BOSTON (CBS) — Bill Belichick and the Patriots likely breathed a deep sigh of relief on Thursday morning when a Nebraska judge handed down a sentence for Alfonzo Dennard that, all things considered, was pretty light.
Of course, the team would prefer having its player involved in offseason workouts rather than court proceedings, but this was an incident the Patriots knew about when they drafted him in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. Dennard had been projected to be a much higher pick, perhaps as high as the second round, but due to the charges against him for assaulting a police officer in a scuffle outside of a bar, teams passed on him throughout the draft.
So the Patriots figured Dennard, for all his talent, was worth the risk of perhaps losing some of his playing time if he was found guilty and sentenced to prison.
The risk proved worthwhile on Thursday, when Dennard was issued two years of probation and 30 days in prison, which won’t be served until March 2014, after the 2013 NFL season ends.
The Patriots aren’t expected to make any statement about the ruling, but they no doubt have to be relieved that the incident which allowed them to take a chance last April won’t really have much of an affect at all on Dennard or the team.
The NFL is expected to review the case, but considering the incident took place before Dennard was drafted, it’s highly unlikely the league would have the standing to issue a suspension under the personal-conduct policy.
The ruling that will allow Dennard to play next season obviously benefits the Patriots in a number of ways.
First and foremost, given their low number of draft picks this year — five total, but four if Pittsburgh chooses to not match the offer sheet on Emmanuel Sanders — the Patriots won’t be desperate to add secondary depth later this month.
And once the Patriots begin their work in earnest to prepare for next season, they’ll do so with their starting cornerback present, rather than locked away in Nebraska.
With Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington all signed, the Patriots — for the first time in what seems like far too long — can carry some sort of consistency in the defensive backfield from one season over into another. The team’s defense is a unit that’s struggled prolifically lately, finishing 30th, 31st and 29th in passing yards allowed the past three seasons, but started to show improvement in the latter half of last season. That improvement was particularly evident when Talib joined the team in Week 11.
Now, Dennard’s distraction is gone, and the team can move forward knowing he’ll be there for all football activity leading up until Week 1. Belichick took a risk last April, and a year later, it’s clearly paid off.