass rush woes. Plus, the news of his upcoming surgery meant immediate questions as to how ready he would be come Week 1. Releasing TBC, in my opinion, means the Patriots are looking to go out and actively acquire that last piece of the puzzle - another edge rusher that will complement the team’s new front 3 (more on that in a bit).
7. Getting the bulk of the rookie contracts done quickly. Almost all of the drafted rookies have gotten their contracts signed and they are on the practice field. Those still without contracts are thought to be locked down and practicing by early this week. Without the benefit of a full offseason, it is more important this year than ever that rookies get as many reps as possible as they try to make the massive leap from college to professional football, and I’m glad to see the Patriots getting these contracts done quickly and efficiently.
6. Getting Matt Light's Deal Done. Bringing Matt Light back for two years was imperative for the continued development of this Patriots Offensive Line. Light has been with the team for his entire career (he was drafted 48th overall in 2001) and has been protecting Brady’s blind side since Tommy B became the full-time starter. With the number of young O Linemen this team has, a veteran presence like Light is going to be crucial in helping those players develop and he is the kind of player that always leads by example – hopefully keeping Brady’s jersey relatively clean this season.
5. Trading for Chad Ochocinco. The man who kept the Bengals relevant has finally found a home with the organization and the coach he has openly lauded for years now. To make things better, the Pats basically got him for free and he was willing to rework his contract to help relieve some cap pressure. These factors, along with what we have heard from Ocho in his few media interview sessions, leads me to believe that he is going to work out just fine in New England. Ochocinco is not going to bring to the Patriots what Randy Moss brought in 2007, but he is still one of the better receivers in the league and brings a very strong skillset to an already gifted group. This was a great signing and definitely helps to address the hole at the wide receiver position. If the Patriots line up in a 4 WR set with Branch, Welker, Tate, and Ochocinco, with Woodhead in the backfield – how do you cover that?
4. Trading for Albert Haynesworth. I place the Haynesworth trade above the Ochocinco trade primarily because he helps to address the pass rush issues which gave the Patriots so much trouble last season. Yes, the risk factors are present and obvious; unlike Ochocinco, who gets in trouble for excessive end zone celebrations and the odd Tweet here and there, Haynesworth has a laundry list of past transgressions, including more than one run-in with the law. But, much like the Ochocinco trade, the Pats gave up very little to get him and there is very little risk on their end if he doesn’t buy into the Patriot Way. The media is going to focus on the negative, because that’s what they do when it comes to the Patriots. But any way you slice it, the upside is huge – Haynesworth is an absolute beast and the kind of lineman that can singlehandedly alter the way an opposing team runs its offense. And by the way - it just so happens that there is another lineman in the NFL that boasts similar attributes. He happens to wear #75 and will be lining up next to Haynesworth this season.
3. Resigning Kevin Faulk. I could not have been happier when I read that Faulk was back with the Pats for another year. Not only is he my favorite active Patriot, but he is a class act all the way with an absolutely indomitable work ethic and a profound understanding of the Patriots’ offensive schemes. Faulk personifies the Patriot Way and has been Tom Brady’s most trusted and reliable target ever since he first set foot on the field. Not only will Faulk’s presence and knowledge prove invaluable to our 2 new rookie running backs (not to mention what he still has to teach to BJGE and Woodhead), but he is the Unquestioned Voice in the locker room, the man whom everyone wants to hear speak, and the gold standard by which every other player tries to conduct himself. This season, with the addition of two potentially volatile personalities to the team (see numbers 5 and 4), knowing that #33 will be there to make sure everything runs as smoothly as it always has is a very comforting thought. I simply can’t say enough about what a great move this was for the team.
2. Getting Logan Mankins to sign his franchise tender. Sources still say that Logan is unhappy with his contract situation and wants off the Patriots Train as soon as humanly possible. As for me, I’m not so sure. That Mankins signed his tender so quickly and has been seen consistently at practice, watching from the sidelines (new rules don’t allow him to physically partake in practices until August 4th) leads me to believe that the two sides may be working to patch things up and hammer out something that keeps the team’s best O Lineman around long term. Mankins’ franchise tender also has the Patriots on the hook for roughly 10 million dollars this year, which is a hefty sum. I can see the Pats wanting to parlay some of that money into a muti-year contract. All in all, I think things are looking up on this front.
1. Tom Brady cut his hair. The party on top of Tommy B’s head has officially been cut short (see that word play? That’s four years of college right there, folks!). It’s back to business as it used to be. No more hair flips. No more tightly knotted pony tails. No more infuriating comparisons to Justin Beiber. Brady’s hair, like his game, is well groomed and devoid of anything but excellence. It’s like a Reverse-Samson kind of thing. And the rest of the league better damn well buckle up.
I officially reserve the right to alter my opinion as the preseason rolls on. There is also a legitimate chance that I will completely deny having ever made this list if it makes me look like anything other than a genius in the coming weeks and months. But I can tell you one thing: no matter what happens going forward or how absurd this list may look in a few weeks’ time, there is no way I will be changing my Number 1.
That hair needed to go.