Sports column by Andy Kirkaldy: Patriots’ foundation is showing cracks
Today’s trivia questions, answers immediately below:
1. What do Terrence Wheatley, Patrick Chung, Darius Butler and Ras-I Dowling have in common?
2. Who are Corey Hilliard, Mike Richardson, Justise Hairston, Jake Ingram, Mike Pryor, Ted Larson, Markell Carter and Nate Ebner?
3. What did the San Francisco 49ers trade to the Baltimore Ravens for Anquan Boldin, who caught 13 passes for 208 yards on Sunday and six passes for 104 yards in the most recent Super Bowl?
1. A. They are all second-round draft picks of the New England Patriots between 2008 and 2011. B. All are defensive backs. C. None are still with the team. Not coincidentally, in 2009 the Patriots were ranked 11th in the NFL in passing defense; since then they have ranked 25th, 31st and 25th in 2010, 2011 and 2012, respectively.
2. They are every sixth-round draft pick made by the New England Patriots between 2007 and 2011. Only Hilliard, a backup right tackle for the Detroit Lions, and Ebner, a Patriot special-team player, are still in the NFL.
3. A sixth-round draft choice. To be fair, Boldin carries a $6 million salary, while sixth-round draft picks make a couple hundred thousand dollars if they make the team. Still, the Patriots drafted receivers with second- and fourth-round picks this spring, and neither caught a pass on Sunday. Another rookie free agent, Kenbrell Thompkins, caught four of the 14 balls quarterback Tom Brady threw in his direction.
It’s really hard to figure out how much salary cap room the Patriots have. One source lists their payroll at about $104 million, and another pegs their cap at roughly $118 million, but probably there is dead money, so to speak, to add to the simple payroll figure, like what the team owes alleged murderer Aaron Hernandez. Regardless, one wishes they had sent the equivalent of Nate Ebner and $250,000 for Anquan Boldin and $6 million, given that Brady is now 35 years old and you have to wonder how many years he has left.
Again, to be fair, Bill Belichick has made some smart draft picks in recent years. Linemen Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder are starters, Jerod Mayo is a solid linebacker, running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen look good, defensive end Chandler Jones has shown flashes, Rob Gronkowski is an all-world tight end, and Alfonzo Dennard should be a good defensive back if he can stay out of jail.
But add Ron Brace, Jermaine Cunningham and Tavon Wilson to the list second-round busts, although Wilson, a safety, is still with the team. And nobody except Belichick thought Rutgers defensive backs Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon were savvy third-round picks this year (much as many questioned Wilson the year before), and 2012 third-round defensive end Jake Bequette barely made the team this fall.
That’s too many misses for the Patriots’ success to be sustainable. Back when the team won Super Bowls, Belichick had more input from others in making draft picks and personnel decisions. Now he’s acting more like the guy who thought that “Touchdown” Tommy Vardell was a good idea for a No. 9 first-round pick back when he was in Cleveland in 1992.
Add to the general concern about the team’s talent level the fact that the Patriots still appear vulnerable to physical, aggressive defenses, as they were in losing two Super Bowls to the Giants and last year’s AFC title game to the Ravens. In the third preseason game the Patriot offensive line was manhandled by the Lions’ defensive front, and even the lowly Bills put a lot of pressure on Brady this past Sunday.
So I will enjoy watching Brady on his good days, assuming he can remain standing and anybody can get open.
But the Patriots’ Super Bowl window looks closed.
On the other hand, how about those Tigers?
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