Since Tom Brady and the Tuck Rule changed football history, the Patriots have been the flagship NFL franchise. The public deems a model franchise as a team that has stability at QB and the head coach position, wins rings, does things on the up and up, and has players who reflect the brilliance of the game on and off the field.
A closer look at these franchises and we find that a win-at-all-costs attitude, is really their driving force. Contrary to popular belief, setting a good example for the NFL isn’t a top priority. It just so happens, that the perception that you are doing so comes with the winning.
People often mistake winning with having class. The Patriots continue to capitalize on that misconception. The Pats were considered a rare dynasty from 2001-2004, and they’ve been to the Super Bowl twice since then. Tom Brady has the rings and all those shiny things, plus the look. Belichick is known as a mad scientist and the top NFL sideline stalker. You look at those guys and think, “perfection.”
But cloaked within the accolades, is an obsessive attitude that makes the Pats organization far from a group of choirboys. In fact, the Pats have rolled the dice on more “at-risk” players and “at-risk” maneuvers than most teams, in an attempt to keep that dynasty alive.
Bringing in the talented and troubled Aqib Talib at the NFL’s trading deadline is a typical Belichick bailout. New England uses its aura of invincibility as a shield for any public criticism that might arise from picking up these players. This makes it easy for Belichick to nab players that other teams – who don’t have the same cache with the league and its fan base – can’t pursue.
Belichick’s reputation for having an iron clad locker room and real player accountability, allows him to hand pick the best of the delinquents, and try capturing lightning in a bottle.
Unlike some of the Pats past projects, Talib is in his prime. The trade isn’t a desperate grab like a Chad Johnson or a Albert Haynesworth. But in true Pats fashion, it’s obnoxiously ballsy. Players like Johnson, Haynesworth, and Randy Moss didn’t have major law troubles. Johnson and Haynesworth, were 2011 additions to the Pats that didn’t materialize. Johnson didn’t have the skills, and Haynesworth was plain lazy and difficult.
Risky additions like Cory Dillon and Moss paid dividends. Both players became integral parts of successful teams. Either way, Belichick enjoys the luxury of never having to catch heat for a failed move. He has that Teflon Don persona, and until the Patriots stop putting up numbers and going to the Super Bowl, no one is going to question his gangster.
Look at the recent manner in which Belichick basically removed Wes Welker from the offense for making a stink about his contract. If you do anything to disrupt the winning culture, you will be buried. If you can help, you’ll be resurrected by Lord Belichick himself.
Dillon was probably Belichick’s biggest PR risk in ’03, with the Pats coming off two Super Bowls. Dillon had a bad rep and people look to his success with the Pats as proof of Belichick’s ability to make troubled players buy into the “Patriot Way.”
In Talib, Belickick has his most gangstafied, risky-recruit yet. Talib, who is coming off a four-game suspension for using Adderall, is a wild cowboy. Not long after he was drafted, he was slugging it out with teammate Cory Boyd at the 2008 rookie symposium. He’s been bagged for resisting arrest without violence and simple battery after an alleged incident with a taxi driver. That event led to his first NFL suspension, for violating the league's conduct policy. Earlier this year charges were dropped against Talib for allegedly pistol-whipping and shooting his sister’s boo.
Most teams wouldn’t touch him. The Pats can’t survive without him. New England's secondary welcomes the addition of one of the NFL’s few shutdown corners. The Pats pass defense has been mincemeat, allowing 281.1 yards per game, which ranks 28th in the NFL. At the end of the day, Big Bill knows he can cut Talib loose if he acts a fool, or sign him to an extension if he proves his weight in gold. The Pats are already paying $870,000 of his salary, so it’s a risk they are committed to riding out.
The Boston media has already aided the move with spin assistance, setting in motion the rationale that Talib may actually have ADHD, and really needs Adderall. If he can do what he’s done the past 4 ½ years in Tampa – and keep his snout clean -- this could be a game-changing trade for the Pats.
Moves like this, coupled with other league scandals and mistreatment of players during contract negotiations, has sullied the public’s pure perception of Belichick over the years. It’s clear, he rocks that hoodie for a reason. On the low, he is devilishly good at being cut throat and has no problem with slumming, if it means winning.
The first crack in Belichick’s flawless armor was SpyGate in ’07. The Pats looked like geniuses, but were really cheating. Belichick had cats recording other teams at practice and was using the footage to his team’s advantage. Winning is a breeze when you know your opponents' game plan. Those Super Bowl wins now have a slight cloud of suspicion attached, especially considering the Pats hasn’t won one since.
The Patriots compromised the game’s integrity, and it rubbed many people the wrong way. But the Pats will do anything for a W.
SpyGate opened the floodgates and put pressure on Belichick to win again. He increased his unrestrained pursuit of me-first players, over aged agitators and risky business pickups. Belichick doesn’t need players with good attitudes. To him, a squeaky clean public image isn’t as important as silencing the opposition. If he can grab a contributing player from the “At Your Own Risk” heap, he will unapologetically do so.
In the 1970’s The Steelers and the Rooney family were considered the epitome of a class franchise, but years later it was revealed that the players had more drugs in them than River Phoenix. The only image an NFL team really cares about is how its record looks Monday morning. Of course when you win – no matter how you do it – people praise you. The fans and media take it to new levels, creating an “untouchable, beyond reproach” persona for a team. The list of “risky” players that the Pats have given a shots to, is as extensive as any team.
In reality, over the past half decade, they have taken the baton from the Raiders as the second-chance franchise for the disenfranchised. They’ve also adopted Vince Lombardi’s old motto: “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”