Part 4 in a 10-part series examining key storylines leading into Patriots’ training camp…
The question: Has the locker room issue/leadership void been fixed?
Three factors: Vince Wilfork’s impact; Reaction to contract dealings with Tom Brady and Logan Mankins; Maturity of young players
Finding the answer: In case you hadn’t heard over the last few months, leadership – or lack thereof – was a major issue in the New England locker room last year. The longtime veterans who had developed and passed on the gospel of the Patriots to scores of young players were mostly gone, retired or jettisoned when the powers that be determined that it was time to move on.
But as Pats’ brass learned the hard way last year, players like Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison and Richard Seymour can’t be replaced that easily, on the field, and, more importantly, off the field. As a player, Jerod Mayo is as skilled as they come, but he isn’t the fire-and-brimstone type Bruschi was nor the imposing locker room cop Willie McGinest was; Brandon Meriweather wants to be the type of mentor Harrison was, but he doesn’t have
that cache just yet.
Moves were made to change that this year, starting with the re-signing of Wilfork. Of course, as one of the best at a currently in-demand position, holding onto Wilfork was a smart football move. But it was also a good locker room move – players pay attention to how franchises treat their players, especially core players, and in pro sports, good treatment more often than not comes in the form of dollars. More than that, however, Wilfork wants to be a leader and he can fully embrace that role now that he knows he’ll be in New England for the foreseeable future – which is exactly what he wanted all along.
As quarterback, Brady is naturally a leader, though he admitted that he didn’t do a great job last year in that role. However, just as Wilfork’s contract helped in a variety of ways, getting Brady’s contract done could do even more for locker room morale because if one of the greatest winners ever can’t get paid properly by New England, would anyone?
Aside from contracts, New England has also made other moves to improve things. Free agent signees Damione Lewis, Alge Crumpler and Torry Holt are all considered to be great locker room additions, and more than half of the team’s 12 draft picks served as team captains for their respective college programs.
With 24 draft picks over the last two years, the desire of those players to not only welcome coaching but embrace words of advice from veteran teammates will go a long way toward restoring the Patriot Way – perhaps in a new incarnation, but with the main tenets still in place.