And the only thing resting on whether Belichick can rehabilitate Aqib Talib, who had his share of disciplinary issues in four-plus seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is another Super Bowl title. While the Patriots won't get a chance to unveil Talib – described by one NFC executive as "a $10-$12 million-a-year talent" – for another week as he serves the remainder of an NFL-mandated suspension for using Adderall, the fact is that Belichick hasn't had a cornerback this physically gifted since Ty Law.
That gives Belichick a chance to turn the deal for Talib – acquired for a fourth-rounder – into one of his greatest trades, which is no easy feat. During Belichick's 13 years with New England, he has pulled off some of the most lopsided deals in NFL history. While not all of his deals have worked (the 2011 trades for Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco were notable flops, even if they didn't cost much), the Talib deal has a chance to rank among his top five ever.
Here's the list of Belichick's best trades for the Patriots:
1. Acquiring Randy Moss for a fourth-round pick in 2007
Belichick pulled off the first of two significant deals with Oakland's Al Davis when he picked up a future Hall of Famer for what effectively became journeyman defensive back John Bowie. Moss returned to his Hall form for the next three years before being dealt in 2010.
2. Acquiring Wes Welker for a second- and a seventh-rounder in '07
Belichick's 2007 offseason might be one of the most brilliant in NFL history when he rebuilt his receiving corps and changed the direction of his offense in two remarkably cheap moves. Belichick got Welker for picks that eventually turned into journeyman center Samson Satele and defensive end Abraham Wright.
3. Shipping Drew Bledsoe for a first-rounder in '02
The most remarkable part of this deal is not that the Patriots turned the pick into Ty Warren, who played seven seasons with the Pats; it's that they got so much for a guy who had just lost his job to Tom Brady. Then again, that's the price tag for a starting-caliber quarterback and Buffalo paid.
4. Shipping Tebucky Jones for (eventually) Corey Dillon
In another example of Belichick extracting value for a subpar player, he dealt Jones, a safety with limited cover skills, to New Orleans in '03 for a third- and a seventh-rounder in that year's draft and a fourth-rounder in '04. Belichick then dealt that third-round pick to Miami for a second in 2004. He then dealt the second to Cincinnati for Dillon, a guy who was the center of his offense for two years, including the Super Bowl XXXIX title season.
5. Shipping Terry Glenn for a fourth-rounder in '02
Glenn had a fine career and even had a bit of a renaissance after this deal. However, he wasn't a good soldier during the 2001 season and butted heads with Belichick. The Pats ended up with defensive lineman Jarvis Green, a valuable backup and sometime starter on two championship teams.
After Moss wore out his welcome, Belichick still managed to turn him into something of value. He dealt Moss in midseason to Minnesota for a third-round pick in 2011. That pick has turned into backup quarterback Ryan Mallett. The jury is still out on Mallett, but Moss was cut by Minnesota after only four games.
7. Acquiring Ted Washington for a fourth-rounder in '03
Washington played only one season in New England, but he was a vital cog in a Super Bowl-winning team as the Pats' defense ranked No. 4 in the NFL that season. The Bears shipped the fourth-round pick to the 49ers.
8. Shipping Richard Seymour in '09 for an '11 first-rounder
This deal was (and to an extent still is) one of the more controversial trades in Belichick's career. This was done just as the 2009 season started and many viewed it as a huge step backward for the Pats' defense. Seymour remains a productive (albeit expensive) player for Oakland. In 2011, the Pats used the pick to get Nate Solder, who is now the starting left tackle. So far, the Raiders have gotten more productivity, but the Pats hold all the upside.
9. Shipping Matt Cassel (and Mike Vrabel) for a second-rounder in '08
While Belichick was criticized for not getting more for Cassel, he had to move fast because Cassel was on a franchise tag. Cassel is now trending back down to backup status. The Pats used the pick to draft safety Patrick Chung, a solid-if-unspectacular starter.
10. Acquiring Deion Branch for a '11 fourth-rounder in '10
The back-and-forth dealing of Branch to and from Seattle is worthy of a long feature, but the end results have been just so-so. The Pats originally traded him to Seattle in '06 for a pick that turned in Brandon Meriweather (that deal was an ineffective draw). The Pats got Branch back in '10 and he immediately returned to being a reliable target. Seattle got linebacker K.J. Wright in 2011 with the draft pick, giving them the long-term upside on the deal.
It appears that USC quarterback Matt Barkley's draft stock is plummeting this season after some people thought he'd emerge as a strong candidate for the No. 1 pick in 2012. At the end of the 2011 college season, when Barkley was debating whether to return to USC for his senior year, some draftniks were comparing him favorably to Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. One NFL scout said last year that Barkley would have gone third among quarterbacks behind Luck and Griffin, and was better than Ryan Tannehill, who ended up No. 8. These days, there are some scouts who don't see him as a first-round pick.
In part, that may be a residual effect of what has happened to recent USC quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez. Leinart, No. 10 overall by Arizona in 2006, struggled as a starter with the Cardinals and is now a backup with the Oakland Raiders. Sanchez, taken fifth overall by the New York Jets in 2009, has Been under fire the past two seasons.
One scout interviewed says he's unlikely to give Barkley better than a third-round grade because of concerns with his arm strength and accuracy.
Not everyone, though, was quite as critical.
"He's probably a first-round pick when you get to the board," an NFL personnel man said. "You'd feel good if he was at No. 15, but you know what happens with quarterbacks. They get overvalued. You could see somebody reach on him. Thankfully it's not going to be us."
Both sources say they believe Barkley's other intangibles, such as work ethic and football intelligence, are better than Leinart and Sanchez.
1. Atlanta Falcons (8-0): They play with more poise than explosiveness, but the explosiveness is certainly there.
2. Chicago Bears (7-1): Houston this week, San Francisco next. That should show just how good Bears are.
3. San Francisco 49ers (6-2): They generally aren't a team that looks ahead, but with Chicago on horizon …?
4. Houston Texans (7-1): Sunday night has makings of rare NFL defense-fest, but a good test for Matt Schaub and Jay Cutler.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3): Give them a slight edge over Green Bay for this spot after win over Giants.
28. Arizona Cardinals (4-4): What happened to the 4-0 start? As the Smithereens once sang, it's "Only a Memory."
29. Oakland Raiders (3-5): Two of three wins are against Jacksonville and Kansas City. That's pretty telling.
30. Cleveland Browns (2-7): Five field goals against a defensively challenged Baltimore team? Come on, that's brutal.
31. Kansas City Chiefs (1-7): How bad are the Chiefs? So bad that there's a chasm between them and the Browns.
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7): If not for a miracle win over Indianapolis earlier this season, Jags would be winless.
It's not easy playing an NFL game on the other side of the country, three time zones away from home, but running back Doug Martin made it look easy against the Oakland Raiders.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie ravished the Raiders defense for 251 rushing yards and four touchdowns last Sunday, leading the Bucs to a 42-32 road victory on the road. He also added four receptions for 21 yards, giving him a total of 272 yards from scrimmage.
Martin scored from 45, 67, and 70 yards out before punching the last score in from the one-yard-line late in the game. He becomes the first back since 1940 to have three or more touchdown runs of at least 45 yards in one game, and his 251 rushing yards set a franchise record and tied him with Mike Anderson for 10th all-time in NFL history.
Martin's phenomenal performance comes just a week after he traveled up to Minneapolis and ripped the Minnesota Vikings for 214 total yards and two touchdowns in Week 8.
– Eric Ivie
THIS AND THAT
• This is a great week for those of us into rivalries. The obvious one is on Monday night, when Kansas City, run by GM Scott Pioli, takes on Pittsburgh, which now has former Chiefs coach Todd Haley running the offense. The disdain between those two men is as palpable as between any in the NFL. After being fired by Kansas City, Haley essentially accused Pioli of spying on him and other members of the coaching staff. Meanwhile, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez visits Seattle this week to face former head coach Pete Carroll. For those who forgot, Carroll publicly criticized Sanchez's decision to come out of school for the 2009 draft. Never mind that Sanchez was probably right from an economic standpoint (and Carroll was probably right from a playing standpoint), but it should make for some incentive on both sides.
• After a 4-1 start, the Vikings have lost three of their past four games. The failure of the defense in those three losses has been obvious (Minnesota has given up at least 30 points in each defeat). However, a deeper issue is that once the Vikings fall behind in games, they don't have an easy way to make up any deficit. In short, the Vikings don't play any standard four- or five-receiver sets, which would allow for some easier opportunities. That's a big problem for quarterback Christian Ponder, who has struggled lately, and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. With a run of four straight division games starting this week, the Vikings could be out of the division race in a hurry.
• You won't see this stat very often, particularly eight games into a season, but the Bears have more touchdowns on returns (eight overall, including seven via interception and one off a blocked punt) than they do rushing (seven). That's freaky.
• While some people have taken issue with my stance that the regular season is all about offense (18 of the 24 division winners over the past three seasons led their divisions in scoring), this season is more proof of my point. Through nine weeks, six of the eight division leaders also lead their division in scoring. That includes all four AFC divisions. A seventh division leader (Chicago) leads its division in average scoring per game (Green Bay has played one more game so far). The lone exception? Undefeated Atlanta, which has scored 220 points. That's six less than Tampa Bay and only two more than New Orleans.
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