Football Notes

Patriots’ draft classes failing in attendance

By Greg A. Bedard
September 4, 2011

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After jettisoning former high draft picks Brandon Meriweather and Brandon Tate, your 2011 New England Patriots are set.

For now.

Bill Belichick loves to treat his roster as a work in progress, so expect this to be a fluid situation. The Patriots will be poring over the waiver wire and the vested free agents that become available, even some of their own.

Players such as defensive end Eric Moore and running back Sammy Morris could return, and even tight end Alge Crumpler.

Teams will be more willing to give veteran players a roster spot after the first week of the season, when their contracts are no longer guaranteed.

Some thoughts as we await Belichick’s next move:

■It’s official. The Patriots’ 2007 draft is a complete wash. There isn’t one player left from that class. You can point to trades, but the fact remains the Patriots drafted nine players and they whiffed on all of them. The Patriots currently have on the active roster just three (Stephen Gostkowski, Jerod Mayo, and Matthew Slater) of the 26 players they drafted from 2006-08. Most teams would be crippled by that deficiency, but the Patriots just keep chugging along.

■As for Meriweather, it’s surprising the Patriots didn’t try to trade him earlier at a higher value, or at least deal with him for one more season and let him leave via free agency, recouping a compensatory pick. Now they get nothing.

And the Patriots didn’t try hard to trade him yesterday. A dozen NFL teams said they had not heard Meriweather was on the trading block.

Belichick won’t say it, but his actions - or inactions - say everything: He just wanted Meriweather gone.

Why? Put aside the gun incident, the rap album, and the fact that he showed up slightly out of shape this year. Meriweather just never progressed from the time he arrived as the 24th overall pick.

His preparation was spotty, and that showed up on the field. Meriweather was always a step behind in his reads. And without his mentor, James Sanders, around, it wasn’t going to improve.

The Patriots could deal with Meriweather’s shortcomings when the rest of the defense and secondary was young, and Belichick was forced to play safe coverages.

But not this year. Not with this scheme.

The Patriots are intent on being an aggressive, pressure defense. They will only be successful if they can play more man coverage on the outside, and that gives greater responsibilities to the safeties. Meriweather would no longer just be the last line of defense.

Two plays this preseason illustrated Meriweather’s struggles. When Jonathan Wilhite came on a slot blitz against Tampa Bay, Meriweather forgot to cover the receiver and the result was a big gain. Against the Lions in the red zone, Meriweather took a false step on play-action and couldn’t recover to clean up over the top of Kyle Arrington’s solid coverage underneath Nate Burleson.

That’s just not good enough for a fifth-year player. Is it any wonder that in the next game, Meriweather was assigned scrub duty?

Sergio Brown, Josh Barrett, or a veteran free agent could make those same mistakes. Might as well give them a try at a cheaper rate to see if they improve.

■Don’t know what happened to Tate, one of the team’s 2009 third-round picks, at the midpoint of last season, but he was never the same player after. He lost his explosion, and being easily tracked down by Giants long snapper Zak DeOssie on a punt return Thursday night was the last straw.

■The Patriots are way too light at tight end (two) and guard/center (four), so expect them to add there. They worked out former Cowboys center Andre Gurode, and others will be considered.

Belichick film holds intrigue If you haven’t seen it yet, the trailer for “Bill Belichick: A Football Life’’ is thrilling.

Those who love football can only hope that the two-part documentary, which airs Sept. 15 and 22 on the NFL Network, delivers on such great promise.

To get a rare peek behind the Big Blue Curtain of Belichick’s Patriots, and at the man himself, would be of great value to football aficionados. Regardless of what you think of Belichick’s methods or the man himself, he is one of the greatest NFL coaches of all time, and any clues to his greatness should be pored over.

But the fact that Belichick allowed this unprecedented access to himself and the organization during the 2009 season leads to a few questions.

For one, did he have control over what was and wasn’t included? People involved with the process said he did not, that Belichick simply trusted that Steve Sabol and NFL Films would do right by him.

Remember, NFL Films is owned by the league. As great as it is, NFL Films is still the league’s propaganda wing and is in the business of enhancing the public’s view of the league.

So Belichick was in good hands, and he knew that.

The other big question is the motivation for Belichick, who takes great solace in being a closed book.

Yes, the filming coincided with the 50th anniversary of the franchise, and Belichick’s 35th as a coach.

But this was also done with any eye on Belichick’s legacy, according to those close to the production.

Belichick has no plans to hang up his whistle anytime soon. His contract is believed to run through 2013, and he can stay as long as he wants. But this is the kind of project you do when the thought of stepping away has at least crossed your mind.

Nobody knows football history better than Belichick. He knows the place that NFL Films holds in crafting a legacy, and it’s certainly easier for them to do that when the subject is still working.

Vince Lombardi allowed NFL Films to do something similar with him in 1967 with the Packers. You saw the result of the previously forgotten footage - and incredible audio of Lombardi - in the recent HBO documentary.

That was the final season for Lombardi as coach of the Packers.

Carr would do it differently The recent success of quarterbacks such as Sam Bradford, Josh Freeman, Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan, and Joe Flacco has made it a bit more legitimate to entertain the thought of handing a rookie the keys.

Still, of the 10 rookie quarterbacks to start at least 10 games since 2004, only Ryan, Flacco, and Bradford have posted passer ratings higher than 70 and completion percentages over 57.

Yet even with a lockout that kept their quarterbacks from taking part in offseason practices and mini-camps, the Panthers and Bengals are going forward with Cam Newton and Andy Dalton as starters.

Bad idea, said Giants backup David Carr, who, like San Francisco’s Alex Smith, is a poster child for not starting quarterbacks as rookies.

“I wish those guys all the luck in the world,’’ Carr said. “They probably, if you ask them, have the same attitude I had: ‘I want to play right away. No one wants to watch.’

“But if I had to do it all over again, I think that even if you asked some of [the coaches] in Houston if they could do it all over again, they would put me in a different situation.’’

Carr was taken first overall by the expansion Texans in the 2002 draft. He was sacked 76 times as a rookie - and 249 times total before he limped out of Houston after five seasons - and has been trying to resuscitate his career with three other teams (second stint with the Giants).

But he has never been able to overcome what happened in that first season.

“The first NFL game that I played in, I mean, that’s the first one I had ever seen live,’’ Carr said. “I’m in it, you know?

“We didn’t know how to go about a week of preparation. I think that’s the biggest thing, how to prepare, how to watch a veteran guy prepare, and understand how a game flows.’’

His advice to the Panthers and Bengals is to find a veteran quarterback, let him start the season, and then, maybe, give the rookie a chance.

“I wish [Newton and Dalton] all the luck but, man, if I was a GM and I was a head coach, I’d wait,’’ Carr said. “Aaron Rodgers, one of my good friends, look at the guy now. I mean, he watched Brett [Favre] for three years, picked up all those tendencies.

“You just get to learn and watch and not have to get beat up during that process.’’

Words straight from the top Some leftover pieces from our conversation with Patriots owner Robert Kraft:

■On what the owners lost in the labor negotiations, since it seemed they got everything they wanted: “No, no. We got a system where we can work together to grow revenues. Right now under the old system, we wouldn’t build stadiums, we wouldn’t take risk in new deals because there was not a cost recognition. We pay out based on revenue, not on net. We wouldn’t do certain things under the old deal that we would now do to generate new revenue. But the deal is structured in a way where we’re partners. And if we grow our national media, the players are the biggest beneficiaries. More than 50 percent.’’

■On how he was able to stay patient in the bargaining process, considering his wife Myra’s illness: “The deal would get lost because you had so many constituencies that required patience and respect for listening, for empathizing with the other side. And it’s important to hear what was important to them. Part of the problem was I don’t think both sides were always listening to what the other was saying. When you do a deal, part of it is people want to feel respected, and what they say is important. But when you have sidebars with attorneys trying to stir the pot, for me, it was what was good for the game. I mean, we wound up doing a deal that is 10 years and is unheard of. What this is going to do, the union is going to be the biggest beneficiary. If we grow our national media, they get more than 50 percent.’’

■On giving NFLPA executive director De Maurice Smith a ride on his plane: “He was in this region, his son was at a camp up here. So I offered to give him a ride down. And he flew with me going to those meetings. Look, this guy is very important to the NFL and it’s important that we have a relationship with the head of the union, a respectful relationship. Both he and the commissioner, this was the first time either one of them had been through it. They wound up doing outstanding jobs because they got the deal consummated, and they deserve the major credit. It was quite a management job on both their parts.’’

■On the involvement of players in talks: “I thought the smartest thing De did was empowering the players to serve as principals. And picking guys like Jeff Saturday and Domonique Foxworth, who really were at every meeting. Saturday, he dug into the details of every aspect of it. I’ll tell you, I was really impressed, especially with the two of them. Those two guys, and especially Saturday, they sat at the table like principals. Because I wondered how we could do a deal with people who didn’t have a long background or history [in business]. I have great respect for Saturday and Domonique, and whoever hires these guys after football, whatever they do, they’ll be getting good, solid citizens with good minds. It was nice for me to see because I was really concerned [about the players being involved].’’

■On the reaction since his wife’s death: “The thing that’s amazing to me is what she represented, she touched so many people. I’ve got a bag full of notes and there’s a box at home. I read 50 a night from people of all walks of life, from prime ministers to Rupert Murdoch to Matt Lauer to just people she touched, or this gal who ran a lemonade stand. It’s to almost $4 million now. And we’re going to commit another couple million dollars so it will be a minimum endowment of $6 million, which will be a permanent legacy to her. We’re going to set up scholarships for kids who aren’t great athletes or students, because there’s plenty of money for them. It’s for kids that care about their communities and give back. And then we’ll have the emergency fund through 20 state agencies. Hopefully it inspires other people.’’

Short yardage In press conferences, Bill Belichick won’t comment on the new rules limiting practices, and the restrictions on padded practices. He just shrugs them off and talks about how everyone is dealing with the rules. How does he really feel? Belichick hates them, of course. “If these rules had been around in the ’80s, Andre Tippett would still be playing,’’ he said at the Kickoff Gala . . . Unless the NFL doesn’t care at all about fairness, then it can’t let former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel serve as a game-day adviser to the Colts. A five-game suspension sounds right - the same being served by Tressel’s former quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, for not following league procedure in forgoing his college eligibility . . . Is anyone shocked the NFLPA has not agreed to HGH testing? OK, good. If we learned anything from the lockout, it’s that the NFL won’t get what it wants from the union unless it’s a shared idea, or the union can claim it came up with the idea first. Sounds like workplaces everywhere . . . Speaking of the lockout, word out of Green Bay is that tickets are not the hot commodity you’d figure them to be. In fact, a check of StubHub Friday night found more than 1,000 tickets available for the opener starting from $152. Local prices are even cheaper . . . Two things to keep an eye on when the Saints visit the Packers: New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams sending the house against what has again been a suspect line protecting Aaron Rodgers. And the Saints might struggle on all kicks. Garrett Hartley is out for two months. Replacement John Kasay missed an extra point and a field goal in the exhibition finale . . . We’re interested in the Ravens-Steelers opener ourselves. It’s always a backyard brawl. Players feel it, too. “It’s like a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight,’’ said Steelers defensive lineman Ziggy Hood. “It’s going to be a slugfest, and we’re geeked up. This is what you work for, and this is the way to rumble.’’ Who’s ready for some football?

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @greg_a_bedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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