I suppose Brandon Meriweather's abrupt dismissal could come as a surprise from the standpoint that you'd think Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio would find a way to get something for a former first-round pick who made the past two Pro Bowls. Even if he was the 73d alternate last year, chosen, I believe, only after Donnie Shell and Kenny Easley bowed out at the last minute.
What should not be a surprise whatsoever is the decision itself to part ways with the habitually reckless Meriweather, a player who should be called a safety only in an attempt at irony. There were attributes to like about him -- he was big and fast and fearless -- and from time to time he would remind you why the Patriots drafted him in the first round in 2007, why the esteemed Rodney Harrison spoke highly of his promise, why the hope that someday he'd have a Pro Bowl berth that was actually legitimate lasted right up until the moment he turned in his playbook.
The past couple of seasons, as it became clear that he didn't have much interest in curbing his freelancing ways or correcting his flaws, I thought you could gauge a Patriots fan's level of knowledge and insight by how they felt about Meriweather. If you mentioned his name and the response was an eye roll or a (possibly vulgar) expression of exasperation, you knew you were talking to a diehard. But if someone's assessment of Meriweather included the Pro Bowl berths somewhere in the first few words, chances are you had encountered a Patriots fan who spent far too many Sunday afternoons pushing a cart at the Pottery Barn.
Who Meriweather was and who he was supposed to be rarely intersected during his four seasons in New England, though he should be noted that he broke Tebucky Jones's unofficial franchise record of intersecting with his own teammates during his often faulty routes to the ball carrier. If he's not the only player in NFL history to be benched twice in a Pro Bowl season, he's on a short list. He was the ultimate, "Yeah, he has all the tools, but" player, the Laurence Maroney of the defense, a talented space-shot who rarely failed to exasperate. I'll always wonder why the Patriots, who prioritize players who love football, first saw in the likes of Maroney, Meriweather, and Chad Jackson beyond the obvious raw ability. Did they think pure talent, aided by their coaching, would overcome immaturity and other faults? Jackson is the particular mystery given that he never even showed the flashes that Maroney and Meriweather did.
No, Meriweather was not a play maker, as so many of the stories about his departure suggested; he had 12 interceptions in four seasons, forced five fumbles, and never had more than 83 tackles in a season. He could deliver a big hit -- the head-shot on the Ravens' Todd Heap last year is the one that will be remembered long after he's an ex-Bear, ex-Raider, ex-Blue Bomber, or wherever else his journey takes him -- but his often ill-advised attempts at the big play often came at the expense of what he was supposed to be doing.
Comcast SportsNet New England's "Sports Tonight" program mongers panic in certain situations and with certain truck-driving hosts, but the loop of Meriweather's blunders that ran over the chatter Monday night essentially rested the case that he was a significantly flawed and often detrimental player. My colleague Greg Bedard noted that Meriweather made a crucial but often overlooked mistake during the Giants' final drive in Super Bowl XLII, botching the coverage on 3d and 11 that led to a 12-yard gain for Steve Smith. Yeah, that was four years ago. Do you doubt he'd make the exact same mistake in the same circumstances now?
The comparison is obvious, but cutting Meriweather really parallels the decision to cut Lawyer Milloy before the 2003 season only in that they played the same position. The accomplished and beloved Milloy was let go because his production no longer justified his salary. Meriweather was let go because his detrimental lack of discipline was finally determined to be incurable.
The comparison fits better when considering the aftermath of the transaction. In 2003, the Patriots had Rodney Harrison -- a similar and superior player to Milloy -- at one safety. They might have been redundant had they played together, but Milloy's departure nonetheless left an initial void. Antwan Harris
Aric Morris started the 31-0 loss to the Bills in the opener and got toasted. The next week, rookie cornerback Eugene Wilson took over the spot and soon took to it like he'd been playing it his whole life.
You have to trust that this is where history may repeat itself, whether it's rookie Ras-I Dowling reprising the Wilson '03 role, or huge Josh Barrett showing us why the Broncos were so ticked when the Patriots claimed him last year, or a major leap of progress from Sergio Brown, or savvy Darren Sharper arriving in Week 2.
You simply have to presume the coaching staff has recognized something in at least one of these guys that we are yet to notice. Not everything is as obvious to both the trained and untrained eye as Brandon Meriweather's flaws.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.