Predicting the Patriot Way: Five cast-offs Bill Belichick could turn into stars
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are the best in the NFL at turning another team’s trash into treasure. It’s one of the reasons why the Patriots have five Super Bowl titles despite playing in the salary cap era; a system designed to create parity.
This season, Belichick turned cast-offs like receiver Chris Hogan, linebacker Kyle Van Noy and cornerback Eric Rowe, along with ageing veterans like defensive end Chris Long, into star contributors en route to a record fifth title. But with many of these bargain players set to hit free agency, with New England unlikely to retain the majority, the Patriots will need replacements. So who could Belichick turn from trash to treasure next season?
Paul Kruger: Linebacker, New Orleans Saints
Belichick’s ethos (frequently referred to as ‘The Patriot Way’) demands that he finds players who fit his system perfectly, instead of acquiring a supposed star player who won’t fit. Paul Kruger, a former Raven and Brown, played for the Saints in 2016 but finished with just 25 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. However, Kruger is only two seasons removed from having eleven sacks with Cleveland in 2014. Kruger’s true value is as a pure pass rusher, and Belichick could certainly squeeze another productive season out of him. Looking for his fourth team in five seasons, Kruger could be a cheap veteran addition to New England’s pass rush.
Jarvis Jones: Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers
Jones has been a major disappointment in Pittsburgh. The former first rounder has been consistently outperformed by venerable veteran James Harrison, and has started just 35 games in four seasons. With injury issues in the past and just six career sacks, Jones could be on his way out. An impressive pass rusher coming out of Georgia in 2013 (14.5 sacks, first in the nation) along with a national best 24.5 tackles for a loss (a Georgia school record), Jones could be of value to Belichick against both the run and the pass.
D.J. Hayden: Cornerback, Oakland Raiders
With several key defensive players like Dont’a Hightower, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan on expiring contracts, Belichick may not be able to keep them all. The most likely departure may be Ryan, and Belichick will need another cornerback. Enter Oakland’s D.J. Hayden. Widely regarded as a bust, the former 2013 12th overall pick started just two games this season before being placed on injured reserve. Hayden has just three career interceptions, but has 26 passes defensed. Belichick could make use of Hayden’s potential if Ryan hits the open market.
Jermaine Gresham: Tight end, Arizona Cardinals
New England loves two tight end sets. After struggling to find a partner in crime for All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, they found one last off-season in Martellus Bennett. However, Bennett could hit the market once again, and in his own words “people overpay Super Bowl champions”. Gresham took a pay cut to stay with Arizona last season, but the Cardinals regressed, and he could suit up for another contender in 2017. The Patriots would relish plugging the 6–5, 260lb Gresham in alongside Gronkowski. For Gresham, New England would be the perfect place for the veteran to win a Super Bowl ring.
Jamaal Charles: Running back, Kansas City Chiefs
This is a reach, but could make sense. LeGarrette Blount is a free agent and may sign elsewhere. Charles is 30 and has played in just eight games over the past two seasons due to injuries. With a shift towards the passing game in Kansas City and backs like Spencer Ware, the Chiefs may no longer need Charles. The Patriots would relish having another versatile running back on the roster, and Charles may be cheaper and receptive to taking a reduced role. Signing with New England would also allow Charles a good opportunity to get a ring before he retires. Despite recent comments from Chiefs general manager John Dorsey apparently reaffirming the team’s commitment to Charles, that may not remain the case.