Were the Patriots desperate? You bet.
Was troubled, yet talented cornerback Aqib Talib worth the fourth-round draft pick that Bill Belichick sent to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? We’ll see.
Was it both encouraging and enlightening to see New England address the sieve in its backfield in lieu of a patchwork of hope and arrogance? A thousand times, yes.
As long as the Patriots have Tom Brady, they remain a Super Bowl contender, but that
status is a window reaching the point where it’s time to start removing the air conditioners. There’s still some summer left in Brady’s career, but the inevitable uncertainty that follows translates into an immediate impetus to launch the Patriots into greatness. You took your kids trick or treating this week because you realize they won’t be young forever, and the Patriots are taking a chance now for the same reason.
Talib’s rap sheet is lengthy and disturbing, but there’s little denying his skill. He instantly becomes the most talented member of the New England backfield, which isn’t exactly the highest praise, but it’s at least accurate.
Of course, the other flip side of the risk – besides an eruption of behavior – is the last time the Pats possessed a fourth-round pick, they used it on Aaron Hernandez, a tight end who – when he plays – tends to change the dynamic of the Patriots offense. And the primary reason he fell to that round was because of his past use of marijuana, something Belichick normally dismisses like a pesky fly.
Beyond that, recent history in the fourth has been shades of uncertainty: Rich Ohrnberger (2009), Jonathan Wilhite (2008), Kareem Brown (2007), Garrett Mills (2006), James Sanders (2005), and Dexter Reid and Cedric Cobbs (2004). You have to go back to the 2003 draft to find anyone of true significance, when the Patriots plucked Asante Samuel with the 120th pick of the draft. Beyond that, the fourth round is littered with names like Kenyatta Jones, Rohan Davey, and Hakim Akbar, with the occasional Jarvis Green mixed in. (Fun facts: Rich Gannon (1987) and Scott Zolak (1991) were fourth-round picks.)
But the Patriots have also now burned their fifth and sixth-round picks on busts Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco, leaving them with a first, second, a third, and two sevenths for next year’s draft. Draft geeks will tell you how risky that is for the Patriots. Those of us who enjoy the actual game, not to mention the people who play it, will tell you the riskier venture was going forward with the defense the Patriots currently employed.
Talib (who isn’t eligible to play for New England until the Colts game later this month) could be a head case, or he just might be a piece the Patriots need to medicate what has been their Achilles’. Give Belichick credit: Instead of insisting that the backfield he put together would mend its ways, he recognized the problem and addressed it. He also recognizes that the line stops at some point. You either waste Brady’s prime, or you embrace it. The fact that he decided to do the latter may reek of desperation, but it also shows an acknowledgement of immediate need.
If the result is Lombardi, nobody is going to be crying about that fourth pick come April. Whether or not the Patriots are good enough to hoist the trophy is up for debate, but they’re potentially a whole lot better defensively than they were on the flight home from London. Andrew Luck, you’re up.
Then again, Talib could be a disaster in waiting. But nothing ventured…