Reche Caldwell spent just one season with the Patriots, but he made it memorable: 61 catches for 760 yards and four touchdowns.
“The reason Caldwell was so successful as a Patriot was because he ‘got it,‘ ” former Patriots offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger explained. “He understood his role, quickly learned the playbook, earned Tom Brady’s trust by making plays, and completely embraced the Patriot way.
“There are certain players who epitomize the Do Your Job mentality of New England; Caldwell’s short stint is a shining example.”
Caldwell, who was killed in a shooting in Florida in June, had one of the best one-and-done seasons for the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era. Who else is on that list? Here’s one writer’s take, with an assist from Ohrnberger and former linebacker Matt Chatham.
A couple of ground rules:
- This is the Belichick Era, which means from 2000-19.
- Players like Martellus Bennett, Andre Carter, and Donte’ Stallworth aren’t included because they left and later returned, even it was just for a cup of coffee. This list pertains strictly to one-year players.
1. Darrelle Revis
The gold standard. His 2014 season was the best one-off year for any defender in franchise history.
“The first word that comes to mind with Darrelle is ‘control,‘ ” Chatham said. “He entered the league in 2007 as a teammate of mine in New York, and what immediately struck me about him was how effortlessly he made it look marking another guy running a route.
“He just had a knack, an instinct, an ability to feel and anticipate what the other guy was doing and react unusually quickly. There were rarely situations where he’d need to panic or rush to get back in phase on a route.
“And he brought that to New England in 2014 with one of his best seasons as a pro. He stopped in for one quick year, and did his job at such a high level that he earned a first-team All-Pro nod, as well as a ring, That’s the pinnacle of one-and-done play.”
2. Trent Brown
The big man. Steady and soft-spoken, Brown was rock-solid at left tackle for New England in 2018, and cashed in appropriately when it was all done, moving on to the Raiders.
“Brown’s character, injury history, and abilities were all in question prior to playing with the Patriots,” said Ohrnberger. “He played a single season with New England and then inked the richest contract an NFL offensive lineman ever signed.
“So ... how does that happen? Two words: Dante Scarnecchia.
“If you’re coachable and talented, Scar will make you better. Scarnecchia has an incredible motivational capacity, especially with young, malleable talents. ‘Dante is a good coach’ is like saying ‘the Grand Canyon is a big hole.’ The statement falls short of the environmental magnitude.”
3. Cordarrelle Patterson
Patterson delivered a jolt of energy as a kick returner in 2018, bringing some production to a position that had been inconsistent for the Patriots for a long time. He also was an offensive chess piece, gaining some yardage in a part-time stint as a running back and wide receiver.
“In 2018, Patterson was used to his fullest potential,” Ohrnberger said. “When you describe a player as an athlete, or you describe a player as positionless, it oftentimes has a negative connotation. This was not the case with Cordarrelle Patterson as a Patriot.
“He was a perfect ‘gadget’ to a game-plan offense; he was a running back, he was a receiver, he was window dressing, he was a chameleon.”
4. Bryan Cox
The veteran linebacker was a tone-setter for the 2001 team. In Brady’s first career start against mighty Peyton Manning and the Colts, Cox delivered a hellacious hit on receiver Jerome Pathon that sparked the New England defense and jump-started that magical season. A leader in the locker room, he is an underrated but important part of this list.
“Bryan’s stop in Foxborough was all about bringing leadership, swagger, toughness, and confidence to our linebacker room,” Chatham said. “It’s not that it didn’t already have that, but Cox’s addition just took it to another level.
“I will never forget the toughness it took for him to keep taking the field with a broken foot during that championship run, set an excellent example. That sacrifice is something I remembered throughout my career whenever I had to figure out a way to play through an injury.
“There were a lot of huge personalities and egos on that defense, but it worked brilliantly. Bryan was the perfect addition to an already strong mix.”
5. Brandin Cooks
He posted terrific numbers in 2017 — 65 catches, 1,082 yards, 7 touchdowns — as part of an elite offense. But some occasional struggles and a head injury in Super Bowl LII pushed him down this list a tad.
“If Randy Moss taught us anything we didn’t already know about Brady during his successful Patriots tenure, it was that when paired with a receiver with true speed, the domination is veritably boundless,” Ohrnberger said.
“As a burner, Cooks assumed that long-sought deep-threat role — and shined. There have only been two receivers in Patriots history that have ever had more than 1,000 receiving yards in a season and averaged more yards per reception than Brandin Cooks (Terry Glenn in 1999 and Stanley Morgan in 1986).
“The Pats traded a first-rounder for Cooks; he was worth it.”
6. Brandon Browner
Browner was maybe the perfect No. 2 corner to Revis in 2014, serving as the physical complement to Revis’s smoother style.
“While Revis was on the other side shadowing top wide receivers, Browner was on the other bringing rare size and physicality to the position,” Chatham said.
“That particular combination of top-cover corner and top-length-and-strength corner is something you so very rarely see on one NFL roster, but the Pats got that rare opportunity for that amazing 2014 season.
“Browner’s size and willingness to tackle was a boon to a defense that could be so difficult to move the ball against. Browner could easily be confused as a large safety, but he brought versatility and complementary play for a great price on a championship team. You can’t beat that.”
7. Ted Washington
In 2002, the Patriots had all sorts of issues stopping the run. Once they got Washington before the start of the 2003 season, they didn’t have issues anymore. He wasn’t the only reason, but it wasn’t coincidental.
The 6-foot-5-inch, 365-pound Washington never really seemed to enjoy his time in New England, so it wasn’t a big surprise to see him move on after one year.
“Ted is just a rare human,” said Chatham. “Before there was Vince Wilfork, there was Big Ted. Immovable. Sometimes just toying with the guy across from him.
“The Patriots got a one-year glimpse of the amazing benefit of having that kind of dominant play right in the middle of your defense. I’ve often wondered if the eye-opening performance of Big Ted that season motivated Bill Belichick to go get Wilfork in the draft.”
8. Reche Caldwell
In 2006, he became one of eight players who led the Patriots in receptions while Brady was under center, joining standouts Troy Brown, Deion Branch, Julian Edelman, David Givens, Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, and James White.
9. Brandon Lloyd
In 2012, the quirky Lloyd — a favorite of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels when the two were together in St. Louis — had 74 catches for 911 yards and 4 touchdowns.
“Culture clash,” said Ohrnberger. “You need to be EXTREMELY productive in order for the Patriots to put up with any locker room distractions, so this was not going to work long-term.
“Lloyd helped New England to an AFC Championship berth as the second-leading receiver on a prolific offense, but inconsistencies on and off the field resulted in Lloyd’s release.”
10. Mark Anderson
The very definition of a situational pass rusher, Anderson finished the 2011 season with 10 sacks. He signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Bills after his year with the Patriots, and had just one sack in five games with Buffalo before calling it a career.
“Pass-rush guys obsess over sack numbers,” said Chatham. “Getting to the quarterback is the frame of mind for a lot of defensive ends in the NFL.
“Anderson stopped into New England and had a double-digit sack season. I’m no Patriots historian, but I safely suspect that this hasn’t happened before Mark, and you’re unlikely to ever see that again.”
11. Chris Long
Like Cox, Long is on this list because of his value as a teammate and being a trusted veteran presence bent on winning, as well as having a knack for making a big play in the right moment. Cox had the hit on Pathon in that 2001 game, while Long delivered with a key play in Super Bowl LI. He signed with the Eagles and won another title the following season.
“Chris was such a highly respected player in the league before he stopped in New England, and there was some speculation when he signed where exactly he was in his career by that point,” Chatham said.
“But he showed he could still be a very disruptive edge player, a guy that could get to the quarterback in the biggest of spots, and be a model teammate despite having a rotational edge role that was different than what he was used to.”
12. Brian Waters
Waters arrived in New England eight days before the opener in 2011, moved from left to right guard, and started every game for a team that made it to the Super Bowl. He finished with a Pro Bowl nod, the last of his career.
“I remember sitting in meetings, marveling at how easily he learned the playbook and how effortlessly he pass blocked — which helped Tom Brady throw for career-high yardage and second-most TD passes in his career,” Ohrnberger said.
“Waters was a true pro. He just parachuted in and had a Pro Bowl season; he made it look easy — which the best often do.”
Christopher Price can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.