Patriots signing Junior Seau smacks of desperation

The signing of Junior Seau shows the Patriots are no longer beyond the kind of questioning that less successful franchises would face had they made a similar move, writes Len Pasquarelli.

Updated: August 18, 2006, 7:00 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Time was when the New England football brain trust of coach Bill Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli made so many crafty moves with veterans, acquiring guys everyone else in the league felt were used up but always seeming to somehow transform them into resourceful role players, that even the harshest skeptics stopped questioning maneuvers that appeared dubious at first glance.

With three Super Bowl rings each in New England, the NFL's best coach-scout tandem might have raised some eyebrows with their tactics, but the players they enlisted almost always raised the level of their team.

Deliver those kinds of results, of course, and the statute of limitations on genius keeps getting extended.

But with the measures taken the past two years to spackle a depleted linebacker corps, and certainly with Friday afternoon's addition of recently retired Junior Seau, the Patriots are no longer beyond the kind of questioning that less successful franchises would face had they made a similar move.

It isn't the first time New England has signed a veteran player no one else wanted, and it might not be the last. The addition of Seau, though, smacks of desperation.

And when one considers how the additions New England made last year at linebacker blew up in the Patriots' faces, it compounds the skepticism attached to the signing of Seau and begs this question: Didn't these guys learn anything from the dismal failures of 2005, when they tried to take Chad Brown and Monty Beisel -- a fading former Pro Bowl performer well past his prime years and a career special-teams player, respectively -- and turn them into their latest reclamations?

Apparently not, because the Pats re-signed Brown again this spring, added journeyman Barry Gardner and now have plucked Seau out of his four-day retirement.

Maybe the Patriots' football people still know more than the rest of us. Lord knows, anyone who has read stories that include the byline that appears above knows the respect and reverence in which Belichick is held by yours truly. But sometimes, as was the case with the Brown and Beisel signings a year ago, the rest of the league really is correct in its collective assessment of the players' abilities.

At some point, no matter how insightful the analysis, the attempt at extreme makeover simply comes out like a botched plastic surgery. Usually, people with the Midas touch can still turn garbage into gold. But sometimes, the magic runs out, and things touched by Midas just turn into mufflers.

The guess here is that the Patriots, no matter how they use their newest linebacker acquisition, won't be able to magically fashion a silk purse from this Seau's ear.

Why not? Because the future Hall of Fame defender who earlier this week announced his retirement probably should have exited the game two or three seasons ago.

Remember when media types insisted the 12-time Pro Bowl player had one of the NFL's most appropriate surnames, because it was pronounced "Say-ow!" Well, the past couple of seasons, Junior was the one who was saying ouch, not the one delivering blows that moved ball carriers to tears. In his first 14 seasons, Seau missed just nine games because of injuries. In 2004 and 2005, he sat out 16 games total, first with a torn pectoral muscle, then with Achilles and calf injuries.

But even before his body began to betray him, Seau, one of the greatest defensive freelancers the league has ever seen and a player so athletically gifted he could turn his mistakes and missteps into big plays, was a linebacker in decline.

Seau, 37, hasn't played a full, 16-game schedule since 2001. The former San Diego Chargers star hasn't posted a 100-tackle campaign since 2000. In this millennium, Seau has authored only 20 plays that would be termed game-altering events: 11 sacks, four interceptions, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery. That's one big play for every 3.75 games in which Seau has appeared since 2000.

The Miami Dolphins traded for Seau in 2003 because they valued his leadership. But it's hard to lead from the trainer's room, and when you can't make plays, because of infirmities or the inadequacies that usually accompany the ungraceful realities of the aging process, no one pays attention to you anymore. And so Junior Seau, once The Man among NFL linebackers, had become just another guy.

Word from New England is that the Patriots will use Seau at inside linebacker, to stop the run while Tedy Bruschi rehabilitates from his broken wrist, and perhaps beyond that. If nothing else, his presence might mean the Patriots won't have to keep moving wondrously opportunistic Mike Vrabel inside. But at this point in Seau's career, not even minimizing his playing time by limiting him to being on the field for first and second downs is likely to maximize his effectiveness.

Earlier in the week, when Seau announced his retirement, Belichick was asked about his legacy, and the Pats' boss spoke graciously of having coached the linebacker in the 1998 Pro Bowl game. Here's hoping those memories are fond ones because the Seau that Belichick is getting now isn't anything like the one he had in Hawaii nearly eight years ago.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here Insider.

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