Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE
Will Aqib Talib fall into line in New England? You bet he will.
I'm not sure if any of you have been following the Boston-area sports media as of late, but there have been a few articles about how New England Patriots just traded a 4th round pick for a 2013 7th rounder and stud cornerback Aqib Talib. I'm also not sure if you've been able to find the few reporters that dug deep into their sports research, but it may shock you to learn that Talib has had a history of off the field issues attached to his superior defensive and athletic abilities. And if you've really been scouring the internet hard, you might have stumbled across an article or two questioning whether Talib will be the next Corey Dillon or whether he will be the next Albert Haynesworth. I'm actually really surprised the media hasn't done more with this storyline yet, especially since the Patriots are on a bye and they usually lap up material like this.
Maybe it's because they are like me and are extremely confident that Talib will work out very, very well in New England, at least from a character standpoint. Maybe they realized that Talib is in a highly different situation than the players who have come in and failed in the past and thus has much more motivation to succeed here. Or maybe they just have more important things to cover right now. I can never tell with them.
While I'm more than willing to admit that the comparisons being made to the troubled players of yore are warranted, I also think that Talib is in a much better place than anyone else that has come before him. Here's why.
He's young. At 26, Talib is one of the youngest malcontent players the team has brought in. His legacy is still very much up in the air, and he doesn't have an incredible amount of content on his resume yet. Because of that, there is much more motivation on his end to prove to both Bill Belichick and the NFL that he is here to stay. Plus, if I was him, I would absolutely want to stay; not only is he now playing for a legit Super Bowl contender, but...
He is primed to be "the guy" in New England. Of course, by "the guy," I don't mean the face of the franchise; that position is filled by a certain dimple-chinned quarterback who may or may not be the best man at my wedding, should I ever decide to get married and should he ever lift that restraining order he filed. But Talib can very much be the guy that came in and turned a struggling secondary around and transformed the unit into a respectable part of what is otherwise a very solid team. That's a great position to be in, and one I think that Talib would want to embrace, especially considering...
His contract is about to expire. There's definitely a chance that the Patriots only have Talib on the squad for half of a season, as he's sent to enter Free Agency in 2013. While his impending departure makes the move very low risk for New England, it also means that once this season is over, there is no guaranteed money coming Talib's way. In most cases, players in a contract year ramp up their game in order to showcase their skills and earn what they hope is a big payday once the new league year starts. If Talib comes into New England, continues to act like a jackass, and doesn't deliver on the field, he's going to find himself without a team and without a contract pretty quickly. And now that he's on the Patriots, you can bet that teams will be paying extra attention to whether or not he can get his act together. Because if history is any indicator...
If he won't work for the Patriots, he won't work anywhere. There's a reason that the rest of the NFL tries to mimic the Patriot Way, and it isn't because of Bill Belichick's keen fashion sense and media savvy. New England is a perennially successful team because they have an excellent balance of talent, coaching, and - most importantly - locker room solidarity. It's very difficult to overstate the importance of good team chemistry, as all the talent in the world won't get you anywhere if your players aren't buying into the system (hello, Philadelphia). The Patriots are more willing than most to take a chance on "malcontent" players because they know that there are enough leaders on this team to get pretty much anyone to fall into line. Plus, New England has shown that they have absolutely no problem cutting bait no matter how high profile the player or how much they gave up to get him. What has resulted from gaining this reputation over the years is that there seems to be a league-wide consensus that if you can't hack it in New England, you likely won't be hacking it anywhere else. Last time I checked, Adalius Thomas, Randy Moss, Chad Ochocinco, and Albert Haynesworth didn't exactly experience career revivals anywhere else after they parted ways with the Patriots; if Talib wants a shot at playing in the NFL again, he would be wise to fall into line and fall into line quick before he finds himself permanently unemployed.
[SIDE NOTE: I feel bad lumping Chad Ochocinco in with Albert Haynesworth. Chad really tried hard. He did what he was asked, he toed the company line, and he bought into the system. He just couldn't get the playbook down. The New England offense is a lot like math; you either get it or you don't. Just ask Joey Galloway. Still, using him here helps to prove my point, and so he's staying in.]
Of course, I could be wrong here, but I think if Talib doesn't make a difference for the Patriots, it won't be because of his antics off the field.