Live (sort of) from the NFL draft
Apr. 30, 2007 | feedback
If Bill Belichick arrived at practice in a Ferrari Enzo one day, everyone would assume the Patriots coach was battling a severe midlife crisis. But seeing him trade a fourth-rounder for Randy Moss? Nobody knows how to react. Every Patriots fan I know was legitimately speechless after the trade. We'd heard the rumors for weeks but never believed this thing would, you know, happen.
Maybe Moss isn't a brand-new Enzo, but he's definitely a Ferrari -- one of those with about 75,000 miles on it that you'd buy from a rapper who's going bankrupt. You're not exactly sure what condition it's in. It might be more trouble than it's worth. You have to keep it covered almost all the time. The parts are expensive. At the same time, it's a Ferrari and you're getting it at a discount, right? If you have the money and you always wanted a car like that, you have to make the deal.
The case against a Moss trade: He's a potential cancer on a team that's always thrived on chemistry and character. He's a deep threat with hall of fame skills playing for a franchise that historically has terrible luck with deep threats with hall of fame skills. He's a polarizing African-American athlete playing in a city that usually has trouble being fair to polarizing African-American athletes. Everyone agrees that he lost a step over the past two seasons, although he may have just lost the will to live with Kerry Collins, Art Shell, Aaron Brooks and Norv Turner in his life. If he starts out slow, you can count on the MAWBM (Middle-Age White Boston Sports Media) ripping him to shreds at every turn. (To nobody's surprise, Dan Shaughnessy started early.) On paper, there hasn't been a Boston-related disaster this predictable since the Big Dig planners decided the tunnel would go right under the North End.
The case for a Moss trade: They only sacrificed a second-day pick for him and could cut the cord at the first hint of trouble. The team looks so loaded, they could probably win a fourth Super Bowl with or without him. (I'm even getting, "Congratulations, you guys are the new Yankees" e-mails, which is funny because there's a salary cap in football.) Going from Collins/Brooks and Turner/Shell to Brady/Belichick, it's hard to imagine a better candidate for the Juvenation Machine in recent sports history, especially if Moss reins himself in like Dennis Rodman did in Chicago. For football purposes, he's the ultimate luxury -- a home run threat at an expendable position, a potential gamebreaker who makes the 2007 Patriots effectively unbeatable. You could even say he's a 2004 Ferrari Enzo with 90,000 miles on it.
Five years ago, I don't think Bill Belichick makes a move like this. I really don't. So that leaves five possible explanations why it happened now.
Explanation No. 1: You could almost picture Tom Brady heading into the coach's office after last season and saying, "Um, I don't know if you realize this, but I turn 30 this season. You just wasted a year of my prime. I'm never getting it back. I took a little less to stay here, you promised to build a quality team around me, then you traded Deion Branch and stuck me with Reche Caldwell as my No. 1, so my season came down to a third-down play where I crossed signals with a 38-year-old guy who should have been coaching our receivers instead of trying to get open on THE BIGGEST EFFING PLAY OF THE SEASON!!!!!!!!!!!!! COULD YOU GET ME SOME HELP PLEASE! THERE'S A CHANCE MY EX-GIRLFRIEND PULLED THE GOALIE ON ME THIS WINTER, COULD YOU THROW ME ONE EFFING BONE HERE! JUST ONE! IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK???"
This offseason has felt like a prolonged apology to Brady. Here, you wanted a real slot guy, right? We just traded for Wes Welker. You wanted a deep threat, right? How's Donte' Stallworth sound? You wanted a potential gamebreaker, right? How's Randy Moss sound? The only thing Belichick didn't do was to convince ABC to cancel "Six Degrees."
Explanation No. 2: This entire weekend was Belichick's "I'm Keith Hernandez!" moment. On the heels of the NFL instituting new character policies, Belichick drafted one of the most notorious players in the draft (Miami safety Brandon Meriweather) and traded for one of the most notorious players in the league (Moss). It's almost as if he decided, "I already won three titles with the three C's (character, coaching and chemistry) -- just for fun, I want to try to win one with a couple of lunatics. I'm Bill Belichick! I won three Super Bowls in four years! If anyone can pull this off, it's me, baby!
Explanation No. 3: Belichick believes the leadership and character on this season's team is solid enough that they can take chances on two shaky guys, almost like the family from "Seventh Heaven" deciding to adopt two troubled foster kids and turn their lives around. He did it with Corey Dillon a few years ago; now he's doing it with Moss and Meriweather. And if they end up winning the Super Bowl, he needs to raise the degree of difficulty bar by leaving the Patriots, taking over the Bengals and immediately trading for Terrell Owens.
Full disclosure: For years and years, I've been writing that any team can survive with one head case as long as it doesn't give him another head case to hang out with. For instance, Stephen Jackson is thriving as the Token Head Case in Golden State right now, just like Ron Artest thrived in Indiana for a couple years under that same role. You can always get away with one. But when Jackson and Artest landed on the same team? We ended up with the ugliest sports brawl in three decades. I'm not saying this will happen with Moss and Meriweather on the Patriots. At the same time, it's probably a good idea if they're not allowed to meet, interact or even use adjoining urinals at the same time.
(Please note that I was excited for the Meriweather selection when it happened, if only for my dad's verbatim defense of the pick: "Well, the stomping thing was pretty bad, but he did have a license for the gun." He was dead serious. The NFL draft ... it's FANNNNNNNNNN-tastic!)
Explanation No. 4: Just for the hell of it, Belichick decided to build this season's Patriots offense the same way I doctor my "Madden" roster every August by making as many shady Patriots-related trades as possible. I swear, I would have ended up making all three of those moves in four months, even if they hadn't happened.
I wonder if Miami will be dumb enough to trade me Wes Welker for a second-round pick? (Pause.) Wait ... the Dolphins agreed to the deal?
I wonder if Donte' Stallworth's agent will be dumb enough to sign a multi-year deal in which only the first year is guaranteed. (Pause.) Wait ... he said yes?
I wonder if the Raiders will accept a fourth rounder for Moss. Screw it, I'll make the offer. (Pause.) Wait, I just got Randy Moss?
You have to admit, at the very least, we have the greatest "Madden" offense in Patriots history: Brady, Maroney, Watson, Moss, Stallworth, Welker, Caldwell, Gaffney, Brown. I mean ... are you kidding me? Can I run a seven-receiver offense next year? Is that legal?
Explanation No. 5: Belichick really did have a midlife crisis ... but instead of buying a fancy sports car, he went out and traded for Randy Moss. Maybe the coach knew he didn't really need a sports car, knew the car might remain in the garage for long periods of time, knew his friends might make fun of him, knew his insurance might skyrocket, knew he'd probably regret it in the end ... and you know what? He did it, anyway.
"Screw it," he probably said to himself. "I've always wanted to drive one of those things."
So if this was true, it's safe to say that Patriots fans were like kids playing in the front yard when that 2004 Ferrari Enzo pulled into the driveway, followed by our midlife-crisis-suffering father climbing out of the driver's seat as the doors shot straight up into the air. We're walking around the car in shock. We don't know what to think. It's quite possible that dad just lost his mind.
And yet, we can't stop thinking about one thing ...
That's a pretty cool car, isn't it?
I spent last week in New York City for the Tribeca Film Festival. Every time I return to Manhattan, weird things happen to me. On Wednesday night, I was sitting in the bar of the Tribeca Grand having a drink with friends when a giant photo of Jeremy Irons fell off a makeshift wall and nearly decapitated my friend Hench. On Thursday afternoon, I was walking around Soho and nearly stepped in a pile of human feces that may or may not have been left by Vito Spadafore Jr. On Saturday afternoon, my cab driver got into a NASCAR-like "you're not getting ahead of me and I don't care if I kill everyone in this cab!" duel with someone driving a town car, culminating in a near-street fight when we finally reached our destination and me actually saying the words, "If you want to fight him, I've got your back." On Saturday night, I went to a seemingly normal bar that had three plasma TVs showing Skinemax porn behind the bar, including a sex scene between two people who were working out in a gym, then decided to fornicate while the guy continued to work out.
The last one especially blew me away. We live in an era where nobody wears bras, casual sex is OK, women take pride in being in shape, female celebrities show off their private parts when they're leaving limos, and bars show softcore porn scenes at 12:30 at night and nobody bats an eyelash. I want to know what's next. Women heading out for dinner topless? Where do we go from here?
Anyway, I was supposed to be seeing movies on Saturday and ended up getting sidetracked by the start of the NFL draft. Four hours later, I was still sitting in front of the tube in my hotel room saying, "All right, all right, one more pick and I'm leaving." I don't get how anyone can call themselves a football fan and not completely love the NFL draft. It's just too good. But here were my favorite moments:
• Miami trading Wes Welker for a second-round pick, then wasting the ninth pick on the draft on Ted Ginn Jr. (who won't be good for two years) when they could have taken Brady Quinn, then basically explaining it like this: "Well, we won't really need a QB because we have Daunte Culpepper and Cleo Lemon and we might trade for Trent Green." That killed me. How many games will Green survive on a crappy team with a shaky offensive line? Five? Six? The VP of Common Sense goes crazy during the NFL draft.
(Note: Miami passing on Quinn reminded me of the Raiders passing on Leinart last spring -- at some point, if you're a potentially crappy team and everything's equal with the guys on the board, you HAVE to consider your fans, right? Pick Quinn or Leinart and they become the face of your franchise, the one guy on the team that everybody knows -- men, women, old people, kids, you name it. You're not getting that with Ted Ginn Jr. So if you need a WR and you need a QB, and everything's equal, how are the fans not the tiebreaker there?)
• Another example: Dwyane Jarrett scores 45 TDs at USC and looked like the best player on the field in the Rose Bowl, hands down ... then he runs a 4.63 40-yard dash and drops to No. 45 (Carolina) in the draft. Meanwhile, Justin Harrell spends his whole career hurt at Tennessee and goes 16th to the Packers. If you had to bet your life on Harrell being a better NFL player than Jarrett, would you do it? Seriously, would you? Call me crazy, but I'd bet on the guy with 45 TDs.
• Reader Joe D. summed it up best: "Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face! Brady Quinn Face!"
(Note: Like everyone else, I was dying for the poor kid and thought he handled himself about as well as anyone could have handled that experience. In fact, I'd love to see an ESPN Classic marathon filled with edited footage of every draft pick waiting to get picked and eventually dying a slow death. I'd even call the show "Dying A Slow Death." It's just too bad the draft picks aren't allowed to drink like everyone at the Golden Globes. And by the way, it's moronic that a potential franchise QB could drop to No. 22 in this draft only because everyone spent the last year picking him apart because he stayed in college too long. I love when a team like the Packers passes him up under the logic, "We're already set, we have Aaron Rodgers" or the Vikings say, "We don't really need a QB, we have Tarvaris Jackson." Classic. These teams are soooooo stupid. In case you missed it, Malcolm Gladwell and I wrote a back-and-forth partially centered on the topic of teams out-thinking themselves at a draft. Everything held up on Saturday, that's for sure.
• Speaking of stupid, my all-time draft pet peeve: When a team built around a franchise QB wastes a top-50 pick on another QB, like Philly did with Kevin Kolb at No. 36. (Check out this YouTube clip of the Philly fans reacting -- high comedy.) Forget about the fact that they reached for him; when you have a definitive window to win a Super Bowl, how can you throw away a top-40 pick like that? At the very least, why not trade the pick for Indy's No. 1 next year (like San Fran ended up doing at No. 41)? I'm telling you, the VP of Common Sense goes CRAZY during the NFL draft. These guys make NBA GMs look like rocket scientists.
• I'm not prepared to live in a world in which the Lions do the right thing in the NFL draft.
• But seriously ... would the Texans have overpaid Matt Schaub and given up two high picks for him if they knew Quinn would be sitting there at No. 10? Ouch.
• Around 2:30 p.m., right as the run on defensive players was starting and it looked bleak for the Pats to end up with two blue-chippers in the secondary, I called The Guy Who Knows Things and asked him, "Hey, is there any chance the Pats can trade one of those first-round picks for a 2008 No. 1?" And he said, "I don't see it, nobody really likes this year's draft, especially near the end of the round, next year's No. 1s are more valuable. But if anyone can pull it off, it's Belichick." Two hours later, Belichick swapped the No. 28 for San Fran's fourth-rounder and a 2008 No. 1 pick. Unbelievable. Having Bill Belichick run your NFL team is like being friends with a billionaire hedge fund guy who tells you, "Hey, if you ever want to invest with me, lemme know."
(Gary A. in Florida brings up another point on this: "If the Pats hadn't made the Branch trade last year, they wouldn't have had an extra No. 1 to trade ... so they parlayed that No. 28 into two picks, then traded one of them for Moss. If you think about it, they lost a year of having Branch, but they basically turned a possession receiver into Randy Moss and San Fran's 2008 No. 1 pick. Not as good as Dallas dropping four spots on Saturday and picking up Cleveland's No. 1, but still, pretty good.")
• My three favorite first-round picks: Joe Thomas to Cleveland at No. 3 (you can never go wrong with the marquee left tackle, unless his name is "Mandarich"); Reggie Nelson to the Jags at No. 21 (one of those picks where you know instantaneously that it's the right player for the right team, like when the Ravens drafted Ed Reed a few years ago); and Aaron Ross to the Giants at No. 20 (you have to like any starting CB who can also be described as "the next Devin Hester"). I would have thrown in Darrelle Revis at No. 14 to the Jets but I've never been a big fan of teams overpaying with picks for a player who won't make or break their team.
• Random note: I flew back Sunday afternoon on Delta and toggled between the fourth/fifth/sixth rounds on ESPN, "Heads Up Poker" on NBC and a "Sons of Hollywood" marathon on A&E. Now that's a fun flight. You have to admit. Where does the whole "getting to watch TV on an airplane" technological advancement rank among the most underrated tech advancements in the past 25 years? Ahead or behind suitcases with wheels? I can't imagine enjoying a flight more than that one. In the words of Sean Stewart, "Those are some big shoes to fulfill."
• Finally, we're officially starting the Basketball Blog on Tuesday through the rest of the playoffs, but I did want to mention something: Thanks to the Warriors fans for giving us two magical basketball games in Oakland this weekend. I wasn't surprised because I attended a phenomenal Warriors-Kings game there in 1999 (C-Webb's first season in Sacramento, when the Warriors fans still hated him and rode him mercilessly throughout the game) and was so enthralled by the whole experience, I ended up purchasing a throwback Warriors T-shirt that remains in my starting rotation to this day. I never wear shirts for non-Boston teams -- ever -- but that's remained my one exception for the past decade. I loved that game and loved the fans.
And that's why I believed Golden State had a chance in this series -- not just because of the matchups, but because it's nearly impossible to beat the Warriors in Oakland if the crowd gets involved. So you can imagine my delight when they delivered the goods this weekend. Games 3 and 4 reminded me of The Good Old Days, before the NBA priced out the true fans, constantly blared music on the Jumbotron and inadvertently created an environment in which casual fans couldn't think for themselves and had no real clue how to affect a game. We've reached the point that the only two old-school crowds left belong to Madison Square Garden and the Oakland Coliseum. Sad but true. You can't overstate this point: There is no way in hell that the Warriors could have beaten a ticked-off Mavs team in Game 4 without their fans coming through like that. It would not have happened.
So thanks to everyone who attended those two games -- you lived up to the hype and made every true NBA fan proud. As Neil from St. Cloud pointed out last night, "Game 4 of Warriors/Mavs was literally created for Gus Johnson. I can't recall a playoff basketball game in the last five years that had more cold-blooded 3-pointers and steals in four quarters, and that frenzied yellow crowd would've charged Gus up like a super conductor. What would he have said after Baron Davis' half-court 3? You'd think that his reaction to Matt Barnes' clinching 3 at the end would fall somewhere between involuntarily soiling himself and his eyes rolling back as he goes into shock. Even though I just watched one of the greatest games I can remember in a while, I still feel deprived."
Me, too. But just by a little. And if you think I didn't break out that throwback Warriors T-shirt last night, you're crazy. Good times.