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Sunday Mail: Belichick didn't leave Brady hanging, but more talent is necessary

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 26, 2014 09:02 PM

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Balancing a short chat this week with a long mailbag ...

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The narrative that Bill Belichick left Tom Brady without enough weapons this year just isn't right. Yet bringing in proven high-quality skill players on offense should be a -- make that the -- priority this offseason.

To say Belichick left Brady hanging is to blatantly ignore the timeline of events that led to Austin Collie and Matthew Slater being key receiving targets in the AFC Championship Game loss.

You know why Brady had to enter a showdown with Peyton Manning with a collection of Smurfs compared to Peyton's star-studded arsenal? First, because Aaron Hernandez, whose versatility made so much of the offense work, turned out to be an apparent psychopath and was arrested in late June in the murder of Odin Lloyd.

No one wants to hear how that tragedy affected a football team, because there's the risk of making it seem like you're marginalizing a man's death. But the loss of Hernandez did affect the Patriots immensely, and it's the truth.

The Hernandez arrest happened two months after the draft, and I'm not sure what Belichick was supposed to do after that to replace him at that point. The Saints aren't just going to fork over Jimmy Graham, and I'm pretty sure Kellen Winslow Sr. has no plans ot come out of retirement, you know?

Beyond that, Rob Gronkowski, who was as dominant as ever when he returned, suffered another brutal injury completely unrelated to his previous ones. That's football, but again, how do you replace someone like that at that point of the season?

You can't. And that's why this was different than 2006. They had the talent. It was lost along the way.

As for those who suggest he should have retained Wes Welker, well, I can understand part of that argument -- Danny Amendola did little to replace him. But Julian Edelman did more than enough, and if you've watched Welker lately, it's fairly apparent that his career is winding toward an uncertain future. I suspect he may be playing his last game as a Bronco next Sunday.

And Belichick did try to revamp the receiving corps to some degree. Part of Amendola's appeal was that he is 3 1/2 years younger than Welker. And they did spend two picks in the first four rounds on receivers.

I'm a believer in Aaron Dobson, provided he can stay on the field. He had more receiving yards as a rookie than Deion Branch did, and Branch is held up as the standard for a young receiver who meshed quickly with Brady.

And I can't forget the intrepid Greg Cosell's assessment of Dobson after the Patriots drafted him:

"This is going to sound crazy, but I thought that his size/hand combination, at times, reminded me of Larry Fitzgerald. He's not Larry Fitzgerald, obviously, but he's a big kid who can move very well with really good hands."

Of course, the real Fitzgerald is a Patriots fan's daydream in terms of the established receiver that they'll hopefully acquire this offseason. Bill Belichick has certainly spoken admiringly of him in the past:

"He does everything well. He's a great, great receiver; will go down as one of the all-time greats and might end up being the best one ever, I don't know.

"He has size, quickness, ability to separate and get open, exceptional hands. He's good short, deep, with the ball in his hands after the catch; strong, very smart, sets up his routes well. They move him around, they put him in a lot of different spots; it's hard to even find him. You have no idea where he's going to line up from play to play."

"He has a very big route tree; he runs all the routes with double moves off of them and complementary moves so one route sets up another. It's very hard to defend him. very hard to find him and then it's very hard to defend him."

Whenever Belichick speaks glowingly of an opposing star, it's easy to imagine that he's laying the groundwork for acquiring the player someday. That was always the suspicion with Ed Reed, right? And it was the case with Rosevelt Colvin and Chad Ochocinco, to name two.

But Fitzgerald to the Patriots, this offseason? I can't see it happening, for cap reasons alone, not to mention that the Cardinals are a pretty good team at this point.

Maybe Bill O'Brien starts fresh in Houston and makes Andre Johnson available, but it's hard to believe he'll gift him to his former employer and fellow AFC team.

The Patriots are in a weird place. The roster is getting younger, but the best player is getting older. With Gronk likely gone for the first half of the season and Hernandez a part of their history they'd prefer to erase, it is important to get Brady some high-quality help this offseason.

They didn't leave him hanging last year, like they did in '06. Awful circumstances conspired to do that. But there's no reason why they shouldn't try to get Brady some significant help this offseason. If there's another Randy Moss out there to be stolen, it's imperative that they find him.

THE MAILBOX

I don't know if Koji Uehara can put up a full season like his charmed second half of 2013. I wonder if the Sox have enough bullpen depth going into 2014?
-- Pedro Borbon

mujicaedwardfinn1127.JPGWell, a couple of things -- I don't think anyone is expecting him to repeat that season again, let alone the second half, when he had a 0.28 ERA, gave up one earned run, one walk, and nine hits in 32 innings over 29 appearances. That wasn't a career year just for him -- it was a career year for pretty much any relief pitcher you can name in the history of baseball, up to and including Mariano Rivera. And considering the career-high workload (stateside, at least) he took on at age 38 -- he threw 88 innings in 86 appearances, including the postseason -- the Red Sox would be foolish not to get him some help and a little bit of insurance.

And, while it's been lost in the glamorous moves the Yankees have made, the ones that have Mazz in midseason form when it comes to underestimating the Red Sox, Ben Cherington's first move of the offseason was to bolster the bullpen. Anyone forget that they signed Edward Mujica, who had 37 saves and a 1.005 WHIP for the Cardinals last season? Pretty decent insurance there.

Last year was a pretty extreme example of how quickly perceived bullpen depth can disappear, with the rapid-fire injuries to Andrew Bailey, Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Miller. But with Miller coming back, holdovers Junichi Tazawa, Brandon Workman, and Craig Breslow, plus Mujica and potential help from the likes of Rubby De La Rosa, the bullpen looks strong even if Uehara is only wicked good in '14 and not transcendent.

Rajon Rondo's anointment as captain suggests he's here to stay, no?
-- Oil Can

I'd say no. Rondo's one of my favorite players I've ever watched -- no exaggeration, there's never been anyone particularly similar -- and I hope he's a Celtics lifer who is remembered when he goes the same way Paul Pierce is now. But the captain thing strikes me as a Wyc idea that Danny Ainge signed off on for two reasons: It gives the appearance to potential trade partners that Rondo has matured into a leader, and giving him the honor puts responsibility on him to be a leader. But the fact that Rondo is now the captain isn't going to prevent the hardly sentimental Ainge from calling, say, the Cavaliers and having this conversation: "Hey, how about our Rondo -- you know, our captain -- and Jeff Green for Kyrie Irving and your next five No. 1 picks. What's that? Ah, I forgot all about the Stepien Rule ..."

What percentage of his next contract should John Dennis make payable to Kirk Minihane?
-- Ranger

Might not be a next contract if he doesn't knock it off on Twitter. I'm kidding, but I don't know what he's doing with these little Twitter fights he picks every now and then -- especially when they are negotiating a new deal and there's at least some remorse since he ends up haplessly deleting the evidence at the end. I spent too much time Saturday afternoon trying to figure out which character he'd be in the Anchorman showdown. Decided he's the guy in the gray who rolls in on the bike after Wes Mantooth.

Or maybe Brick. I could see him killing a guy with a trident, sure.

I'm starting to wonder if the Pats see the consistent breakdown of the interior OL in championship games. Is the staff writing it off to one-time factors? I believe they'll struggle to get over the hump without more talent.
-- Fricosis Guy

That's a good question. For all of the plaudits this week sent Dante Scarnecchia's way ... well, I don't want to say that it's a little much, because he did seem to do some extraordinary work in developing the Ryan Wendell/Dan Connolly types, or getting the best out of guys like Joe Andruzzi, hardworking, smart veterans who were maybe somewhere below the median in terms of pure talent. But they've also had some real high-end talent on the line. Nate Solder and Logan Mankins were first-round picks, Sebastian Vollmer and Matt Light were second-rounders, so it's not like they took five 300-pound Division 3 hobos and made them into the '70s Oakland Raiders line, you know? And they have underachieved in big moments -- especially Mankins, who for the purported toughest guy in the league has been overwhelmed at some key times the last few years. Maybe they look at the line's letdowns as random struggles, but they certainly are not one-time things at this point.

Pats fans I assume are rooting for the Seahawks, right? The thought of Peyton winning another ring makes me want to puke.
-- Guest

I imagine so, especially those Patriots fans who can stomach the idea of Pete Carroll winning a Super Bowl. I'm not sure who I'm rooting for. Have a ton of respect for Manning and the way he played last week, but I'm not sure I want to see him get that second ring. But I really don't want to see Carroll get one. He drove me nuts during his three years here by letting the foundation of a very talented young team crumble in large part because of his lack of discipline. Bobby Grier was the main reason those teams underachieved, but Carroll was culpable, too. Ty Law and Willie McGinest didn't really get their careers back on track until Belichick arrived.

bradleydudleyfinn127.JPGDid you see Chad Ford's capsule on Dante Exum whom he had projected to the Cs with the No. 4 pick the other day? All caveats about Mock Drafts this far out aside, his comment that Exum, "may be an upgrade over Avery Bradley" left me a little cold. I thought this draft was stocked with franchise players? No offense to Bradley, but a guy a little better than him is not a franchise player.
-- Neil (DC)

He has no idea whether Exum will become Avery Bradley or Dudley Bradley, though it's probably safe to say he won't be Shawn Bradley. These players are so young and the draft is so far away that there's really no point in putting any stock in the mock drafts at this point.

Who's had the better supporting cast offensively over the years -- Brady or Manning? I thought there was no question Brady has spun straw into gold over and over again, but have been surprised how many people lately are saying Manning has done more with less.
-- LizM5

Manning has made players better around him from time to time -- think Blair White or Austin Collie or Jacob Tamme -- but he's never had to play a season with the equivalent of Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell as his top receivers. Heck, his first year in the league, the Colts already had Marshall Faulk and Marvin Harrison on the roster. Brady has had his share of elite talent around him -- Randy Moss, Gronk, Hernandez, Welker -- but it's nothing compared to what Manning has had.

Until next week, the mailbox is closed. Exit music, please.

OK, so a Paul Pierce highlight reel is not technically music. But it sure sounds lovely to Celtics fans.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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