Grading the Patriots Gambles with 'Bad Character' Guys
Like Princess Leia, the Patriots happen to like nice men. But then sometimes it seems there aren’t enough scoundrels in their life. And then, every once in a while, the fall for a stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerfherder like Antonio Brown.
Sometimes they think that with the right love and support, they can “fix” the Bad Boy. That they can take the good-looking, charismatic loner who plays by his own rules and domesticate him. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Just to squeeze everything I can get out of this metaphor I’ve been using for two weeks now (if only there was a metaphor to describe overusing a metaphor like it’s a horse that’s already been killed or something), sometimes the rebel doesn’t want to settle down. He’s incorrigible and will never changes his ways. And when finally you’ve had enough and break things off, he’ll just get back on that road and break hearts somewhere else. And other times, it works. Opposites attract. The chemistry is real. Romance blossoms and at the end, there’s a ring.
So I’m grading their successes and failures from worst to best:
10. Albert Haynesworth
One of the greatest wastes of talent of all time and THE biggest waste of Dan Snyder free agent money ever came to the Pats in 2011 for a 2013 5th Round draft pick. Even that turned out to be a lousy bargain. Before he ever got to New England he had an established bad reputation from traffic accidents – including one where he partially paralyzed a guy while doing in excess of 100 in his Ferrari – defaulting on loans and allegedly impregnating a stripper he never gave money to. He lasted all of six games with the Patriots, in which he registered a total of three tackles before beefing with position coach Pepper Johnson and being waived. The single most unlikable Patriots player of the Bradichick Epoch.
9. Antonio Brown
Eleven days. He lasted 11 days, played in one game, made four catches and scored a touchdown. While producing a thousand times more splitting Big Gulp headaches for his team. Even if you think the allegations against him were sketchy, that was a hill I for one was not willing to get wounded on because fuck Antonio Brown. He had every opportunity to come to Foxboro, play nice with others for five months and go cash in on some other sucker’s franchise. Instead, he was the same unstable, narcissistic, bucket of guts manchild he’s been his whole career. The Pats got out while the getting was good. And still this locker room carcinogen will cost them $5 million in cap space, if not actual money. He’s all yours, 29 other teams. But signing him will be a triumph of optimism over experience.
8. Chad Ochocinco
Ochocinco Chad Johnson’s pre-Patriots “character” issues were more of the cheeky shenanigans variety, as opposed to really harmful. Drawing attention to himself with antics and props like the Carrot Top of wide receivers. And in his one season in New England, he definitely didn’t generate any off-the-field problems. Or any offense. He wasn’t distraction to his team or to the secondaries that covered him. He had all of 15 receptions in the regular season. And in the postseason, as many catches as healthy scratches: One. But his Twitter game was on fire all season long. He ended up gaining about 30 more receiving yards on the season than he had in one game against the Chargers in 2006. And that failure cost the Pats a 2012 5th rounder and a 6th the following year.
7. Michael Floyd
The 2012 13th overall pick was released by Arizona midway through 2016 after a DUI stop. Now, by their nature, DUI stops are fraught with gray areas. The vast majority of arrests don’t lead to convictions. Probable cause for arrest is a much lower standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” So the Patriots took a bit of a PR hit for picking him up, but nothing they couldn’t manage. Until the body cam video of the arrest came out. There wasn’t a jury in the country who wouldn’t have assumed he had all the drinks in Arizona on that one. He ended up playing three games for the Pats including one in the postseason, caught a touchdown pass and won a ring. But he’ll never be remembered for anything besides that block to spring Edelman in the final game of the season.
6. Terry Glenn
So Belichick did not acquire Terry Glenn. But he did inherit him from Bill Parcells by way of Pete Carroll. While Carroll was walking the Green Mile in New England, he suspended Glenn for his general pain-in-the-assishness. Belichick’s first order of business, before he’d even unpacked his box with the family photos in his office, was unsuspend him and offer him a fresh start. By training camp of 2001, Glenn was unhappy about not having a new contract and faking a hamstring pull and spending practices winning the Tour de Sidelines on a stationary bike. He finally was forced into the Week 5 game against the Chargers, where he had 100 yards receiving and caught the first touchdown pass of the career of a first year starter named Tom Brady. Then tapped out for the second half. He appeared in parts of three more games, the last of which was a zero-targets game as Troy Brown had clearly established himself as Brady’s go-to. He was released and according to legend, somewhere in this crazy world is a Super Bowl XXXVI ring with his name on it.
5. Adalius Thomas
Thomas was the biggest free agent signing in team history prior to Stephon Gilmore, being brought here from Baltimore on the first day of free agency, 2007. And was an instant success. He had a fumble recovery scoop & score touchdown in his second game. Was part of the “Backerhood” on the 2007 16-0 team. Was credited with the whole “Humble Pie” slogan of that team. It was great. For one season. By the next year, he was that guy in your office who bitches about everything, questions every management decision and spends more energy sucking the life out of the room than he does getting work done. By 2009 he was what the team calls “a negative leader” on the least likeable Pats team of this era. We’ll all remember Adalius Jetson for bellyaching about being sent home when he was late for meetings because of a freak snowstorm. But personally I’ll always remember that his quarterback was in the building early, even though he’d spent the day before under center between Gisele’s thighs, taking the snap of their baby. That and the fact Thomas was a healthy scratch twice that season. And without him the team went 2-0 by a combined score of 79-10. After they released him he never played another down of football.
4. Josh Gordon
He’s a work in progress, obviously. He couldn’t finish last season. And we all acknowledge he’s one brownie baked with the Devil’s Kale away from it happening again. But when he was in there last year he led the NFL in receiving yards and on the season had the highest Yards Per Catch in the league. All you can do is hope it’ll continue and he won’t have any setbacks in his recovery. And the signs are promising as just Thursday he said, “It feels like I am back home. It is a home environment. I love these guys. They corralled around me to support me, showed me love and I appreciate that each and every day that I am here. It is easy to come in and do what I have to do.” Crossing all crossable parts it continues.
3. Corey Dillon
For a long time Corey Dillon was held up as the pluperfect example of Belichick finding someone else’s malcontented, unwanted goods at another team’s yard sale and putting them to good use. Dillon ended his career in Cincy by throwing his pads into the stands and declaring, “I’d rather flip burgers than play for the Bengals.” He also had a pretty questionable history off the field. But he came to New England and in his first year set a team record with over 1,600 rushing yards and helped carry them to their second straight championship. The good times, love of winning, his coach and his owner and all his good teammate-ism lasted two more seasons. After a 31-7 at Minnesota in which he only carried the ball three times, Dillon made a scene on the team plane that would’ve forced an emergency landing if it was a commercial flight instead of a charter. He was out of football for good a few weeks later.
2. Randy Moss
If Dillon was the prototype of the troubled, frustrated elite player who finds redemption in New England, Randy Moss was the model perfected. You can say he quit on the Raiders in 2006. But looking back it’s probably fairer to say they quit on him first. They were in the exact middle of a crater in which the franchise never won more than five games in a season. He came to New England and immediately he and Brady did things that no QB/WR pairing had ever done. And he was a respected if not beloved teammate. Such a leader that he got Belchick to open up on camera about his love for Halloween. It could’ve been a beautiful thing for a half dozen seasons or more. But by 2010 he could keep a lid on his unique brand of crazy no longer. Gave an insane press conference for the ages. Was released. Went back to Minnesota. Played at New England. Gave another insane press conference for the ages. And was released again. You can’t fight nature. Rand University gotta Rand University.
1. Rodney Harrison
The newest member of the Patriots Hall of Fame was never a malcontent. No one ever questioned his effort or desire. His bad reputation before getting signed in 2003 was twofold. One, that he was a vicious, cheapshotting, headhunter. Two, that he was was washed up. In fact, only one other team showed interest in him. And Harrison has talked about how when he arrived at the airport, the Patriots had a team assistant pick him up in some shitbox, took him to eat at a Denny’s or something and put him up in like a Motel 6. Which won him over. But most Patriots fans weren’t on board. His signing seemed redundant given they had Lawyer Milloy. And when the cut Milloy five days before the season, he signed with Buffalo who then subsequently beat the Pats 31-0, the switch was blamed. Talk radio talked about it like a self-inflicted calamity. Tom Jackson famously said Patriots players “hate their coach.” What followed was nothing less than the best back-to-back years in NFL history. After that Buffalo loss the Pats would win 34 of their next 37 games and two Super Bowls. That 2003 team had three shutouts, five games where they didn’t give up a touchdown and were one garbage time TD from going six straight home games without letting an opponent in their end zone. And Harrison was one of the chief contributors, with 126 total tackles. And had 138 in the championship year in ’04. He played more seasons for Belichick than anyone else on this list, six in all. And deserves consideration for Canton. Only a suspension for PEDs and a certain catch off a certain helmet in a certain game where Harrison did everything humanly possible to break up the pass keeps him from a “+” on the end of his grade.
As long as there’s tackle football being played, teams will be taking chances on crazy people with bad reputations. It’s not a game for normal guys. I’m just hoping the Patriots find more Randys and Rodneys and they’re done wasting time on the Mr. Big Chests.
[Thanks to Stool legend Uncle Buck for the suggestions.]