Monday, September 5, 2011

Surprise of Meriweather cut not surprising

Like every team around the NFL last weekend, the New England Patriots had to make some big decisions to get their roster down to the required 53 players by Saturday evening.

There were a handful of unexpected releases around the league, and among the most startling may have been the release of two-time Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather by the Patriots, who remain in need of help at the safety position.

A former first-round draft pick in 2007 (No. 24 overall, University of Miami), Meriweather’s release was somewhat foreshadowed by those around him (while he seemed to be caught off guard by even the remote possibility of his release) after Meriweather played the entire fourth quarter in New England’s third and final preseason game against the New York Giants on Sept. 1. Meriweather was even asked if he was “happy” with his “situation” with the team following the game, and flawlessly (and, I’m assuming, unknowingly), his rebuttal was typical Bill Belichick-robot jargon insinuating he believed he was going nowhere and his coaches were doing great.

Less than two days later, Meriweather was no longer a New England Patriot. He has since signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears.

Meriweather was one of the final 15 Patriots to be released just before the league deadline. Among other surprises were 12-year veteran (and AFC East journeyman) Sammy Morris, who led all Patriot rushers with 727 rushing yards and a career-high seven touchdowns in 2008, as well as third-year wide receiver and special teams returner Brandon Tate (No. 83 overall in 2009), who contributed in every game last year.

It’s hard to question anything Belichick and the Patriots’ front office do in terms of team moves, but there have certainly been instances when so many of us — myself included — have asked ourselves, “Just what the hell is going on right now?”

I had that kind of reaction when the Patriots traded away Randy Moss last year, the wide receiver who hauled in just shy of 100 catches and scored 23 touchdowns during the Patriots’ record-breaking 2007 season. I also had a similar reaction when New England dealt veteran defensive lineman and five-time Pro Bowler Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders in 2009. And, too, when they traded linebacker and leader Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs a couple seasons ago. And even back in the late 90s, when five-time Pro Bowl running back Curtis Martin left New England for New York and the Jets (albeit before Belichick’s reign began). These types of moves are not uncommon for New England.
There’s something positive to be said about these moves, though.

It’s no coincidence that since the first of those controversial transactions I just mentioned took place (Martin to Jets), the Patriots have consistently been a force to be reckoned with — not just in the AFC East, but throughout the NFL.

The move that probably did the most damage to the Patriots’ immediate future was letting Martin go to a division rival, a move that may have cost then-coach Pete Carroll his job with the Pats. Martin was one of only two running backs to gain more than 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first 10 seasons. The only other? Barry Sanders.

The questionable Martin move — which was sparked by Jets and former Patriots coach Bill Parcells offering him a contract as a restricted free agent that New England wouldn’t match — may have also opened the door for the Patriots’ dynastic future of the early 2000s, which included three Super Bowls in four years and the emergence of one of the most prolific quarterbacks of the young 21st century.
The “preseason” team-molding is still far from done for the Patriots, though. With the first game of the 2011 season just days away (2009 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints at 2010 Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, Thursday at 8:30 p.m. EDT, NBC), the Patriots are certainly shopping around for a veteran safety who can pick up the slack left in Meriweather’s absence, but also achieve things Belichick & Co. thought he couldn’t.

Belichick told the media on Sept. 2, the day before Meriweather’s official release, that Meriweather had been working hard throughout training camp and the preseason, but hinted at one of his weaknesses being his man-to-man coverage. He also said that Meriweather’s man-to-man had improved this season. Meriweather’s man-to-man coverage over the years has undoubtedly shown some blemishes over the past couple seasons, though, too.

“It’s the worst part of the job,” Belichick said regarding annual cuts on the conference call on Friday, just a day before the deadline. “It doesn’t really get any easier.”

He’s not lying. Finding a solid, veteran safety to fill a spot that has been held down by Meriweather since he was drafted will not be simple. And needing to find that player in less than a week doesn’t make it any easier.

But we’ve seen crazier things accomplished by the Pats in the past. At this point, nothing will be surprising.

Players released by the Patriots prior to the Sept. 4 deadline:
DL Landon Cohen, LB Niko Koutouvides, S Brandon Meriweather, DE Eric Moore, RB Sammy Morris, WR Brandon Tate, WR Tiquan Underwood, OL Thomas Austin, RB Eric Kettani, DB Ross Ventrone, LB Markell Carter, DL Aaron Lavarias, DE Alex Silvestro, TE Lee Smith, TE Will Yeatman, LB Ricky Brown, OL Jonathan Compas, DL Darryl Richard, TE Carson Butler, WR Buddy Farnham, OL Mike Berry, RB Richard Medlin andOL Corey Woods.

In addition, DL Ron Brace, DL Brandon Deaderick RB Kevin Faulk were placed on the reserve physically unable to perform list and 2011 fifth-round draft pick Marcus Cannon was placed on the reserve non-football injury list. OL Rich Ohrnberger was placed on injured reserve.

Other big-name moves around the league as of late Sunday night:
RB Chester Taylor by Chicago Bears, signed one-year contract with Arizona Cardinals; two-time Pro Bowl RB Larry Johnson cut by Miami Dolphins, yet to sign anywhere; WR Donnie Avery by the St. Louis Rams, yet to sign anywhere.