In conjunction with our 2009 Draft Grades stories, I thought I'd start with a look back at the Patriots transactions since Free Agency, position by position. My goal? With your help, I'd like to assess the impact to the position those changes may have. Of course, this is like pheasant hunting in the dark, or trying to find a sober person on Union St. at 2am on a Saturday, but I digress. It's next to impossible, but let's give it a shot anyway, shall we?
- Shawn Springs - In March, former 33 year old Redskin Springs signed a three year deal that could net him $13 million when incentives kick in. Noted as being "strong out of the slot", Springs also comes at a very interesting time, the signing of Terrell Owens to Buffalo. It seems Springs and Owens have a LOT of history together. Like, seven seasons of history. Did Belichick have him in mind as a T.O. stopper? Springs says no and I doubt Hoodie would lay out that kind of cash just to stop one receiver, but I wouldn't totally rule out that the thought may have crossed Belichick's steel trap of a mind.
- Leigh Bodden - Continuing the cornerback deals in March, New England signed free agent Leigh Bodden to a veteran minimum $750,000 one year deal. Leigh says he wanted an extended deal, but was happy to sign with a winner. He played on the Browns for five years, learning defense under the likes of Romeo Crennel whose system is remarkably similar to New England's. I think that might help a bit, don't you? After a 2008 with the Lions in a Cover-2 style defense (that was smart - put a 3-4 corner in a Cover-2 D), we have ourselves the 27 year old Bodden.
- Wheatley/Wilhite - I lumped Terrence and Jonathan together because, well, they were virtually interchangeable last season. Expected to see sporadic playing time, Deltha O'Neal changed all of that. Ellis Hobbs had locked up one CB starting position and veteran O'Neal should've been the other. No dice. Deltha was hammered all season and has been sent packing. The W twins jumped in and gained valuable experience at a tender age, almost unheard of in a Belichick defense.
- Mike Richardson - Mike, in his third season with the Patriots, is a solid backup corner and special teams guy. He has numerous tackles to his credit during the '08 season and will, most likely, continue those roles in '09.
- Darius Butler - The young guy on the block, he's got a lot to prove. Draftcountdown.com says he has "Impressive natural talent" and I'm sure we're all hoping the same. I, for one, have missed an aggressive ball hawk since the departure of Asante Samuel and would love to see a guy who's not afraid to take some risks and is also allowed to take those risks. Let's get smashmouth at this position!
- Ellis Hobbs - I have mixed emotions about this one. On the one hand, Ellis played injured for much of the historic 2007 season and gave us all he had. On the other, he routinely played soft, in my opinion, and didn't "prowl" his territory. Ultimately, the Eagles went after him hard, packaging two fifth round choices to get the starting corner. The Patriots ultimately swapped those for fourth and sixth rounders, picking up OL Ohrnberger and LS Ingram. The Eagles reunited Hobbs with former Patriots teammate Asante Samuel and, more importantly, gained valuable leverage with problem child Sheldon "I'm unhappy with my contract" Brown.
A rating of 89.8 put us at 23rd in total defense. While none of the other stats are miserable (YPG, touchdowns, etc...), they were nothing to write home about, either. I believe Belichick has been itching for a defense capable of matching his high-powered offense. Cornerback is usually the first player to come in contact with a receiver. Disrupt his route and you potentially narrow down the choices available to the quarterback. Belichick carried at one time, 10 cornerbacks into 2008 training camp, so I believe he was searching then, too.
It is my belief Bodden will get the most snaps (I hate the term starter). At 27, he's still got a lot of gas and six years under his belt. Young, healthy, and experienced are three powerful attributes not all players have and I think they'll play in Bodden's favor. I see the remaining players, in terms of snaps, like so: Springs, Wheatley/Wilhite, Butler, Richardson.
My greatest WISH is to see Butler turn out like another Jerod Mayo and work it early on. It's all about physical talent and football IQ. If he has them both, lookout. We got ourselves a corner!!