FOXBORO — A year ago, we implored New England Patriots CEO Bill Belichick to exercise every possible option — “to boldly go where no man has gone before,” if you will.
We asked, here in plain ink, to consider any and all potential deals for the aging but still gold-standard Tom Brady.
The coach obviously disagreed. He’s got the Hall of Fame resume and the three Super Bowl rings, and he decided to keep Brady and fill in around him. New England’s mixed results, a 12-4 regular season with yet another premature playoff exit, mirrored 2012. Good, maybe even very good, but not good enough.
So what happens now? How do the Patriots make the one last Brady era leap to greatness? How does Belichick win one more Super Bowl before retiring?
Here are 10 moves ... make that 10 bold moves, that Belichick should consider if winning a Super Bowl is the real modus operandi over at 1 Patriots Place. If the goal is to win the division and compete for the AFC Championship, Belichick doesn’t have to change a thing. He’s got that down pat.
1. Deal TB12 to Vikes
Brady’s street value is lessened by one season of some heavy hits and long-ball misses. He remains a prized commodity, but there just won’t be a Herschel Walker-type or Ricky Williams-type deal out there. Or will there? If it’s pitched to Belichick — say two firsts and two seconds — don’t you have to seriously consider it?
One year ago, it was the Arizona Cardinals we pegged as a prime landing spot. The more I think about it now, the more Minnesota intrigues me.
The game’s top rusher — Adrian Peterson — has a window that like Brady’s is closing. Couldn’t you see those two going out in greatness together? Cordarrelle Patterson is the young, game-breaking receiver Brady needed to get this year. Greg Jennings is well-paid and on-board.
The defense was rated No. 2 in yards allowed per game last year.
Why waste all this on Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman, et al.?
Now, Minnesota was the team that was laughed at for giving away the bank for Herschel back in the day. Has that franchise recovered? It’s worth a phone call to find out, if and only if you believe that Ryan Mallett, now 25 and headed to his fourth pro season, is ready.
2. Keep Big Vince
The rumors and grumbling sputtered out of Patriot Place last week. Vince Wilfork, coming off an awful Achilles’ injury, will cost $11.5 million (cap) dollars in 2014. Up the ante in real dollars for a Wilfork extension and massage that number down.
Will he recover fully? At 350-plus pounds, can his aging legs (he turns 33 in November) still get the job done?
I say yes. But you have to help Wilfork along. Wilfork’s one “blockbuster” deal was five years for $40 million.
That was fair to him and the team. Be fair again, and extend him for two more years at $5 million apiece, knocking that 2014 cap figure down in the process.
Why? We’ll show you in step three.
3. Admit defensive philosophy stinks
Coach, you’re not a 4-3 guy, and the 4-3 your team employs remains soft, static and unathletic. Time to allow your thoroughbreds to be thoroughbreds. This timid, 4-3 read-and-react is turning playmakers into counter-punchers.
When was Belichick’s defense best here? The Super Bowl years of 2001-04. And why was it so good? Not only was this group stout at the line of scrimmage, it attacked the opposing quarterback.
Wilfork should play a huge part in this new 3-4 look, but not on the nose. Your best lineman has to play the right end spot, like Richard Seymour did from 2001-08. It’s not a numbers position. It’s a position that requires you dominate the point of attack. Dominate this spot, and you allow one of your top athletes — at outside linebacker — to roam free and hit it.
This made guys like Willie McGinest and Mike Vrabel into game-changers.
Wouldn’t you love to see a Jamie Collins charging hard off of Big Vince’s flank instead of trying to chase down Julius Thomas?
4. Send Patricia packing
Maybe the guy is a coordinator in name only. Maybe Belichick is the boss here. But to sit there and to either pitch or to listen to a game plan against Denver that San Diego used the week before so unsuccessfully is a fireable offense. They need a defensive coordinator that will at least try to say, “No, Bill,” once or twice a season and will live to tell about it.
I don’t like Patricia’s philosophies or his defensive demeanor.
Nobody does his specified task with average results like Rob Ninkovich, the poster child of the bend-but-don’t break defense. I’ll never forget when the media started speaking of Ninkovich in the same breath as Tedy Bruschi. Not even close.
Great guy. Great teammate. But he’ll never be the playmaker that this team needs. Eliminate his position in the defensive switch or send him packing. What do you have to lose?
5. Don’t waste Chandler Jones
In back to back seasons, the first-round draft pick out of Syracuse has gone from September beast to January butterfly. The defense is to blame for it. At 6-foot-5 and 247 pounds, Jones is a wiry sort. He is not his brother Arthur (6-3, 301). He is an outside linebacker, forced down into the end position, and often times tossed into the washing machine inside.
Jones broke down midway through his freshman season in the league. This past season, after taking weekly poundings with Belichick and Patricia shoving him inside and asking him to play the run, the pass and everything else, he got tired and physically overwhelmed.
Jones had 10.5 sacks through 11 games but just two sacks in the final seven games. That’s an athlete who is being victimized by this scheme.
Pure pass rusher, nothing else. He’s Lawrence Taylor or Dwight Freeney. One is a Hall of Famer, the other will be.
Because they gobbled up quarterbacks. Give Jones the chance to do the same, instead of forcing him to be more and fail.
6. No more Vellanos
Look at the potential free-agent market out there. Players like Cincinnati’s Michael Johnson, Seattle’s Michael Bennett and Carolina’s Greg Hardy headline a group of dangerous, but non-cap-crunching defensive linemen who should be on the open market this spring.
You cannot cheap out hear, looking for the next Chris Jones or Joe Vellano, or even the next Tommy Kelly for that matter.
Step up to the plate and find a couple $2-4 million a year types to help. Forget paying guys the minimum up front.
Get off the $1 shelves at Target and look for the better quality instead. In this case, you often do get what you pay for.
7. A corner better than Talib
In New England, we talk about Aqib Talib with the same reverance as a Ty Law. Can I just say that Talib has been a no-show in the playoffs. He “held” the Colts’ T.Y. Hilton to a 103-yard day in the playoff opener this year. And a week later, Demaryius Thomas was running free in the secondary too often for my liking before Wes Welker cleaned Talib’s clock and sent him to the sidelines.
The bottom line is that this team needs a “shut-down” corner that can be counted on. I keep seeing Darrelle Revis in those ugly “pewter” Tampa uniforms and I wonder if first-year coach Lovie Smith wants to pay him $16 million for this season. It’s not guaranteed either.
Revis is still the real deal at corner, big, strong, fast, a pain to opposing offenses. He’s a half-the-field-shutdown type. If the choice is Revis at $16 million or Talib at the “franchise tag” of $11 million, I’m heading to the “Island,” and wishing Talib my very best.
8. Two impact free agents
So, are you guys all counting on the return of Adrian Wilson from the injured list or what? Not since Belichick wined and dined Rodney Harrison at the Westwood Ground Round has this team actually pursued a real safety in the free-agent market. Instead we’ve seen a never-ending list of Meriweathers, Ihedigbos, and Gregorys take up space deep in the secondary.
Does Bernard Pollard have anything left in Tennessee? He, at 29, always looks good against the Pats. The bigger name, the bigger money the better.
As for the offense, the sky is the limit. I’d love a bookend tight end to match Gronk. I hear my sarcastic readers telling me that “Arizona’s Jake Ballard is available.”
Yes, I would give Jimmy Graham a call if the Saints don’t franchise him. Behind that, I like Houston’s Garrett Graham, Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew, Miami’s Dustin Keller and the Jets’ Jeff Cumberland. Get a couple of them as the Pats have a serious need here. That need is to flush Matt Mulligan and Mike Hoomanawanui from the active roster for good.
9. No more munchkins
My only requirements for receivers is you must be 6-foot-3 or taller. All candidates for cornerback must be at least 6-1. Be it draft, free agency, whatever, I do not want another player at either position that does not meet the minimum height requirement to ride the Yankee Cannonball at Canobie Lake.
10. Draft with urgency
Gone are the days when they can afford to look a year or two down the road, moving a two this year for a one next and a three this year for a two in 2016.
Selecting 29th in each round, Belichick has to take risks. I recall back to last year when the Honey Badger slipped down the draft board. Tyrann Mathieu started for the Cardinals this year at both safety spots after being chosen in the third round, despite a rap sheet laden with marijuana issues.
The Pats have overlooked plenty of mischief from their recent picks — be it Alfonzo Dennard’s alleged punching a cop in Nebraska or Aaron Hernandez’ alleged gang ties in Connecticut.
Forget the words safe and solid now, and let it fly. “Impact” ... now you’re talking.