It’s so tempting to point and laugh at the New England Patriots.
Dark Lord Bill Belichick and the Pats signed Tim Tebow on Tuesday, prompting much giggling, especially among Jets fans.
As much fun as it would be to jump in with both feet, I can’t. Because I have this nagging feeling that Tebow is going to work out for the Patriots.
And that’s bad for the rest of us.
When we did our series of video NFL predictions last fall, I found myself telling my fellow Draft Day Suiters the same thing more than once when we discussed the Pats: “It’s what they do.” Come up with big stops against offenses that should be able to score on New England’s geriatric defense? It’s what they do. Put up 40 points on what we previously thought was a good defense? It’s what they do.
Get extra mileage out of players who don’t seem to fit anywhere else? It’s what they do.
To that last point: It’s what Belichick does, to be specific. He doesn’t nail every free-agent signing — bringing in an 87-year-old Joey Galloway in 2009 is a decent example — but if you look at the list, he’s generally seen good results when he brings in misfits, malcontents or aging stars.
- Junior Seau: Came out of retirement to join the Pats in 2006, and played like the beast he was for a couple seasons, and contributed to a couple more.
- Randy Moss: Belichick got Moss to set aside his massive ego and sign in 2007 with a restructured contract. Moss, who was never happy anywhere, was happy enough with Belichick and New England that he even re-signed with the Pats in 2008 after the Patriots won Super Bowl XLII.
- David Patten: A receiver who had bounced around the league — and out of the league, playing arena football for a while — Patten found a home in New England, catching passes for 2,500 yards in four seasons.
- Mike Vrabel: The defensive lineman from Ohio State had a decent start in Pittsburgh, but was mostly languishing on the Steelers’ bench when he signed a free-agent contract with New England in 2001. Belichick definitely saw something in Vrabel, who played defensive end, linebacker and — hello — tight end while collecting three Super Bowl rings.
To me, the Moss and Vrabel signings — and subsequent successes — are the most telling when we’re considering what might happen with Tebow. Touchdown Jesus isn’t the same kind of troublemaker that Moss had been, but his insistence that he’s an NFL-caliber quarterback makes him tricky to handle. But if a player like Moss can (mostly) set aside his ego and accept a reduced role to play for a proven winner, Tebow can — and I think will — do the same. And with Vrabel, Belichick showed that he’s willing to yank a player out of his traditional role and into another where he can contribute. Vrabel was a beast of a tight end, difficult to cover because of his size, and he turned out to be a great linebacker — after never having played the position — as well.
Tebow’s not going to be a quarterback at New England; Brady’s aging, but he’s far from being done. But Belichick doesn’t sign players like Tebow to serve as backups. TJ might do as a tight end, if he can, in fact, catch a football, but I see him in the backfield instead. He’s going to carry the football. He’s going to block. And once in a while, he’s going to take a handoff and do one of those irritating jump-passes he made a living with at Florida. And he’s going to do all those those things willingly, for the same reasons Randy Moss and Mike Vrabel did. He’s going to trust Belichick to make the right choices.
And Belichick will. Because that’s what he does.
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