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If you’re an NFL die-hard, you probably spent at least a few moments this weekend reviewing the lists of cuts as NFL teams downsized their rosters in preparation for opening weekend. Every year, you hear a few surprising names: the guy who showed up too fat (Bryant McKinnie), the draft pick who can’t shed the bust label (Vernon Golston), or the reigning two-time Pro Bowl safety who just doesn’t “fit” in with his team because of an unfounded criminal investigation. Wait, what?
And so it goes for Brandon Meriweather, Darius Butler (former 2nd round pick), and David Garrard, he of the 90+ QB rating last year. Cuts like these tell us three things:
1. Despite reports purporting the contrary, the Patriots aren’t very good at the draft.
Let’s take a look at the last five Patriot drafts:
2006: Writers begin losing their minds over the genius of Bill Belichick: “He’s football’s Billy Beane! He finds talent no one else can!” Right. Laurence Maroney and Chad Jackson: Greatriots. Also no longer on the team.
2007: Writers believe an abundance of fifth through seventh round picks equates to a team of Tedy Bruschis for New England. The aforementioned Meriweather was the last remaining member of this draft; they’ve all since been cut.
2008: Starter Jerod Mayo and seldom-used WR Matt Slater still remain.
2009: The Pats use 12 draft picks. Patrick Chung and Sebastian Vollmer started in 2010, Myron Pryor played enough in ’10 to collect 12 tackles, while Ron Brace and Rich Orhnberger currently sit in injury purgatory (i.e., won’t ever play). After two big games in 2009, Julian Edelman was the next Wes Welker. Now, he’s just a s(crappy) fourth string receiver.
2010: Twelve picks again, seven are still with the team (four starters with one on the PUP list). Much better, but for how long?
Bottom line: there’s a reason the team hasn’t won a Super Bowl in close to six seasons.
2. NFL contracts aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.
David Garrard was due $9M this year. Realizing the Jaguars could dump him, save the money, and start a guy who might be a crappy and cheap alternative (on a crappy and cheap team), they let him go. Mike Vick signed the second $100M contract of his career a few weeks ago. He didn’t see close to the $100M from the deal he signed in ’04 and he won’t come close this time, either. The actual contractual guarantee is $35.5M, so if the oft-injured Vick misses more than a few games in any of those first three seasons, he’s gonna get cut. That’s the reality of the NFL: get hurt and you’re gone. Make a stupid front office move? That’s ok. Just eat the bonus money and cut the guy. Why live with your embarrassment any longer than you have to? Unless…
3. The idea of what makes a “good football player” has never been more skewed.
One team’s roster cut is another playoff team’s starting safety (Meriweather). McKinnie is set to start in Baltimore, an early Super Bowl favorite. The Bengals wanted nothing to do with Chad Ochocinco, but the Patriots want him to start. In no other sport are players routinely shuffled from the top of the depth chart to the bottom, then promptly resurrected to the top, often within a single off-season. Garrard’s QB rating put him in the upper half of the NFL last season. This year, he’s unemployed two days before opening night.
When the NFL and NFLPA reached a labor accord earlier this summer, the agreement was to signify an unprecedented era of labor peace. While the agreement made great strides in protecting the long-term interests of the game, the relationship between player evaluation and the contracts they receive has never been more volatile.
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