roundtable_version_b.jpgPost-Draft Edition
by Greg Doyle, Bill Barnwell, Kevin Thomas and Dan Snapp

With the draft now behind us, the real off-season begins. The Roundtable gang has packed up its Row of Chairs and is ready to start its summer vacation. So before they scatter to the four corners, we thought we’d get their final thoughts on Randy Moss, Asante Samuel, and rookie safety Brandon Meriweather.

By the way, who left these swim fins in my cubicle? And Tim…..are these fireworks?

Let’s be honest, last weekend wasn’t about drafting college propsects – it was about trading for Randy Moss. I’ve got only one question – where will Moss be in 12 months?

DS: Very conceivably, still here. Moss is the ultimate frontrunner; once the Vikings stopped winning, Moss stopped trying. Mike Tice tried his “Randy Ratio” to keep Moss interested, but that never translated into wins. The Pats are a perennial Super Bowl theat, Moss or no Moss. The winning will gloss things over for Moss. The only potential obstacle I see is if he has a monster year and comes back the next year looking for “respect”, since he took a “discount” contract. In that instance, I could see them parting ways.

BB: I thought this move was solely to expand Jamba Juice into the Northeast. It’s not? Oh, well then, Moss will probably be complaining that he doesn’t see the ball enough. He’s never been a player to subjugate his ego for the team or be particularly concerned about success. His comments in the past, from what I’ve seen, have been about collecting money and retiring. I can’t criticize him for that, but it’d be remiss to not point it out, either. Moss isn’t Corey Dillon. He’ll conform some, but he’s not Randy Moss anymore, either.

GD: Clearly standing, by himself as usual, on Route 1 in Foxboro watching blissfully as Gillette Stadium smolders in flames, destroyed at the ruin he hath wrought upon it. At least that is what Dan Shaughnessy and John Dennis told me. So it must be true. Seriously, I think he’ll be coming off a 1,000 yard season with around 10 TDs on a very good team. He’ll have been a model citizen with no incidents on a successful team and he’ll want a mega-deal. He’ll get it. But not from the Patriots. I predict this will be a one year thing, it’ll be very successful for one year and then the two will part on good terms with the Patriots having gotten what they want, an excellent year from him and Moss getting what he wants, redemption and a new big deal.

DS: Given Moss’s monetary sacrifice to come to the club, and Brady’s restructuring to make room for Moss, you can sense the excitement from the players in what they’re building this year. The pundits have all declared the Pats the team to beat, and the most common expression on AFC East rival boards is “Damn! This isn’t fair!” But another by-product of the move is it increases the pressure on Asante Samuel to sign the franchise tender. The Patriots have stocked up for what could be a brilliant season. How can Samuel walk away? Especially considering the franchise tender is still something like $7.5 million for the year, hardly chump change. The money’s important, no doubt, but the players also value the rings and the chances at football immortality. Nobody’s looking at Samuel as a Hall-of-Famer, but a player has to consider it, and playing for three Super Bowl champions helps a player’s cause.

KT: With Moss in tow, the “when will Asante report?/Patriots are cheap” stoooryliine won’t quite have the same media traction as the Branch story from a year ago. Not to say that the Patriots are influenced by such things, but I think it was part of the calculus that drove Jason Chayut’s thinking last year. At least for now, the plight of Samuel and his agent has become essentially a footnote to the Patriots’ offseaon, and Asante’s best move may be to simply show up and play, collect his $7.5 million, and hope to make his big score next year. One thing to keep in mind is assuming Asante signs his franchise tender, this year alone he will be making in excess of four times the total money he has earned in his four seasons in the NFL. I just can’t see how he can possibly walk away from that.

GD: I can’t see him not reporting either. This is a different situation than the Branch situation. I keep hearing them talk on ‘EEI about sitting out for 10 weeks. And that is a typical example of how they simply can’t grasp things when it comes to understanding the sports they cover. Its laziness. Branch could have used the 10 week option, had he wanted to. But the difference is HE WAS UNDER CONTRACT for one more year. The 10 week landmark is the last week he can report and be credited with a service year for purposes of the contract. In Samuel’s situation, he is NOT under contract. He is a free agent without a contract and free to negotiate with any team. While its true the Patriots designated him their franchise player, he has not signed that tender offer. He can sign with any team he wants, so long as they’ll pay the compensation to the Patriots. Or he can sit out if he wanted and simply not be a football player this year. That’s an option, he is under no legal obligation to play or do anything for the Patriots this year….he’s signed nothing at any time regarding this season.

But the 10 week thing makes no sense. In his case, its just really a random number and the media throwing it out there….even reporters who cover the team and should understand these things, just don’t get it. Sitting out 10 weeks does give him the service year credit, but what does it accomplish? Unlike in Branch’s case, it does not serve the purpose of fulfilling the last year of any contract……there is no contract at the moment to fulfill. The Patriots could turn around and franchise him again if they wanted next year. He’s accomplished nothing except blowing 10/16ths of $7.5 million. In Branch’s case, it would get him to unrestricted free agency on schedule, while playing the minimum number of games. That benefit isn’t there for Samuel…he’s already at free agency….he just happened to get franchised.

If he was going to play at all, why not play and get the full $7.5 million rather than the prorated portion of the last 6 weeks? There is no real advantage to that. Its simply a lack of understanding of the difference between Branch’s situation and Samuel’s to even bring that up, as ‘EEI constantly does. I could see a holdout by Samuel….but as a negotiating ploy. As leverage to force a bigger deal or trade from the Patriots. But the 10 week deadline really isn’t all that relevant in his case in my opinion. Branch at least could remove one obstacle, a year of obligation under a contract and then worry about being franchised or not. Totally different situation.

The Patriots also drafted safety/cornerback Brandon Meriweather, who has had his own character issues that attracted attention. How much should fans concern themselves with those issues?

BB: His issues are a little different than the issues that others have. He’s not Leonard Little, for example, killing a woman in a DUI and then committing the same crime again a few years later. Meriweather returned fire (from his registered pistol) when someone shot at his friend. I think if any of us had a gun and our friends got shot at, we’d probably try and defend them first and not think about our draftability. As for the Miami-FIU game, people do crazy things in brawls. Is he as bad as, say, Albert Haynesworth? I don’t think so.

GD: His issues don’t really bother me. The gun incident he was cleared by police from any wrongdoing and had the intelligence to actually legally own and register the firearm. That is far smarter than a lot of folks his age would be. The on-field fight was stupid. But I think he learned from it. From what I can gather and having heard from some of his coaches, teammates and things in the press…he’s not a bad kid and will likely learn from his mistakes like a lot of 21 and 22 year olds do.

DS: The past transgressions weren’t on Belichick’s watch. If they start putting Cinci stats on the police blotter, then yeah, be concerned. But also be watchful of the different way the Pats would handle the situation. Obviously, a fan wants to like the guy he’s rooting for on the field. I don’t know much about Meriweather, so I don’t know how that’ll go. On Moss, there’s no doubt the guy’s a class-A jerk, so it will be tougher for a fan to connect. The receivers will be a fascinating story this season, as Brady hasn’t had a so-called “Number one receiver” before. Now he’s got two that qualify, but each – along with Washington – carries some baggage. With Troy Brown, Deion Branch, David Givens and David Patten, none of those guys had the pure physical gifts of Moss or Stallworth, but you loved the guys and how they fit into the whole concept of the Pats’ offense and team. Tom Brady could reach new heights with the thoroughbreds he’s got in the arsenal this year, but I think it’s a legimate question to wonder whether it will be as rewarding as it was with the previous Pats receivers. Again, the slates are clean for the new guys, so I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

Do you think Meriweather can make a significant impact on defense as a rookie?

GD: I think he’ll start. I think Eugene Wilson does move back to corner this year while Chad Scott moves to safety full time. That’ll give them corners or Hobbs, Wilson, Samuel (if he comes back), James and Gay. Not too bad. Not that bad even if Samuel moves on. And the safeties of Harrison, Meriweather, Sanders and Scott wouldn’t be bad either.

BB: I think he will, one way or another, because the odds of the Patriots defensive backfield staying healthy is relatively nil.

DS: If he can cover like they say, then yes. Would Meriweather be the nickel safety covering Colts TE Bryan Fletcher on the pass that went for 32 yards in the AFC championship game? Belichick finds ways to use flexible players. I think back to the times Ty Law and Rodney Harrison would switch before the snap, with Harrison playing the man and Law back in zone. Maybe they pull off the “Big Nickel” this time, now that they possess players who can actually cover.

KT: Yes. I would consider it somewhat of a disappointment if Meriweather isn’t starting at free safety at some point this year. This is the highest draft choice Belichick has used on a defensive back since he’s been here. The previous high was Eugene Wilson at #36 in 2003–who, by the way, earned the starting free safety job in his first season in the NFL. Back in 1996, when Belichick was Defensive Backs coach under Bill Parcells, the Patriots took another safety with the 36th pick of the draft–a guy named Lawyer Milloy, who also managed to crack the starting lineup in his rookie season. (It’s worth noting that both Wilson and Milloy started on Super Bowl teams in their rookie years. Wilson took over as a starter following the release of Milloy, now Meriweather will be looking to unseat Wilson for the free safety job.)

Meriweather comes to New England as the 24th pick overall, which puts him in some pretty elite company with other defensive backs taken in the first round by the Patriots. In fact, in franchise history, the only defensive backs drafted higher by New England were Mike Haynes at #5 (1976), Roland James at #14 (1980), Raymond Clayborn at #16 (1977), Tim Fox at #21 (1976), John Charles at #21 (1967), Tebucky Jones at #22 (1998), and Ty Law at #23 (1995).

Of course, none of this means anything until Meriweather actually steps on the field and shows whether or not he can play. By all accounts, this was a very weak draft, so its possible Meriweather isn’t really the typical first round-type talent. I also wonder if the Patriots got a little unlucky with the way things broke for them in the first round. If we assume that their goal for this year’s draft was to get at least one of the top rated defensive backs in the first round (a fair assumption, I think), then there were probably only about 5-6 names on the short list of likely targets: Hall, Revis, Nelson, Griffin, Ross & Meriweather. Five of those guys went off the board in the ten picks preceeding the Patriots at #24 (and four of them were taken in a mini-run between picks 18 and 21). Meriweather was the last guy standing–judged by the rest of the league at least as the worst of the “first-round” defensive backs. Are the Patriots truly happy that this guy was still there at #24, or do they privately consider him something of a reach? At this point, I guess it really doesn’t matter.