First-place Patriots get back to work, await Talib
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Even when they’re not playing, the New England Patriots still manage to make headlines.
Prior to the NFL trading deadline last Thursday, which came during their bye week, the Patriots (5-3) acquired Aqib Talib from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite the shutdown cornerback’s troubled past.
New England gave up a fourth-round pick in next year’s draft for Talib, who has 18 interceptions since being selected by Tampa Bay with the 20th pick in 2008 out of Kansas. The Patriots also snared a 2013 seventh-round choice in the deal.
However, Talib will miss the upcoming game against Buffalo (3-5) on Sunday while serving the final game of a four-game suspension he received for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
He said at the time of the suspension that he took an Adderall pill without a prescription “around the beginning of training camp.”
New England Coach Bill Belichick wouldn’t divulge much about the acquisition during his weekly conference call with reporters yesterday, other than saying Talib will report to the Patriots “when the league allows him to.”
“Right now really, our focus is on the Bills and the players that will be preparing for the game with the team and the players that are here at this time,” Belichick said. “We’ll take that as it comes. When he gets here, we’ll deal with that then. I think he’s a good player. I think he can help our football team.
“That’s why we traded for him.”
Talib was suspended without pay for the regular-season opener in 2010 and fined one additional game check for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy. That penalty resulted from an altercation with a St. Petersburg cab driver during training camp in August 2009. He also had charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in Texas dropped a week before he was due to be tried for allegedly firing a gun at his sister’s boyfriend.
Patriots coaches caught a glimpse of Talib’s talents during their joint practice sessions with the Buccaneers prior to a preseason matchup in August.
“I think that everything that you know about a player is somewhat of a factor,” Belichick said of the scouting process. “Anything that you have is relevant.”
The hope is that Talib can help shore up a porous pass defense that has allowed the sixth most yards in the league and is especially vulnerable to surrendering big plays. The struggling unit has allowed 17 passing touchdowns this season, tied with Kansas City for third worst in the NFL, and is yielding 8.0 yards per passing play, tied for fourth most.
Cornerback Devin McCourty gave up several long completions before being moved to safety the past two games while starters Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung were sidelined. Another starting cornerback, Kyle Arrington, left the team’s game in London against St. Louis last week game with a head injury.
Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia didn’t say whether McCourty’s move to safety would be permanent. But consistency, they said, is important.
“He’s a pretty flexible kid, both physically and mentally. I think he can handle the movement, but I think the more consistent we can be as a unit, then that builds their communication and better teamwork between the players that are involved,” Belichick said. “There are always going to be some moving parts. And unfortunately we’ve had, like every team does, guys go in and out for various reasons. So, it’s not perfect.
“Ideally if you could keep everything exactly the same every week, that would be great.”
The Patriots have a recent history of adding players with checkered pasts.
They acquired troubled running back Corey Dillon for a second-round pick in 2004 after he played his first seven seasons in Cincinnati. Dillon flourished during his three years in New England, rushing for 37 touchdowns and 3,180 yards, including a career-high 1,635 in his first season when the Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl.
New England also shipped a fourth-round pick to Oakland in 2007 for mercurial wide receiver Randy Moss, who instantly jelled with quarterback Tom Brady during the record-setting 16-0 season later that year. Moss set the single-season standard for receiving touchdowns with 23, while Brady broke the single-season mark for passing touchdowns with 50 before the Patriots lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.
Of course, there were moves that didn’t pan out, too.
Wide receiver Chad Johnson spent one season in New England last year and struggled to learn the playbook. After six Pro Bowl appearances with the Bengals, Johnson recorded career lows in catches (15) and yards (276) with just one touchdown before being released.
New England last year also landed defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth from Washington for a fifth-round pick. The experiment lasted less than half a season, though, as the two-time Pro Bowl veteran played in just six games, notching three tackles.