Editor’s note: In the past we’ve done these “Throwback Thursday” posts as an excuse to talk about something from the past. People love it on Instagram and Facebook, so why not right here? Considering we’re in the annual winter lull in terms of sports excitement, it’s the perfect time to bring back the feature.
By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Thanks to Peter King, there’s been a lot of talk this week of Roger Goodell admitting to running a faulty investigation and giving back the draft picks he took from the New England Patriots over “DeflateGate.” Despite all of the chatter, most everyone agrees that Goodell would never do that, because he’s too proud or egomaniacal or power-hungry or a whole host of other ugly traits.
Fact is, Goodell likes punishing people and teams, and he likes the perception that he’s not afraid to go after big stars like Tom Brady and chummy pals like Robert Kraft and successful franchises like the New England Patriots. He’s big bad Roger, and he wants the world to know it. Roger Goodell would go after his own family and friends if he had to, because he believes in
wielding absolute power JUSTICE! Mwuahahaha!
Don’t believe me? Just look at his cool throne!
Wow! That’s one cool throne!
Anyway, one narrative that’s been pushed throughout the “DeflateGate” drama has been that the punishments were a “makeup” for Goodell going easy on the Patriots back in 2007 during Spygate.
That one’s never made a lick of sense, really.
Despite the “investigative” stories filled with anonymous quotes from bitter people who lost to the Patriots over the years, and despite the introduction of the number of how many videotapes existed, there are two realities about Spygate. One is that it wasn’t illegal to film other teams’ sidelines; it was merely illegal to film them from unapproved locations. For that, the Patriots got penalized.
But secondly, the Patriots got hammered for what was a minor violation.
They were not punished for the violation itself; they were punished for being brash and ignoring a league memo. Goodell, still new to the job, took that personally and came down hard on the franchise. He fined head coach Bill Belichick $500,000, he fined the team $250,000, and he took away the team’s first-round pick. “There’s a new sheriff in town, and his name is Rockin’ Rog!” Goodell probably exclaimed to himself in the mirror.
I suppose the only argument that this penalty was “soft” would revolve around Belichick not getting suspended, which contrasts with Goodell’s handling of Sean Payton and the Saints during Bountygate. The main difference in these scenarios is that Goodell was not dealing with a PR crisis of videotapes throughout history, and he was not facing lawsuits from former players who suffered serious medical consequences from videotapes which were ignored by the league for decades.
When a Saints coach instructed his players to “Kill the [expletive] head” of opponents, amid a series of concussion lawsuits and attempted settlements? Slightly different situation. Being the PR man that he is, Goodell made sure to drop several hammers in his rulings against the Saints, even though it’s a necessary reality of football for players to try to hit their opponents really hard. Regardless, the Saints presented a bad image, so Goodell went overboard in his punishment. (By the time his player discipline got overturned, the world had moved on and didn’t care much anymore. The PR crisis had long since been managed. Sound familiar?)
But bringing this back to DeflateGate, even though Tom Brady’s four-game suspension drew the most media coverage, it’s factual to state that the harshest part of the penalty was the stripping of a first-round pick. Even if Brady had to serve that suspension, it was only four games. A first-round pick can help the franchise for 10 years.
To wit, here are all of Bill Belichick’s first-round picks for the Patriots:
That’s 15 players. Let’s exclude Easley and Brown, because it’s too early to know their long-term impact. But Seymour was a three-time First Team All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowler for the Patriots and three-time Super Bowl champion. Graham scored 17 touchdowns over five seasons and won two Super Bowls. Warren recorded 20.5 sacks over eight years. Wilfork is a Patriots Hall of Famer-in-waiting. Watson caught 20 TDs from 2005-09. Mankins was a rock on the interior line for a decade. Mayo was a defensive captain. McCourty still is. Solder’s been a top 10 or so left tackle in the league, when healthy. And Jones ranked fifth in the NFL in sacks this season as a high-level pass rusher.
Of the 15 players picked, only Maroney and Meriweather really look bad. And even they contributed (Maroney averaged 779 yards per year in his three healthy seasons, and Meriweather picked off 12 passes from 2008-10).
Point is, Belichick may have made some bad picks in his day, but he’s batting about .850 in the first round.
Suffice it to say, he would have made a pretty good pick in 2008.
Of course, he and the Patriots did make a first-round pick in 2008, as they owned the 49ers’ first-rounder. (Note: This originally said the Patriots owned the Raiders pick from the Seymour trade. That was wrong.) But their spot at No. 31 overall was skipped, thanks to Spygate.
So as we play “what will happen?” with regard to this year’s primo pick, let’s take a moment to play “what if?” with that ’08 pick.
Here’s how the end of the first round and start of the second round played out in 2008:
27. Antoine Cason, CB, Chargers
28. Lawrence Jackson, DE, Seahawks
29. Kentwan Balmer, DT, 49ers
30. Dustin Keller, TE, Jets
31. Forfeited, Patriots
31. Kenny Phillips, S, Giants
32. Phillip Merling, S, Dolphins
33. Donnie Avery, WR, Rams
34. Devin Thomas, WR, Redskins
35. Brandon Flowers, CB, Chiefs
36. Jordy Nelson, WR, Packers
37. Curtis Lofton, LB, Falcons
38. John Carlson, TE, Seahawks
39. Chilo Rachal, G, 49ers
40. Tracy Porter, CB, Saints
If you’ll excuse me for a moment … NFL teams, most of your draft picks, woof!
Looking at that list, you might think the Patriots really didn’t miss out on much. Nelson and Flowers would have been nice, of course, but there were a lot of misses in there.
But let’s look back to the “Team Needs” from all of those 2008 previews to help get an idea of what the Patriots might have been looking for. (This is admittedly a fruitless exercise. Belichick drafted a long snapper last year.)
The Huddle (USA Today) said the Patriots would look for a linebacker or a cornerback to replace Asante Samuel. Offensive line looked needy, or the Pats could have gone for a running back or pass rusher. (So, basically, everything was on the table.)
Tom Pedulla at USA Today echoed the linebacker and cornerback needs.
Some website called internet128.com said the needs were linebacker and cornerback, adding in tight end, fullback and backup quarterback. (Sorry, it’s hard to find a lot of things on the Internet from 2008.)
WalterFootball.com said the Patriots needed a left tackle.
The Sporting News listed the Patriots’ needs in order: inside linebacker, cornerback, outside linebacker, offensive tackle, tight end, running back, wide receiver.
OK, so we’ve got a theme. Everyone knew they needed a linebacker, and sure enough, they traded down from No. 7 to pick Mayo at No. 10. Good pick. So if everyone was right and knew they’d go for a cornerback, here’s who was available at No. 31:
Flowers is a good player. Porter made that play to win a Super Bowl. But the rest of that list doesn’t exactly bring great pains to Belichick for losing the pick.
So, if they were going to draft a cornerback, the best-case scenario would have been Brandon Flowers.
The Patriots ended up drafting two corners: Wheatley late in the second round and Jonathan Wilhite in the fourth. Two swings, two misses.
They likely wouldn’t have gone offensive line, because most of the top tackles were already gone. Jake Long (No. 1), Ryan Clady (12), Chris Williams (14), Branden Albert (15), Gosder Cherlius (17), Jeff Otah (19) and Sam Baker (21) were long gone, and if they wanted Duane Brown, they would have had to trade up. Brown went 26th to the Texans. Suffice it to say with all of those picks, the tackle pool was drained by the time 31 rolled around.
However, if Belichick was able to find the diamond in the rough, guard Carl Nicks was available. But … he didn’t get drafted until the fifth round. The Patriots had multiple chances to draft him, but instead picked Wheatley … Shawn Crable … Kevin O’Connell … Wilhite … and Matthew Slater.
Hey: Looking at most of the Patriots’ 2008 selections, maybe the NFL did the team a favor by taking away that pick.
Anyway, if they went tight end, Dustin Keller would have been all right but he went at No. 30. John Carlson, Fred Davis and Martellus Bennett were available. Jermichael Finley ended up going in the third round, and Gary Barnidge (who didn’t do anything until last year) went in the fifth. Again, considering the Patriots actually had opportunity to draft those players but instead opted for Wheatley and Crable indicates that the Patriots likely wouldn’t have made those picks at 31.
If we go to the next need — running back — things might get painful. Matt Forte was there for the taking, and didn’t get picked until No. 44. Ray Rice was also available and wasn’t selected until No. 55. And then … Jamaal Charles, No. 73. (The Patriots drafted Wheatley 11 spots before Charles.) Ouch.
While those misses may hurt, the Patriots’ lack of interest at running back through the rest of the draft indicates they might not have been looking for one in the first place. They were happy with what ended up being Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, LaMont Jordan and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
None of the linebackers or defensive ends really stick out, save for maybe Cliff Avril, but even he went after the Wheatley and Crable picks.
At receiver, Donnie Avery would have been useful, as would the aforementioned Nelson. DeSean Jackson went at No. 49, but he’s never given off a “Patriots draft pick” kind of vibe.
If you look at the whole picture and zoom out, here are all the enticing players who were drafted between No. 31 (the forfeited pick) and No. 62 (Wheatley), aka the people the Patriots lost out on the opportunity to draft:
WR Donnie Avery
CB Brandon Flowers
WR Jordy Nelson
RB Matt Forte
WR DeSean Jackson
RB Ray Rice
TE Martellus Bennett
While you may look at a couple of those names and think, “Gee, he would have been useful,” you do have to factor in whom the Patriots actually drafted that year. They picked Bo Ruud, OK? Bo. Ruud.
Ultimately, it’s hard to measure the final damage done by that Spygate penalty. Maybe they would have drafted Martellus Bennett, and maybe Bennett would have been all right, and maybe they would have liked him enough that two years later, they’d decide to not take a risk on a kid out of Arizona with a bad back named Rob Gronkowski. Maybe they would have taken Jordy Nelson but then not wasted their time on the quarterback-turned-receiver out of Kent State named Julian Edelman the following year. Maybe picking Flowers would have stopped them from taking McCourty. Maybe drafting Forte would have … no, the Forte pick would have been good.
In any event, nobody can speak on any of this with any certainty. If one thing happened differently, then everything that followed it would have been different, too. It’s like The Butterfly Effect, which states that if Ashton Kutcher does something weird in 2004, then people remember it more than a decade later, or something. I don’t know, I didn’t pay much attention back in my high school science classes. Or it’s like when Homer Simpson went back in time and accidentally made the dinosaurs go extinct.
There are some things you just can’t mess with. History is one of them.
As it relates to this year, with the Patriots sacrificing the 29th overall pick due to alleged football violations which were never proven to have occurred, we won’t know the impact for several years. It could sting tremendously, or if it’s like 2007, it might not really hurt at all.
Was this all very stupid? Yeah, mostly. But it at least presents a picture of what’s at stake with this year’s pick. Sort of. A little bit.