What an NFL team of active ex-Patriots would look like
Fox Sports’s Colin Cowherd told us in July that the Patriots do not have a Super Bowl-winning roster, which is a strange thing to say at that time unless you remember that the job is a hot-winded quest to get us to notice.
I suppose the Patriots didn’t technically have a Super Bowl-winning roster last year, since they finished a play or two away from . . . well, from winning the Super Bowl. They have since lost some accomplished talent: Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks.
But it’s reassuring to remember that some of that talent wasn’t especially accomplished in the NFL when it got there.
There are players on this roster who are mysteries at the moment but will become core Patriots in all the meaningful ways. Might want to apply early for the Isaiah Wynn fan club.
I understand lamenting those who have left, whether by Bill Belichick’s choice or their own. An authentic jersey costs a lot of money, you know? And the truth is more interesting than anything Cowherd had to say the other day.
The truth is this:
Barring catastrophe, the Patriots are a genuine Super Bowl contender again.
And you could say the exact same thing about a roster built completely of ex-Patriots.
We don’t have to imagine what it would look like for Jimmy Garoppolo to hand off to LeGarrette Blount with Solder clearing the way and Amendola blocking downfield; chances are we saw that precise thing happen in the 2016 opener against the Cardinals.
In fact, there are so many other accomplished, respected, and/or helpful ex-Patriots around the NFL that it proves something Cowherd either failed to see or ignored: Belichick and his brain trust have a remarkable knack for identifying talent — so much so that they are not afraid to lose good players because they trust themselves to find more (and at a less expensive rate).
The current Patriots, barring catastrophe, will be excellent. But how would they fare against a 53-man roster of still-active ex-Patriots? Let’s break down what a team of old friends-turned-theoretical-foes might look like:
Jimmy Garoppolo (49ers), Matt Cassel (Titans), Jacoby Brissett (Colts)
Garoppolo has had an electrifying start to his NFL career, but his most impressive achievement so far is convincing some fans that keeping Tom Brady was the less appealing alternative . . . Cassel sometimes gets lumped into that group of Brady backups who didn’t pan out, and that’s absurd. He went 11-5 in Brady’s absence in 2008, had a 27-7 TD-INT ratio for the 10-6 Chiefs in 2010, is beginning his 14th season in the league after never starting a game at Southern Cal, and has made more than $60 million. He’s a success story if anything . . . Bet Brissett plays more than Andrew Luck this year in Indy.
Running backs (5)
LeGarrette Blount (Lions), Dion Lewis (Titans), Shane Vereen (Saints), Travaris Cadet (Bills), Stevan Ridley (Steelers)
There’s some overlap here, but it’s quality overlap . . . Blount, Lewis, and Vereen have a combined six Super Bowl rings, five collected with the Patriots . . . I liked Blount. He was a good bell cow back and a popular teammate. But I can’t believe he tore up the Patriots for 90 yards on just 14 carries for the Eagles in Super Bowl LII . . . Every NFL player deserves his jackpot when it comes, but I’m especially happy for Lewis, who overcame career-stalling knee problems to become one of the most dynamic Patriot runners in memory. He signed a four-year, $19.8 million deal with the Titans in the offseason . . . Cadet, who played one game for the Patriots in 2015, had 40 catches for the Saints in 2016 . . . There’s no fullback on this roster, so let’s assume Belichick would just convert an anonymous Ivy League defensive end into an All-Pro.
Wide receivers (6)
Brandin Cooks (Rams), Danny Amendola (Dolphins), Brandon Tate (free agent), Kamar Aiken (Eagles), Michael Floyd (free agent), Brandon LaFell (Bengals)
Cooks and Amendola are both fine players, but in an opposite kind of way, aren’t they? Cooks, still just 24, is a stats machine — he has three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons — but he had moments of trustworthiness interspersed with moments of wondering what in the name of Joey Galloway was he doing. Amendola, 32, never had even 700 receiving yards in a season during his five years as a Patriot, but every single yard seemed to matter . . . Tate, who was drafted by the Patriots four rounds before Julian Edelman in 2009 and had the same number of career receptions as a Patriot as Edelman has touchdowns (24), is the kick returner . . . Aiken, signed a few days ago by the Eagles, is the designated special teams ace . . . Really hope we don’t have to add Malcolm Mitchell to this group soon.
Tight ends (3)
Ben Watson (Saints), Michael Hoomanawanui (Saints), A.J. Derby (Dolphins)
Can you believe Watson’s famous if ultimately fruitless chase-down of Champ Bailey happened 13 seasons ago? He’s 38 and one of just 10 active players remaining from the 2004 draft. I don’t think anyone foresaw this longevity for him when the Patriots let the talented but inconsistent tight end leave after the 2009 season . . . Either ol’ Hooman or Derby is going to have to learn to long snap . . . Considered including Clay Harbor, briefly a Patriot in 2016, who is trying to get back into the league, but he was last seen busting his wrist while playing against a bunch of rejected JCPenney models on “The Bachelorette,” so I don’t like his chances.
Offensive linemen (7)
Nate Solder (Giants), Josh Kline (Titans), Ted Larsen (Dolphins), Cameron Fleming (Cowboys), Jordan Devey (Chiefs), Chris Barker (free agent), Jon Halapio (Giants)
Not a lot of depth here, but you know Dante Scarnecchia would piece it together. Oh, that’s right, this team doesn’t get Scar — it gets Dave DeGuglielmo. Run for your life, Jimmy G. Run like the paparazzi have spotted you with curious company at dinner! . . . Confession: Larsen, a sixth-round pick of the Patriots in 2010, never actually played for New England. But he has played 110 games in the league, starting 73, for the Buccaneers, Cardinals, Bears, and Dolphins, so we’re including him based on his accomplishment. Hey, someone here has to snap the ball, and Ryan Groy (Bills) was only here for a blink . . . Confession II: Halapio, who played 10 games for the Giants last season, never cracked the Patriots’ game-day roster. What, you would have preferred including Jonathan Cooper?
Defensive ends (5)
Chandler Jones (Cardinals), Chris Long (Eagles), Jabaal Sheard (Colts), Akiem Hicks (Bears), Zach Moore (Panthers)
Jones (league-leading 17), Hicks (8.5), Sheard (5.5) and Long (5) combined for 36 sacks last year, or just six fewer than the Patriots had as a team.
Defensive tackles (5)
Kyle Love (Panthers), Sealver Siliga (free agent), Alan Branch (free agent), Dominique Easley (Rams), Anthony Johnson (Colts)
This is nothing that talking Vince Wilfork out of retirement can’t solve . . . The best of the burly lot is the 31-year-old Love, who had nine tackles and 3.5 sacks in 16 games (no starts) with the Panthers last year . . . Easley, the 2013 first-round pick who was oft-injured before, during, and after his time here, is on the physically unable to perform list with the Rams . . . Siliga and Branch are free agents, though Siliga recently worked out for the Lions. Branch moved with the urgency of a sedated Albert Haynesworth last year.
Jamie Collins (Browns), Barkevious Mingo (Seahawks), Jon Bostic (Steelers), Dekoda Watson (49ers), Jonathan Freeny (Lions), Akeem Ayers (free agent)
As a group of linebackers, it’s a decent special teams unit . . . I know Cassius Marsh is with the 49ers, but I’d take back Monty Beisel before including that guy . . . Ayers is suspended for the first four games of the season. But there must be a place in the league for that guy. I am basing this entirely on his tackle of Marshawn Lynch in the Super Bowl four seasons ago . . . 2016 sixth-rounder Kamu Grugier-Hill never played a regular-season snap for the Patriots, but he has a chance to start for the Eagles this season.
Tavon Wilson (Lions), Don Jones (free agent), Darius Butler (free agent)
The Patriots cut Lawyer Milloy 15 years ago. He retired eight years ago at age 37. I’d take him over all three of these guys right now . . . That also applies for Rodney Harrison, of course . . . Jones, waived by the 49ers July 26, makes our team as a special teams ace and a character guy in and out of the locker room.
Aqib Talib (Rams), Malcolm Butler (Titans), Logan Ryan (Titans), Darryl Roberts (Jets), Justin Coleman (Seahawks), Johnson Bademosi (Texans), Rashaan Melvin (Raiders), Leonard Johnson (free agent)
With these corners, who needs safeties? . . . Talib had just one interception last year, but he made it count, returning it for 103 yards, the longest in the league last season . . . Maybe it’s because Talib played for the Patriots before Darrelle Revis, but I was surprised when Revis retired in mid-July to learn the 33-year-old is nine months older than Talib, who turned 32 in February . . . I’ll always remember Butler more for the “Go Malcolm” pick that changed history in Super Bowl XLIX than the unsolved mystery of a benching that probably also changed history in Super Bowl LII. His ascent is one of the most satisfying stories in Patriots history despite the bizarre ending.
Zoltan Mesko (retired)
Brooks Barnard? Pat O’Neill? Tom Tupa? Is there a willing, recent ex-Patriots punter out there, anywhere? There actually isn’t, at least currently active in the league. By default, I guess our choice would have to be Mesko, who lost his gig with the Patriots to Ryan Allen in 2013, punted briefly for the Steelers later that season, also had a brief stint with the Bengals, but has been out of the league since 2014. There’s always the fallback of Cassel, who has punted once for 57 yards in his career.
Adam Vinatieri (Colts)
It forever annoys me that Carlton Fisk played more seasons for the White Sox than the Red Sox. And it doesn’t seem right either that Vinatieri has been a Colt longer than he was a Patriot. But he could play another decade in Indy — I’m not betting against him — and he’d still not match the highlights he provided here, especially the ones that look like they were filmed in a snow globe.
Pete Carroll (Seahawks)
Belichick might win a Super Bowl with this roster. But Belichick can’t be the coach — we’re using ex-Patriots players, so they must have an ex-Patriots coach. So let’s go with Carroll, who will hypothetically take this talented if thin 53 to a 10-6 record, then watch them incrementally disintegrate until he’s fired after an 8-8 record in Year 3. Heck, Vinatieri already lived it.