Patriots fans, we've been down this road before.
The Pats said good-bye to Ben Coates and Bruce Armstrong back in 2000 when Bill Belichick took the reigns in Foxboro. Lawyer Milloy, the undisputed heart and soul of the 2001 Super Bowl champs was giving his walking papers after a 2002 season in which he didn't force a turnover. At this point it was starting to become clear there the Patriot brass was not going to be known for its sentimentality.
In the cases of Deion Branch, Adam Vinetieri, Roosevelt Colvin (the first time) and others, the reasoning for their departure was clear: value. Either they weren't worth their salary or the Patriots simply thought they were done. In each of those cases there seemed to be some sort of explanation where we could see the line of thought for letting go of key members of title teams. That's why trade the Patriots made yesterday in trading Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel for a second round pick (34th overall) is hard to make sense of even from an objective standpoint.
For all the talk of comparing the situation that Patriots were in with Cassel to what the Packers received for Matt Hasselbeck, the Falcons received for Matt Shaub or the Vikings received for Duante Culpepper, I'm not upset about the compensation they got for Cassel. Mike Reiss put it well in today's Globe when he said this situation was different in that the Pats really had no leverage. It's either trade Cassel or take on close to $30 million for two quarterbacks next season on a team that needs to shore up a defense that was porous at times last year. This could be a valuable pick and it gives the team four picks in the opening two rounds.
The way they included Mike Vrabel as a throw-in is what stunned me and is leaving me with questions. Why trade a player who only accounts for $4 million against the salary cap who can incontrovertibly still play? Sure, he went from 12 1/2 sacks in 2007 to 4 last year but I chalk a great deal of that up to injuries (none of which he talked about) and injuries to the defensive line that limited opportunities. Vrabel has been an absolute rock for this team since coming here in 2001 and could be considered a borderline Hall-of-Fame candidate. I just can't fathom why he would be cast to the side when you consider Teddy Bruschi was on the field enough to make 75 tackles last year and will be returning for 2009. This is the same Teddy Bruschi who has forced 2 turnovers since 2004. I'm not trying to dig into Bruschi; I just can't believe this move was due to on-field performance nor was it due to monetary concerns.
I was not of the belief that the Chiefs were the sole bidder for Cassel and the reports of the squashed three way deal from Friday night between the Buccaneers, Broncos and Pats that didn't involve Vrabel lead me to believe this didn't need to happen. Acquiring the Vrabel would not have been a deal-breaker for other teams and it's unfortunate the Pats jumped the gun too early.
This is the time where we wait for the other proverbial shoe to drop and see what Belichick has up his sleeve. There have been times where he had a plan (Rodney Harrison waiting in the wings for Milloy) and times where he had clearly made a mistake (Fernando Bryant for Asante Samuel).
I'm not going to speculate on trying to acquire Ray Lewis or Derrick Brooks because I really don't see that happening. The Patriots are going to have to replace Vrabel from within and, to be frank, the well is pretty dry. The idea of Pierre Woods or Tully Banta-Cain starting on opening day scares the hell out of me. Other than Adalius Thomas and Richard Seymour who can create a consistent pass rush?
For a team who was 26th in NFL in third down defense, problems at linebacker are the last thing it needs when you consider its deficiency at both corner back and safety.