We don’t know if troubled cornerback Aqib Talib will walk the straight and narrow after the Thursday trade that sent him from the Buccaneers to the Patriots.
We don’t know if he’s going to finish the season healthy, something he hasn’t done the previous two seasons. (A 51-day sabbatical/suspension for using a performance-enhancing drug can’t hurt).
And we don’t know if he’ll prove to be the missing piece in a Super Bowl puzzle for the Patriots, even though his former team was 2-1 without him this season, and 4-1 in 2010 (the Bucs had quit on coach Raheem Morris last season by the time Talib was out with a hamstring injury).
There’s only one thing we do know: The Patriots unquestionably have become a win-at-all-costs organization. They’ll entertain the acquisition of any player, no matter his issues, as long as he is talented.
They shouldn’t even bother to remove players from their draft board, because they obviously feel they can shape up anyone who appears to like football. Don’t go through the dance, just pick the player if that’s what you believe. It’s your organization, run it how you want to.
But I think we can stop with all the silly talk about how the Patriots look for leadership or being a captain, or any other nonsense. They’re looking for talent. The baggage is completely negotiable.
Is that harsh? Maybe, but it’s something that can’t be disputed by anyone at One Patriot Place. The truth hurts. If you don’t want that perception, then don’t make a deal like the one you did for Talib.
This is a reclamation project like no other for the Patriots. The other players who were brought in here with less-than-stellar reputations didn’t have a consistent recent history of violence. Ted Washington, Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Albert Haynesworth, and Chad Johnson were more malcontents than anything.
It’s not the fourth-round-pick compensation that gives me pause about this deal, even though that was my initial reason. Heck, for a good cornerback or any other needed piece, I’d be fine with sending a second- or third-rounder. Even for a talented player with attitude issues. Make the move and go for the Super Bowl this season. That’s what you call urgency.
But when you acquire a problem child like Talib — and he is one of the worst in the NFL — it’s called desperation.
Many teams — likely including the Patriots — removed Talib from first-round consideration in 2008 after he admitted to testing positive for marijuana and had a few other incidents. His problems have only increased in the pros: a fight with a teammate at the rookie symposium, injuring a teammate during a fight in practice, an assault on a taxi driver, having to be restrained from getting at a game official, being accused of firing gunshots during an argument with his sister’s boyfriend, and testing positive for a banned substance.
If Talib were coming out in this year’s draft, he’d likely go undrafted. Maybe an established team and coach like the Patriots and Bill Belichick would use a seventh-round pick on him.
That would be fine if the Patriots made the same trade here. That fits with an organizational philosophy, and you can respect that.
But now it’s OK to use a fourth-round pick on Talib, for possibly seven-plus games? Why is that? Why the inconsistency?
We know the answer: because the Patriots have been so bad at drafting and developing cornerbacks that they had no other option but to make a deal with the devil.
Conventional wisdom says that Belichick must have felt comfortable with Talib’s character to do the deal. Really? A guy Belichick couldn’t talk to before the trade? Define “comfortable.” If you mean, “Comfortable that if Talib is under pseudo-house arrest for three months, it could buy the Patriots enough time to win that have-to-have Super Bowl,” then OK.
Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, who has known Talib a whole 10 months, probably told his friend Belichick that he thought Talib was turning a corner outside of stupidly testing positive for Adderall. In other words, “Well, he’s not the worst guy I’ve been around.” Done deal.
This isn’t a second chance for Talib, this is a fourth chance and fourth head coach. All before Belichick have been burned. According to two Buccaneers sources, the team was ready to cut Talib loose last year after the gun incident in Texas, but Morris stood on a table for him. Schiano gave Talib another clean start. Boom, suspension. Talib, in his fifth year, is a substance-abuse suspension away from the Triple Crown (personal conduct, PEDs).
Buccaneers fans threw a parade when the trade went down. In New England, there was dancing in the streets. Why? Because the Patriots have a better shot at a Super Bowl now, and apparently that’s the only thing that matters.
If you’re on board with the Talib trade, please answer this question: Where is the line on character for the Patriots (and many other teams)? Really, I’d like to know.
If that’s what you want, fine. But please, spare everyone any holier-than-thou notions about what the Patriots represent. They will stop at nothing to win another Super Bowl. Don’t dress it up. If that’s what you believe, then stand up there and own it. The Patriots wouldn’t be the first team to do that, and they won’t be the last.
If the Patriots win the Super Bowl this season, the Talib trade will have been worth it for them and a great many of their fans. Winning, no matter how it is accomplished and with whom, is the only thing that matters here, and many other places.
After the Talib trade, we know this to be true.
A lot to like about his play
Now that we’ve had our say on the trade, Aqib Talib will be judged solely from this point on by his on-field accomplishments until proven otherwise.
Reviewed six games’ worth of coaches film on him — the four games before his suspension this season, and games against the Packers and Saints in 2011.
My overall impression lines up with the opinions that I got from some NFL executives after the trade. Talib is a good all-around player who can match up with No. 1 receivers. In terms of ability, I’d put him in a large group of players below the top 10 elite cornerbacks. He’s a more instinctual and better-taught Devin McCourty, but not quite the athlete.
Talib is at his best when he is playing head-up, man-to-man coverage. When he gets a good jam, which is a little inconsistent, he’s extremely tough to shake loose. And even if he gets caught in the trail technique a step to step-and-a-half behind the receiver, Talib possesses excellent closing speed with the ball in the air. He made an all-world play undercutting a pass to Greg Jennings of the Packers last year.
When Talib struggles a little bit, it’s when he’s playing leverage (inside or outside), or when he’s off the ball playing over the top in three-deep coverage. When Talib is playing leverage, he’ll open up his hips very early and find himself in a position where he can’t recover. Off the ball, Talib peeks into the backfield and either bites on play-action or loses track of the receiver. Talib’s focus wanes at times off the ball, and his technique can get lazy. But those instances are very few.
Talib tracks the ball well in the air. But he does occasionally get burned by having his head too much in the offensive backfield.
It will be interesting to see how his technique might change after the suspension. When he played earlier this season, the replacement officials were still being used. Downfield contact was called inconsistently, and Talib used his hands a lot. That could be a problem with the regular officials.
Talib was solely an outside cornerback this season, mostly on the left side. But in 2011, the Bucs were not afraid to use him in the slot, even against dangerous receivers like Jennings and a variety of Saints. So Talib has the ability to line up all over the field against any receiver the Patriots might want.
Herzlich has survival tips
It seems almost fitting that former Boston College standout Mark Herzlich will make his first start of the season Sunday for the Giants in a showdown with the Steelers.
With New York and New Jersey dealing with adversity after Hurricane Sandy, the man who will be at middle linebacker for the Giants knows a little about overcoming his own. Herzlich overcame cancer in 2009 to realize his dreams of an NFL career.
“You’ve basically put your life on hold,” said Herzlich, who will start because Chase Blackburn is out with a hamstring injury. “You take everything, and it stops in its track. You say, ‘Now where am I going to go from here?’
“You lose your house, you lose everything that you’ve ever had, you have to put it in the tank and say, ‘That’s it. That’s my life,’ or you can say, ‘Where do I go from here. How do I fight back? How do I regain my possessions? How do I rebuild my life?’
“I think that’s the same thing that cancer patients and cancer survivors have to do. If they get a bad diagnosis, are they going to let it destroy them and defeat them or are they going to take one foot and put it in front of the other and fight back?”
Herzlich has studied well under Blackburn, and has the full confidence of defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
“I think Mark will do an outstanding job for us,” Fewell said. “When I ask questions, if he gets it wrong, Chase looks at him like, ‘What are you talking about?’ He feels the pressure in the meetings. He’s done it before, so it’s not like it’s new to him. He’ll just be more excited to do it.”
Herzlich started two November games against the Eagles and Saints last year.
He suffered an ankle injury at New Orleans, which ended his season during the Super Bowl run.
After the final exhibition against the Patriots, Herzlich said he was physically much further along than at the same time as a rookie.
“Yeah, I feel way better,” he said. “I think the further I get away from the treatments, the better and better I feel.
“I had a real good offseason of training. Once my ankle got better, there was no celebration period. For me it was kind of back in the weight room, back running and back getting in shape for this year. I’m ready.”
JOLLY GOOD SHOW
London game came off well
I was very impressed with the Rams-Patriots game in London. There was a distinct lack of buzz in the city and the media throughout the week, and I received a lot of curious looks when people asked what I was doing there. So I was a little worried about what the game experience would be, but my fears were quickly put to rest. Wembley Stadium was packed, the crowd was into it, the turf was superb, and there were no problems from an operational standpoint that I could see. It had a big-game atmosphere, somewhat akin to a Super Bowl in that both games have a sizable contingent that isn’t totally familiar with the game, considering the Super Bowl’s overly corporate ticket base. For London, ticket prices started at $75. That’s fine for a one- or two-game event. But when the NFL finally puts a team there — and it’s coming after Los Angeles, because the owners want it — my advice after talking to a few fans is for the NFL to ignore its sizable ego and slash ticket prices. If you want a team and the game to be woven into the fabric of a city, you have to make it affordable for families. You have to get kids in the seats, so they grow up with the game. The key is a slow build, not getting maximum bang for your buck in Year 1.
1. Guard Brian Waters has until Nov. 30 to decide whether he wants to play this season. After that, he can’t be reinstated. If Waters does not report to the Patriots by the deadline, his contract will be frozen until next season, a league spokesman confirmed. Waters can’t just sit out and become a free agent.
2. If I had to guess, I think the Patriots initially go back to Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory as the starting safeties when they are healthy, and Aqib Talib will join Devin McCourty as a starting cornerback. If Alfonzo Dennard is the nickel back, I think Talib takes the slot, which he did a lot in 2011. Or Kyle Arrington/Marquice Cole can take the slot and leave Talib on the outside. Chung will be on a short rope.
3. However, in my opinion, the Patriots’ best lineup will be Gregory and McCourty at safety, perhaps with a Gregory (pass)/Chung (run) platoon, Talib and Dennard at cornerback, and Arrington in the slot. That gives the Patriots the ability to play “two man” (two deep safeties, man underneath), which you have to use to be a decent defense. Tavon Wilson would revert back to his dime position against tight ends.
4. If Bill Belichick had any hard feelings against Ravens coach John Harbaugh for his overblown “asterisk” comment about Spygate, it probably warmed his heart to hear Harbaugh’s diatribe against the injury report. “There’s no credence on the injury report now,” Harbaugh said. “It doesn’t mean anything . . . Bill figured it out way before the rest of us did.”
5. Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli probably should put his house on the market. They haven’t held a lead in regulation through eight games — the first team since 1929 to do so. That’s unbelievable.
Love how old-school Bills general manager Buddy Nix is. ‘‘Listen, you score 34 points, you’re supposed to win the damn game,’’ said Nix, referring to a 35-34 loss to Tennessee two weeks ago. ‘‘I mean, how many do we have to score?’’ Awesome . . . Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent, during an interview on 670 AM in Chicago, said Mike Ditka was to blame for the Bears’ failure to win more than one Super Bowl, and he took a shot at a local legend while doing so. “Mike didn’t manage that quarterback position,” Dent said. “Bringing Doug Flutie in and thinking that he’s gonna come in and be on a team for three weeks and start him in a playoff game? Hell, I mean you’re trying to change the name on the Super Bowl trophy to Mike Ditka from Vince Lombardi when you do something like that. We had won with [Mike] Tomczak and [Steve] Fuller. That’s all we needed to do is stay with that plan.”
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.