Friday, March 5, 2004

Off-season Update (3/5/2004)

Just a quick update because some people out there seem panicked about the Patriots off-season losses.

There have been four main stories lately, and here's my take on each one.

1. Along the defensive line, there could be a few new faces. Anthony Pleasant is expected to retire, Ted Washington signed with the Raiders, and Bobby Hamilton is a free agent. Pleasant was a good player who knew Belichick's system and worked hard in the off-season and during the regular season. He will be missed if he goes, but with 14 years in the league, he probably wouldn't play much longer even if he returned. Bobby Hamilton and Ted Washington were valuable contributors last year and it would have been nice to have them both back. But with the Ty Warren, Jarvis Green, and a boat load of draft picks, the Patriots will never be in a better position to replace both of these players.

Besides, Ted Washington's impact on the Patriots run defense was overrated all year long. 2003, the Patriots actually played better against the run without Ted Washington (3 yards a carry) than with him (3.7 yards a carry). Tedy Bruschi is the heart of the New England Defense -- keep him healthy and they will do fine.

2. Ty Law is "insulted" by the Patriots latest offer. Boo-frickin-hoo. He's signed through the 2005 season, and with the salary cap growing faster than anyone expected, Ty will play here next year (unless the Pats trade him) -- either under a new contract or under the old one. At $9.5 million under the cap, it hurts to keep him, but releasing him costs even more, so don't expect that. I fully expect that Ty will be here, playing cornerback better than anyone else in the NFL, and we will have to deal with next year when it comes.

3. Antowain Smith was released. This was simply a salary cap move, with the Pats saving $2 million under the cap by releasing Antowain before his roster bonus kicked in. Smith could still be back here next year because the market for 642-yard rushers just isn't what it once was (that's less than 50 yards a game), and the free agent market for running backs is far from stellar.

4. Damien Woody (probably) goes to the Lions. This was simply an economic decision. In the NFL, a center always makes more than a guard, so when the Patriots found their center-of-the-future in Dan Koppen, that shifted Woody to guard. And the Patriots were understandably unwilling to pay Woody center-type money to play guard, so since he was a free agent, that spelled the end of his Patriots career.

On the plus side, Russ Hochstein filled in well for Woody against the Colts and Panthers this post-season, and the unit allowed zero sacks in the playoffs even with Woody on the sideline half the time. This is clearly a loss -- Damien was a monster on the O-line once he became a guard. But there just wasn't any way he was going to stay -- just too much money out there for a good center.

That's about it. My advice is not to worry. The Pats are doing fine this off-season. They lost only two good contributors from last year (Ted Washington and Damien Woody), but the core of the team and the key young players are all still on-board. Oh, and don't forget: your team is the World Champions, and you should enjoy the ride!

Keep the faith,

- Scott

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