Clint's Corner Archive
Clint's Corner Archive
The source for back issues of Clint's Corner. Forget a trade? Were Clint's predictions correct? Here's every edition, verbatim.
Was 1996 that long ago?
It’s been 10 weeks since my last column, and many of you out there have let me know that, repeatedly. With last Saturday marking the three year anniversary of Clint’s Corner, it provided a good impetus for me to finally sit down and ramble on about all that is Patriots with 5 weeks remaining until the college draft.
Three years ago Curtis Martin and Bill Parcells were both Patriots, but that did not prevent the team from heading into the offseason at a disappointing 6-10, losing 4 of their last 6 games which included two losses to the Indianapolis Colts. My column that week focused on the signings of Shawn Jefferson and Willie Clay, and the potential return of Todd Collins from early retirement. Collins at the time wanted to return to the NFL, but only if he could play for any coach in the league other than Bill Parcells. Funny that now all we read about is how much the players miss him? Go figure. The signing of Willie Clay also signaled the end for Myron "Toast" Guyton, an expensive Tuna grocery gone way bad.
That was three years ago. Three years later to the day, the Patriots have made the playoffs three straight times, twice winning the division, in going 11-5, 10-6, and 9-7. But to listen to talk radio or read the local press, the team is in much bigger trouble today than they were thought to be in March of 1996. In hindsight, the ’96 Patriots were the AFC Champions, but it’s interesting how a little success over the past few seasons has really turned the expectations for this franchise around.
When the Pats qualified for the 3rd and final wildcard spot in 1994 and bowed out to the Browns on the road, all of New England was ecstatic that the team finished above the .500 mark. Four years later, with half their starters on the bench, the Pats beat the 49ers at home to qualify for the playoffs, and everyone from Provincetown to North Adams is calling for Pete Carroll’s head on a platter. That doesn’t make much sense, but that’s the reality of professional sports. Once the fans and the media set expectations for a team, anything less is deemed utter failure.
In my last column, I stood out like a sore thumb endorsing Pete Carroll’s return to the team in 1999. To listen to Steve Buckley, Kevin Mannix, Fred Smerlas, Steve DeOssie, etc, Carroll’s dismissal was a forgone conclusion, and unanimously endorsed. Some of you out there reading this today probably still think he should have been fired, but let me throw a little pop quiz at you. Who are Andy Reed, Mike Riley, and Brian Billick? These men are all new NFL head coaches in Philadelphia, San Diego, and Baltimore, respectively. If you just said "Who?," you get my point. Would you have been happy if one of these men were brought in to replace Pete Carroll? Carroll bashers often say Pete is "no Bill Parcells", but there are 30 teams in the NFL, not just the Patriots, who do not employ the Tuna. I for one am pleased that Carroll has been given at least one more year to learn from his mistakes, build on his strengths, and field a team which could reclaim the AFC East title back from the Jets.
Carroll and Grier did make some changes to the staff, however, as new receivers coach Ivan Fears and special teams coach Brad Seely came on board. Fears is known as a disciplinarian, and perhaps can fill Carroll’s void in that department in getting Terry Glenn to realize his special talents, as well as tap into the head of promising young talent Tony Simmons. Simmons has the speed and hands, but has yet to put it all together on the field. Brad Seely is one of the more respected special teams minds in the NFL, and was part of Carroll’s staff in New York in 1994 before joining the Carolina Panthers.
These moves both appear to be sound, but moving Dante Scarnecchia from special teams to offensive line seems puzzling. Scarnecchia has never coached offensive line at the pro level, yet is the Patriots solution for the line’s inability to run block under former coordinator Paul Boudreau. Boudreau, oddly enough, was signed almost immediately by Jimmy Johnson to help the Dolphins with their offensive line woes. With Dave Wohlabaugh departed, Bruce Armstrong aging, and Todd Rucci and Max Lane being labeled as overpriced talent, I for one am concerned at the task assigned to the former special teams coach. Unless the younger blood in Heath Irwin, Damon Denson, and Ed Ellis really steps to the plate in 1999, It would seem to me that losing Robert Edwards is only the beginning of the Patriots running woes heading into next season.
It’s like deja vu all over again…
This time last year approaching draft day, the big question on everyone’s mind was "Who will be the running back on opening day"? Curtis Martin had departed for $36Million to the New York Jets, and the Pats were left with the 18th and 22nd picks in the draft to find a replacement. Veterans such as Chris Warren, Terry Kirby, and Raymont Harris were all given a look, but the Pats ultimately settled on Robert Edwards with the 18th selection. Said to be injury prone, Edwards was active for all 16 regular season games, and finished the year just 170 yards shy of Martin’s totals with the Jets while rushing for a superior average and scoring 13 touchdowns to Martin’s 9. Edwards was ineffective in late season road losses to the Jets and Jaguars, but in Curtis Martin’s final two road games of the season, he rushed 33 times for 52 yards.
Before we could say "Curtis who?," Edwards career is likely over after suffering a major leg injury in the rookie beach bowl during Pro Bowl week in Hawaii. More important than worrying about the defection of the still healthy Curtis Martin or who will carry the load in 1999, let’s FIRST worry about Robert Edwards. We’re talking about a 22-year-old kid who may never be able to walk normally again, let alone play football. This is a bigger issue than the Patriots running game, and concerned Pats fans and smirking Jets and Dolphins fans should take stock in that.
In the ’98 draft, the big names were Curtis Enis and Fred Taylor, after which was deemed to be a "second tier" of talent, headed up by Robert Edwards but also including the likes of John Avery, Skip Hicks, and Robert Holcomb. Only Taylor and Edwards emerged from the crop as bona-fide NFL running backs. The Pats were very fortunate to land such a promising talent that late in the draft, and now they must hope they can do it again. The current roster of Derrick Cullors, Sedrick Shaw, and Harold Shaw does not exactly force defenses to leave Coates and Glenn in single coverage to stop the run. Interviewing the likes of Travis Jervey and Darrick Holmes does little to change that. The Pats only hope for a running game in 1999 is to find another Curtis Martin or Robert Edwards in the draft after the big guns in Ricky Williams and Edgerrin James are off the board.
Two names being thrown around, and either or both should be around at the end of Round 1, are Mississippi State’s James Johnson and McNeese State’s Cecil Collins. Collins has only played 6 full collegiate games, but what he showed in those games and in the scouting combine has teams very interested. Draft guru Mel Kiper has said that Collins would likely be a top 10 pick if it weren’t for his off field baggage. The Patriots (and seemingly the rest of the NFL) last year passed on the eventual NFL rookie of the year Randy Moss for the same reason, and Collins’ rap sheet makes Moss look like an angel. Moss’s problems were more in the past than Collins, and were not as bad. With the success that Randy Moss had, will teams in need of a running back be willing to take the gamble? On paper it looks as though Collins is more a Lawrence Phillips than a Randy Moss, and is therefore probably not heading to New England in any of the early rounds.
James Johnson had an outstanding year playing in one of the toughest conferences in college ball. He had huge games in the big games, which is what sold the Jaguars on Florida’s Fred Taylor (same conference) last season. James was slightly injured and was unable to compete against Ricky Williams and the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl, which may turn out to help the Patriots. While Williams solidified himself as the best back in the draft that day, Johnson was on the bench. Had Johnson, who rushed for 1495 yards at nearly 6 yards a pop with 12 touchdowns on the ground, had a big game in the Cotton Bowl, God only knows where he would have been drafted. Johnson is a bigger back than either Collins or Robert Edwards. He is in the Eddie George mold in that he is a brute at the goal line, but can still get outside. Think of him as a Harold Shaw with speed. If the Pats can grab Johnson at #28, and perhaps pick up a starting guard or tackle at #20, Dante Scarnecchia’s job would look a lot more appealing.
You can’t have your cake and eat it too…
I hope all you folks complaining about the Pats cap problems have a solution to fax over to Andy Wasynczuk. Given the NFL Salary Cap law, please draft a proposal to get Ted Johnson, Willie McGinest, Drew Bledsoe, Ben Coates, Bruce Armstrong, Willie Clay, Sean Jefferson, Terry Glenn, Tony Carter, Adam Vinatieri, Robert Edwards, Henry Thomas, Chris Slade, and Zefross Moss all under contract. In doing this, be sure to keep enough spare change to sign Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Tedy Bruschi, Chris Sullivan, Heath Irwin, and the yet-to-be-determined class of 1999. Oh yeah, don’t forget to leave enough room for the other 30+ players on the roster, and enough spare change to sign an outside free agent or two to plug some holes.
If you still say "Sure, what’s the fax number?," I’d ask that you just spend 10 minutes on the phone with a sports agent of your choice. These agents would sign their grandmothers up for the European basketball league and ship them overseas just to make their 3%, and they’d probably get granny a 4 year guaranteed contract to sit on the bench and eat up cap room. If you can do all that, then perhaps you missed your calling and should be in the front office of an NFL franchise.
The losses of Todd Collins and Dave Wohlabaugh will hurt, but you can’t pay all your starters the NFL market rate. The Pats absolutely made a huge cap blunder in singing Rucci and Lane to nearly identical 5 year $10Million dollar deals last season. Less than one year later, the Cleveland Browns took Scott Rehberg over Rucci in the expansion draft. What does that tell you? There’s $20Million which absolutely could have been spent elsewhere, but unfortunately that’s water under the bridge. Why the Pats elected to lock up Lane and Rucci while tendering Dave Wohlabaugh and Adam Vinatieri the minimum one year offers is a question only they can answer, and a mistake they have all but admitted. The Pats did succeed in retaining Vinatieri, but at a premium which would not have been necessary in 1998. The situation would have been a lot worse had the Pats matched the offer the Jets made to Martin. How would you feel watching Ted Johnson, Ty Law and Henry Thomas donning their new green jerseys at a Meadowlands press conference?
It made no sense at all to sign Wohlabaugh to the $26.25 Million 7 year deal he got from Cleveland or Tupa to the $6.1 Million 4 year offer he received from the Jets, but it all could have been avoided with better cap management last season. If Rucci and Lane left this season to free agency, it would hardly be a headline. Wohlabaugh is not even close to being the games best center, but he’s now the highest paid. Wohlabaugh is a very good center who the Pats could have and should have locked up long term in 1998 for considerably less than what the Browns spent. Ditto for Tupa as a kicker. Don’t tell me Tupa is also a quarterback. He hasn’t thrown a ball as a QB since 1990, and we all saw this season what rust did to Scott Zolak. The Patriots actually made a very wise cap decision in singing Lee Johnson for three years, $2 Million. He won’t ever throw a pass, but his punting stats over the last few seasons in Cincinnati indicate the Patriots lost nothing at the position while spending nearly $1 Million per year less than the Jets spent on Tupa.
If you still say "But how are the Jets doing it?," the answer is they’re not. The only players making good money for their positions at the end of last season were Curtis Martin and Aaron Glenn. Martin had a good year, but not a "franchise running back" year. Glenn, despite recently signing his extension, is a bargain at today’s going rate for a good cover corner. Ty Law is sure to sign a contract which will dwarf that of Glenn’s. The Jets went 12-4 last season in winning very close road games over New England, Miami, and Buffalo. That’s impressive. What Tuna and Belichick did on defense was nothing short of a miracle, getting 11 virtual no-names and cast-offs to play as a unit that ranked near the top of the entire NFL in many categories. None of those guys had big contracts.
With plenty of cap room this offseason, the Jets have signed Vinny Testaverde, Steve Atwater, Tom Tupa, and Roman Phifer to big free agent contracts. Add those to the recent deals given to Chrebet, Martin, and Glenn and the Jets have got to be getting close to the cap. If the Jets continue on their path of success, Kyle Brady syndrome will become contagious, where guys like Chad Cascadden, James Farrior, Marvin Jones, Mo Lewis, Keyshawn Johnson, and even Alex Van Dyke and Dedric Ward will be offered ludicrous contracts, and the Jets will have to begin making the tough decisions that the Patriots are making now. (I’m not sure which contract is more outrageous, Kyle Brady being the NFL’s highest paid tight end, or the Celtics signing Potapenko for 6 years, $33 Million. Both of those signings must make Jose Offerman feel as underpaid as a Malaysian shoe factory worker).
The Patriots have elected over the past few seasons to retain the majority of their core talent such as Coates, McGinest, Armstrong, Johnson and Slade. Preliminary talks have already begun on extensions for Law and Milloy, and Thomas and Vinatieri were resigned this offseason. Looking at the big picture, the Patriots have actually done very well in keeping their team together when compared to similar riches-to-rags situations in Dallas and Pittsburgh. Even Green Bay is beginning to feel the free agent pinch brought on by success. The Packers list of restricted and unrestricted free agents is longer than the current roster of the Cleveland Browns, and their head coach has also taken off for more control and a larger paycheck.
The Jets will be there too, sooner than you think. The punch line is that Tuna will be long gone by then, so what the heck does he care?
Look for my next column following the college draft. Thanks for reading!