October 25, 2001
Say It Isn’t Bledsoe…
By Ric Sweeney
In his column on Tuesday, ESPN‘s Bill Simmons, aka The Sports Guy, aka the Artist, floated an idea so ridiculous, so preposterous, that after careful thought and consideration it actually started to make some sense. Well, at the very least, it made enough sense to give birth to this column, even if it is one of those standard-issue, stargazing, let’s play fantasy GM for a day and throw all pretense of common sense out the window pieces.
Anyway, back to Simmons’ ridiculous, preposterous idea — here it is, in all its ridiculous and preposterous glory:
Just for the record, I officially abandoned my seat on the Bledsoe Bandwagon at 2:30 on Sunday afternoon, when the Pats took a 28-6 lead in Indianapolis, and I called my father just to pretend I was Paul Tagliabue, announcing, “With the first pick of the 2002 expansion draft, the Houston Texans select … Drew Bledsoe, quarterback, New England Patriots.
Yes, he really was, to a degree, anyway, serious. And what’d I’d tell you? Ridiculous, isn’t it? Simply preposterous! But then again…
(Note: Look, I’m acutely aware that the idea is merely preying on my need for something — anything! — tangible related to the Texans, and probably really isn’t a logical idea OK? But it’s been nearly three years, and I’m sorry, but logo and uniform unveilings are not the meat and potatoes I need to sustain me during this time of football famine. I need real, live chalk talk that I can digest, pass through my lower intestines and then send on to the next person. In short, I need to believe Drew Bledsoe-to-Houston is a viable, workable idea, alright? So let’s say it is and open up a can of whoop ass on it, shall we? Like we have anything better to talk about…)
First things first, let’s dispel a common misconception about the expansion draft: used to be, in the golden days, the expansion draft was a haven for wash-ups, retreads, rejects, never weres and never will bes. In other words, the whole proceeding had a “Cowboy, 2001 roster” vibe to it. Granted, the 21st century version of the expansion draft still has more spares per inch than a Goodyear Tire store (OH-MY-GAWD! I so apologize for that one, I really, really do), but it’s also, in the salary cap era, a neat way to expunge weighty contracts. And when it comes to weighty contracts, none are heavier than Drew Bledsoe’s current deal.
Last spring, Bledsoe signed a 10-year, $103 million contract extension, making him the highest paid player in football. The company line at the time was that the deal would free up some cap space and give the Patriots room to go out and build a team around their franchise quarterback. As it turns out, that was true in a Ben Kenobi, “I knew your father (hint, hint, wink, wink)” kind of way. It did give the Pats some cap relief, but not a whole heck of a lot.
Bledsoe’s new deal guarantees him $30 million over the next four years, come hell, high water, or lacerated internal organ. But according to The Sporting News, over the course of those four years, the Patriots are only saving $1.5 million this year, and $750,000 each of the next two years, hardly enough of a savings to go out and get anyone of even marginal talent. Worse, in year four, Bledsoe’s yearly salary actually increases to $10 million unless New England renegotiates or exercises options earlier in the deal. So much for the savings.
There’s only one way New England can get out from under Bledsoe’s deal and that’s if they made him available in the expansion draft and Houston bit. If that happened, the Texans would assume, in full, his contract, and the Patriots could wipe their hands of it, saving, roughly (and it was my understanding there would be no math), $8-10 million a year, at least over the next four.
So, obviously, New England has a reason to consider possibly exposing Bledsoe, but would they dare make such a drastic move? That will depend on, among other things, how well Bledsoe’s back up, and current starter, Tom Brady acquits himself the rest of this year.
New England thought enough of the ex-Wolverine this summer to jettison Michael Bishop, who was sent to Europe in hopes he could develop enough to be Bledsoe’s caddy. Months later, with Bledsoe likely done for the year with some horrific internal shearing thingy, the Patriots are 3-1 with Brady as a starter, and now fans in Boston are starting to see what the Past saw in the guy this summer. And if he’s doing all this with average talent around him, just think how good he could be with $8-10 million worth of fresh talent on the roster. See where this is going? If Brady continues to impress, one of them will be expendable. Brady’s 24 and, I think (check me on this), still earning hourly wages, so, which one would you say has the upper hand if Brady proves to be at least in the same ballpark, talent-wise, as Bledsoe?
So it is conceivable New England would place Bledsoe on their expansion list. Which means all of you who wondered if Simmons was going to pass his crack pipe your way after he was finished should now apologize — shame on you.
Fast forward to February, 2002. Bledsoe’s available and the Texans are on the clock (is there a clock in a one-team expansion draft? Anyone? Bueller?) — what should Charley Casserly do? Well, let’s start by analyzing what’s right about drafting Bledsoe.
Bledsoe’s an experienced quarterback with all the physical tools you could possibly want. And let’s not forget: he has a Super Bowl appearance in his not-too distant past. How many college kids coming out over the next few years will have a résumé even close to his? And the guy’s only 29, so while he’s not a young pup, he’s not exactly over the hill, either. Plus, he’s proven to be pretty durable.
Now, I realize this is probably the wrong time to be talking about Bledsoe’s longevity while his spleen is bleeding out in some Boston hospital, but realistically, you have to figure Bledsoe’s good for at least four more years, assuming he comes back healthy next year. (In fact, this whole wasteful exercise is predicated on Bledsoe receiving a clean bill of health.) He’s played 16 games in five of his eight years prior to 2001, and has never missed more than three games in any season, again, prior to this year. And what happened this year is a case of bad luck, not some telltale sign that he’s suddenly Elijah Price from Unbreakable.
The really intriguing factor in all this, and I think it’s a big positive, is Chris Palmer. Guess who Bledsoe had as a quarterback coach in ’96 when he led the Pats to the Super Bowl? Under Palmer’s tutelage, Bledsoe corrected a mechanical hitch in his delivery, put up big numbers (over 4,000 yards, 27 TD’s and 15 picks) and won a conference championship. If this were a MasterCard commercial, that right there would be the “priceless” payoff.
Another positive aspect to the Bledsoe idea is that you’d know definitively going into the off-season that you’d have a known quantity at quarterback, which really frees you up to draft the best players available, to sign the best free agents available. No haggling over question marks like David Carr or Joey Harrington; no waiting to see if Eli Manning or Chris Simms ever find it. Nope, the first piece of the building block is in place, you simply go from there. Jacksonville had this same luxury when they started in ’95, and reaped the dividends. They drafted their bookend left tackle, made some shrewd free agent decisions, and viola, played for the AFC Championship in year two. The earlier you can place an established, and more importantly, good quarterback under center, the better off your team will be, both in the short and long term.
Of course, it’s not all rosy in the land of Bledsoe. He’s got that bleeding lung thing happening, which is kind of spooky and still a question mark. More scary, the guy turns the ball over a lot, and by a lot, I mean a lot. In 124 career games, Bledsoe’s thrown 138 interceptions and fumbled another 67 times, which comes to, roughly carry the nine about a heart attack a game. He’ll also take a sack. Often. Not blessed with blazing speed, Bledsoe’s been on his back more often than Jenna Jameson; hard to figure that’ll change on an expansion team, and with the bleeding liver thing, or whatever, well, that’s just asking for trouble, isn’t it?
The bigger worry is that Bledsoe’s kind of been one of those good, but not great QB’s. He’s won a big game — once, as Danny Vermin would say — but has been pretty ordinary otherwise. Since 1993, his rookie season, the Pats are, surprise, surprise, 64-64. The have three seasons of 10 or more victories and three of 10 or more losses. He’s 3-4 in the playoffs, and the team’s best seasons with him under center coincide not necessarily with big years from Bledsoe, but instead, big years from running backs. Bledsoe’s the kind of nondescript QB who’s usually only as a good as the team around him — which should raise a red flag the size of Camryn Manheim if you’re thinking of building an expansion team around him. I mean, Brett “Here, hop on my back, I’ll take you to the Promised Land, you worthless vagabonds” Favre, he’s not, not by any stretch of the imagination. So if you’re looking at a waiting period of three, four years before you can build a competent team around him, well, then you have to start worrying about Bledsoe’s age — will he still have his fastball by the time the team’s ready to win?
And lastly, while it’s true, we do have virtually unlimited cap space next year, Bledsoe is still really expensive (remember, that’s why Simmons wants to expose him), and if he doesn’t bother cap space now or in the foreseeable future, what about 4, 5 years down the road – are you prepared to pay a most likely twilight-of-his-career Bledsoe $6, 7, maybe even $10 million a season?
The answer, in that context, is thanks, but no thanks, Bill, but isn’t it great to actually talk football again on some meaningful, albeit fantastical, level? Any other Patriots you want to try and dump on us, Bill?
Ric Sweeney promises this is the start of a more regular column, one he hopes to write every Monday and Thursday throughout the rest of the NFL season, a schedule he swears will last at least through this weekend.