All right, as nearly as I can determine, it's going to take Julius Peppers or someone to make Bill Belichick a genius again. Otherwise, he's traded (at worst) a perfectly suitable intact NFL quarterback -- and a perfectly suitable and relatively intact NFL linebacker -- to the Kansas City Chiefs in return for a bag of magic beans. The only way the complicated transaction that sent Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to the land of milk and barbecue sauce makes any kind of sense is if its ultimate purpose was to clear enough space under the salary cap to bring in a free agent like Peppers, thereby shoring up an aging defense that was the prime non-Brady’s-knee reason the Patriots weren’t good enough for the playoffs last season.
Re-establishing Belichick’s reputation as the World’s Smartest Human is a formidable job for Peppers, heretofore a terrific defensive lineman, or for whoever else the Patriots might hire with the money that otherwise would have gone to Cassel and Vrabel. They’re going to have enough trouble learning the complicated New England defensive schemes without having the burden of playing so well that Bill Belichick will be smart again. (I’ve already heard one radio genius deplore a possible Peppers signing because Peppers hasn’t ever played in a 3-4 defense, thereby confusing the Patriots’ defensive huddle with a fusion lab. Trust me. He can pick it up.) However, the commentary since the two Patriots were shuffled out of town suggests that it may not be such a difficult job after all.
Anytime anyone brags again about what a tough, unsparing sports town this is, point them toward the past weekend. Every single argument for what the Patriots did boils down simply to “Bill Knows Best.” Period. This child-like faith came not only from civilians, but from a great number of the former football players who have taken jobs in the local commentariat.
“Well, Bill sees them every day in practice, so don’t you think he knows his value better than you do?”
Well, yes, but if you adopt this position universally, then you can board things up along Guest Street and bring Jerry Williams back from the dead. (For the sake of argument, we’ll leave out the fact that some hard-bitten analysts might have obvious personal financial motives to stay on the sunny side of the folks at Patriot Place.) This is an astonishing assertion to make in the argument era, especially coming from people who have no compunction at all about opining on national and international issues, despite being fathoms out of their depth. Try it out some time on your favorite radio star.
“Well, President Obama sees all the data every day, so don’t you think he knows what’s going on with the economy better than you do, as a day-trading talk-show host?”
And welcome to the Whiner Line opening for the next 10 years.
Simply restricted to sports, the notion is even more untenable. Danny Ainge certainly has earned a measure of credibility as the architect of a championship basketball team, but he took some heat for taking This Space’s advice and signing both Stephon Marbury and the tattoo on the side of his head. Nobody would seriously try to make the point that “Well, Danny’s seen more of the films and knows the players better than you do, so don’t you think he’s better able to make that decision than you are?” There seemed to be a lot of pros and cons being tossed around over whether the Red Sox should re-sign Jason Varitek, but I didn’t once hear the argument that, well, Theo Epstein knows more about baseball than all the rest of us, so whatever he does must be correct.
Honestly, now, talk-radio surrendering the debate to actual expertise?
If it were just winning that brought on this kind of reaction, that would be understandable. But it’s more than that. Consider, from history, the case of Don Cherry. Now, by any objective measure, Cherry was Don Zimmer without the plate in his head. In the biggest game of his coaching life — Game 7 against Montreal in 1979 — Cherry faced a critical moment and found himself unable to count to six. Moreover, his teams were chockablock with goonish clowns, and one of those teams brawled with fans long before the Indiana Pacers made it a National Crisis back in 2004. (Only a cynic would point out that the pigmentation of the athletes may account for the difference in public reaction.) However, despite being a manifest bungler in the clutch, and a purveyor of the worst elements of his sport, Cherry was and is still looked on fondly hereabouts as one of our own “characters,” in many cases by people who ought to know better. Last weekend, he proved that he’s just as sharp as ever by ripping Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who is only the most exciting athlete his sport has seen in over a decade. This had something to do with Cherry’s fatheaded xenophobia, but it was tantamount to hearing Chuck and Kenny the Jet on TNT, longing for someone to take that James kid in Cleveland down a peg.
Now, Bill Belichick will never be the dunce Don Cherry is, but he has made mistakes, and he will make several dozen more. This deal with Kansas City may turn out to be one of them. At least this one won’t cost the franchise three-quarters of a million dollars, if it’s all right with everyone if I bring that up again.
OT columnist Charles P. Pierce is a Boston Globe Magazine staff writer.