Many have tried to come up with an explanation for why a Bill Belichick team could be as bad as they appear to be not just this season, but over the last few years. There has been much talk in this regard about the relative lack of success by the Patriots in terms of their personnel moves over the past few years, whether it be with draft picks, free agent acquisitions, or trades.
One other area that has been discussed quite a bit recently is that of not just the roster additions mentioned above, but the decisions to release certain players. Fans and the media are questioning why Leigh Bodden, Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders would all be let go and leave the team with unproven players such as Antwaun Molden, Phillip Adams, Josh Barrett, Sergio Brown and James Ihedigbo to take their places on the field.
After reading articles from local writers such as Greg Bedard and Ian Rapoport, it appears to me that Bodden was released not so much because those other players were better than him, but because of effort, attitude, and not accepting his new, diminished role on the team.
If you go back and re-watch the NFL Films documentary on Belichick that was done earlier this year, it is clear that the speculation about Adalius Thomas being a problem in the locker room was not only true, it was actually very understated. Fast forward two years to the Leigh Bodden situation and it is not a stretch to think that Belichick wanted very much to avoid any potential repeat of that nightmare.
To take that one step further, go back to the release of Brandon Meriweather. While Big Bang Clock was a talented player, he had also been benched at one time for too much free lancing, and was notorious for taking bad angles on plays; essentially a fundamentally unsound player that did not take well to coaching but got by strictly on his individual athletic skill. I don’t think it is out of the realm of possibility that the decision with Meriweather was also primarily about where his head was at, and the possibility that he could become a distraction in the final year of his contract.
Now that’s all well and good, but here is my question: if these players were indeed a problem in the locker room or had a bad attitude, where were the veteran leaders to set them straight? Would it have come to Belichick having to release Thomas if Bryan Cox or Tedy Bruschi was around in 2009? Would Meriweather have had that issue the last two years if a circa 2004 Rodney Harrison was playing today?
I don’t think so.
So where are today’s veteran leaders? Did Vince Wilfork or Jerod Mayo pull Leigh Bodden aside and telling him to get his act together, and if not, then why not? Logan Mankins has an unquestionably mean streak on the field; did he exhibit any of that behind closed doors and get together with another vet like Matt Light and give Adalius Thomas a little unsolicited advice two years ago? If so it didn’t seem to work.
Two years ago much was made about how many of the Pats draftees were captains of there teams in college. Was that an anomaly, a reaction to the Adalius Thomas situation – or a reaction to the lack of leadership in the locker room, and players not policing themselves? We won’t know for sure until perhaps the next documentary by NFL Films or when Belichick retires and discloses his memoirs, but it does seem as if recent teams do not have the heart and soul that teams in the early part of the last decade possessed.
That is going to need to be rectified before the Patriots can return another championship trophy to Foxboro.
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