Dependability may just be the trait most highly regarded by the Patriots organization. Bill Belichick has gone on record many times saying that “dependability is more important than ability,” a statement that defines the Patriot Way. Dependability has many meanings – players need to be dependable in the classroom (studying plays and film), dependable on the field (running the correct route, making the right block), dependable in the locker room (not disruptive to other players’ success), and dependable in society (not running around killing people or showing up at police stations high and half naked). Dependability does not mean that an athlete needs to be the best – to jump the highest, run the fastest, or bench press the most. No, dependability means that you have to put forth the greatest effort, follow instructions to a T, DO YOUR JOB.
Dependability also implies availability – players must be present and healthy to be dependable in any of those other arenas. I thought it would be interesting to see how some of the Patriots’ free agents stack up in the availability category…
Jabaal Sheard (DE) – (age 27) Sheard only missed one game in the 2016 season, and it was not due to injury. In week 10, the defensive end was demoted from his starting position and the following week he was left home when the team made the trip to San Francisco to play the 49ers. It was reported as a performance decision. Sheard rebounded from this setback well and his play continued to improve through the season. However, with Trey Flowers making major strides this season, there is a good chance that Sheard will be able to command more money from the open market than the Patriots will be willing to spend. There are reports that the Patriots have shown interest in another defensive end, Jared Odrick, who was recently released by the Jaguars. Odrick is a player with some significant injury concerns (in my opinion), but he reportedly met with the Patriots earlier this week and passed a physical.
Martellus Bennett (TE) – (age 30) Bennett pushed through acute on chronic ankle injuries, shoulder and knee issues. He was questionable for 4 games but played in every one. While it did seem that he was limited in the second half of the season, his number of targets/game actually remained pretty stable as the season progressed. Despite significant injuries, Bennett was dependably available. Bennett has been very vocal about his desire to get paid this off-season. Given the fact that Bennett’s ankle injury is reportedly a chronic issue, it will likely not be something that goes away. During the season there was talk of an off-season surgery to address “bone chips” in Bennett’s ankle, but so far no word of a procedure. It will be interesting to see how Bennett’s injury history, performance, and asking price play out in such a strong tight end draft year.
Dont’a Hightower (ILB) – (age 26) Hightower missed 3 games last season, all with what I suspect is a chronic knee injury. Early last season, the linebacker was reported to have a “small” meniscus tear. Since meniscus tears do not heal by themselves and he did not have surgery to address one, there is a strong possibility that Hightower has a knee injury that he manages to play through every season, missing an average of 3-4 games per season. The Patriots reportedly have opted not to exercise their franchise tag on Hightower but will likely work to strike a deal by next week. I suspect that they will try to avoid a contract that stretches past the age of 30 in a linebacker , let alone one with chronic shoulder and knee issues. I wrote about possible implications of Hightower’s injuries in a previous post here. (note: I think Hightower is tough as nails and a great team leader and I really hope the Pats find a way to keep him while still paying Malcolm Butler his due)
Logan Ryan (CB) – (age 26) Logan Ryan did not miss a game during the 2016 season. in fact, Logan Ryan did not miss a single game in the past 3 seasons due to injury. He had a minor shoulder issue in 2015 that limited him in practice one week, but other than that the cornerback has remained remarkably healthy and available. Ryan will be a tough player for the Patriots to let go of. He is such a great system defender – smart, hard worker, team player, and always available. He’s had some rough patches but for the most part, he is the definition of dependability.
LeGarrette Blount (RB) – (age 30) Blount was available for every game during the 2016 season. In 2015 he was placed on season-ending IR for a hip injury. He is the only true power back on the Patriots’ roster. Blount had a very successful 2016 season with the Patriots, illustrated by the following stats from NFL research.
The Patriots aren’t big spenders, especially at the running back position. It’s hard to imagine them overpaying for Blount, regardless of his performance last season.
More to come on the Patriots’ free agents, available free agents, and draft possibilities in the days to come. Follow me on Twitter @jessdeede