EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 27, 2009

Ellis, it's great to see you ... go

On Pro Football

The charade is now done.

All the sycophants and unfettered Patriots followers can end the lies and deceit. The farce that was "Ellis Hobbs — lead cornerback" closed with a whimper with a mere pair of fives.

Hobbs leaves New England with one tangible memory — one painful, awful memory of Plaxico Burress leaving him scorched and broken in the end zone to cost the Pats Super Bowl XLII.

All of you out there, and you know who you are, who whined and groaned when week after week Hobbs owned the top spot in Longo's No Shows, I rest my case with two insignificant fifth-round draft picks.

Hobbs spent more weeks at No. 1 than Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

Over and over, I was told he was good, first by Bill Belichick and most of the time by Hobbs himself.

Let's just say the former Iowa State Cyclone looked in the mirror each day and didn't see the chump that Plaxico petrified. He saw the next Champ Bailey.

Great job by Belichick and the Patriots brass for seeing and realizing this in a timely fashion.

Hobbs had plenty of chances to fill the big shoes when Asante Samuel skipped town before last season. One 16-game exhibition of non-cover skills was plenty.

"The Ellis Hobbs trade was not really something that we anticipated. It was just one of those things that, based on the way things went and where our team was," said Belichick. "From a timing standpoint and moving forward, 'what's the best thing for our football team?' That was just the right move at this time."

The Patriots stepped it up this offseason, banking that Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden offer more than 2008 free-agent pickups Fernando Bryant, Jason Webster, Lewis Sanders and Tank Williams to this secondary, which was and still is a serious question mark.

Obviously, Belichick was on top of this liability, a defensive backfield that allowed a 61 percent completion rate, 7.3 yards per pass attempt and 27 TD passes with only 14 picks.

Exhausting a pair of second-round choices on a safety (Oregon's Patrick Chung) and a corner (UConn's Darius Butler), the coach continued the offseason renovations that began in the early free-agent signing period.

Two fifth-rounders? Not sure if I'll ever stop chuckling.

Sorry Ellis, but as all of New England has endured with you, the truth hurts.

Swindler Bill

You just wonder how some NFL execs can cash their paychecks with a straight face.

Jacksonville trades a second-round pick next year and a seventh-rounder this year for the Patriots No. 3.

Hmm. A three for a two would be considered thievery, but Jack Del Rio is nice enough to toss in a seventh-rounder too.

About an hour later, the Titans came calling, craving the services of South Carolina Jared Cook at No. 89 in the third round. The Belichick price tag for Jeff Fisher's third-round lust? A second-round pick next year.

So, the best team in football, at least on paper with a healthy Tom Brady, already has three second-round picks in the 2010 draft, with a good chance that two of those three will be top 50 choices.

Is there any argument, in this financial-cap era, that second-rounders are the most valuable commodity in the draft game?

You get a shot at one of the 64 best players coming out of college and pay them peanuts, controlling their rights for four years.

Drafting in Round 2 allows teams to pay their established stars, keeping them home.

It means you can stack a solid offensive line, as the Pats have, and keep them together, harvesting that continuity, for years.

Perhaps soon, someone other than Belichick will pick up on this tactic.

Roster thoughts

So where does this draft and the accompanying deals leave the current Patriots roster?

Well, Belichick, when training camp rolls around in late July, loves to speak of "competition" at certain positions.

He absolutely has plenty of that as we head into the heart of offseason training.

Look at the top 22 spots. Offensively, the line, running backs, receivers and quarterback are set.

The four-headed running monster — Sammy Morris, Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk — fits just fine.

Figure on six receivers — Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Joey Galloway, Greg Lewis, rookie Brandon Tate and a battle for the rest if special-teamer Kelley Washington isn't re-signed.

Defensively, the front three of Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren are entrenched, with Jarvis Green the change-of-pace third-down rusher. Mike Wright, Le Kevin Smith and rookie Ron Brace add depth.

The linebackers are half-full with Adalius Thomas and Jerod Mayo. The free-for-all, as many as 10 different players for the other two spots, begins today.

And if the linebacker picture seems muddled, the secondary is a flat-out quagmire.

As of right now, nobody has a job. No, not even Brandon Meriweather, who now will see a lot more of James Sanders as the two fight it out in the natural position of free safety, that is if the rookie Chung lives up to the expectations.

What Belichick has done, though, is assembled some potentially strong candidates, not just tired, old journeyman Band-Aids, as he attempted a year ago.