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Friday, 2 November 2012

Talib to the Patriots: Both Sides of the Coin

Here at TPL HQ we're lucky enough to have supporters of both the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. So when former first round pick Aqib Talib traded the Florida sunshine for winter in New England there was a buzz like nothing else. Not only was it a rare trade during the NFL season, but it was a "talented but troubled" young player who has the potential to really help a contending team.

The NFL doesn't see nearly as many deadline moves as the other major US sports. A lot of that simply has to do with the complexity of NFL schemes and play calling over the pretty seamless transition that is possible in baseball, basketball and ice hockey.

Those who frequently play the EA sports Madden franchise often make a lot of trades during their franchises. Playing as Carolina? Well I clearly don't need two highly-paid running backs, I should trade one for a guard or a defensive tackle (It's pretty obvious we were all understanding when the Panthers fired Marty Hurney a few weeks ago). That kind of thing just doesn't happen in real life. UNTIL NOW!!! The Patriots turned over a 4th round pick to Tampa in return for Talib and a 7th rounder. So let's get the opinion from both sides of the deal...

Toby's view:

I like this trade. In fact, come tomorrow morning I'm sure I'll like it even more. New England's secondary is truly and utterly dreadful. The latest swings and misses by Belichick in the draft have been horrendous. Devin McCourty, after a strong and promising rookie season, has had to be moved to free safety because he's such a liability in coverage. Ras-I Dowling has just been placed on IR, hardly shocking for a guy who was being knocked down draft boards in 2011 due to his injury history.

Since 2007 New England have spent seven 1st or 2nd round picks on defensive backs, and apart from Patrick Chung they've all turned out to be pretty horrible selections (excluding current rookie Tavon Wilson, it's too early to judge). So bringing in a talented, young player for what is essentially an extended scouting session (Talib's rookie contract expires at the end of this season) is a clever move. Not only does Talib provide an immediate upgrade at cornerback once he returns from his suspension, but the Patriots get a nice long look at someone who, because of various character concerns which I'm sure Gur will talk about, could be a cheap buy in free agency.

New England's pass defense is, yet again, the achilles heal to their Superbowl hopes. Getting a player like Talib who has played at a very high level in points of his career, for a relatively low draft pick is a good bit of business from New England. 

Gur's view:

It's not often you get a win-win trade, but this might be as close as you can get... if it pays off for the Patriots. Either way, I'm definitely chalking this one up as a 'W' for the Bucs.

Let's make no mistake - purely on paper, the Bucs today have a less talented roster than they did yesterday as a result of this trade; but those are the two key words: 'on paper'. A football team is much more than the sum of its parts, and shipping Talib out of town may have made the team stronger as a result.

The Bucs may have lost their most talented cornerback, but they've gained something hugely important in return - stability. For too long, Bucs fans have been aware that at any moment, Talib was likely to do something stupid that likely lead to a suspension, or at least the threat of one (the ominous court case surrounding Talib's alleged firing a weapon at his sister's then-boyfriend cast a long shadow of the Bucs' offseason, not knowing if he'd be able to play in Week 1 - or in 2012 at all, though the charges were ultimately dropped). If he's not beating up cab drivers, slugging teammates or firing pistols (allegedly), there was always the concern that he would hurt himself again, with him ending the previous two seasons on IR missing a combined 7 games through injury (plus an additional game in 2010 for disciplinary issues). Including three of the four games he was suspended for this season for improper Adderall use (that's right Pats fans, he's still got another game to sit out after your bye-week), that's a 25-11 ratio of games played-to-games sat out since 2010. That's not what you want from your top corner.

2012 is Talib's contract year, the year he should be doing his best to keep his nose clean in order to earn a big payoff in free agency. After this latest indiscretion, it's clear that he's not going to be one of the more hotly-pursued free agents. If this trade hadn't had occurred, it's almost certain that Buccaneer general manager Mark Dominik would have happily allowed Talib to walk in the offseason, and it would have been a major headache gone for the Bucs. No more being concerned week-to-week that Talib would be unavailable because he had done something stupid, again. No more having to scramble through street free agents and other team's practice squads to fill the dimeback slot, since corners who should be special teamers & depth players only are suddenly thrust into starting lineups and charged with covering receivers who far outmatch them. No more apologists trying to make excuses for Talib. The Bucs now know where they stand, week-in, week-out. It's the kind of peace of mind that Schiano has been trying to establish at One Buc Place, and it's just been made a little easier by trading Talib away.

Now, we have to be honest; in the short term, yes, this does hurt the Bucs - if it didn't, they would have cut him when the offseason rosters were trimmed down to 53 in September - but as I said above, in the long term, this was definitely a good move for the Bucs. What makes this move extra-sweet, though, is that the Bucs managed to get something for the move. As I said, the odds are that, if this trade hadn't had happened, Talib would still no longer be a Buccaneer come the 2013 offseason. The trade, however, does two things for the Bucs: firstly, it gives them a fourth-round pick. Of course, the fourth round is hardly considered to be the 'money round' when it comes to the draft, but there are definite gems that can be found there - the Bucs are currently enjoying such a gem in Mike Williams, who was taken with the third pick of the fourth round in 2010. But don't be surprised if that pick ends up not being used by the Buccaneers at all; Mark Dominik often moves up or down at various times in the drafts he has overseen. That was especially true in the 2012 draft, where it was a fourth round pick that was ultimately used in selecting two of the team's most productive players, let alone rookies - Doug Martin and Lavonte David. Specifically, it was a fourth round pick from Jacksonville (gained by switching with them from fifth to seventh) that was traded to the Broncos to move back into the first round to select Martin, while getting Denver's own fourth round pick, towards the end of the round, in return, which was subsequently used to trade back up into the second round for David. Martin and David have been a huge part of the Bucs' turnaround, and it all came from that fourth round pick. The fourth rounder the Bucs just receiver from New England is a huge sweetener to what was already an important, long-term move.

So, that was the first advantage of the trade; but the second is that it reinforces once again a message to the Buccaneer locker room. Since day one, Greg Schiano has preached a "Buccaneer Way", resting on the tenets of trust, belief, and accountability. The Bucs could no longer trust Talib to be available week-in, week-out; they clearly did not believe he would change, having had more than enough chances to do so. And so, he was held accountable. Of course, some may say that being traded to a Super Bowl-contending team is hardly a fair measure of accountability, but then again, consider it from Schiano's perspective. He has mentioned on numerous occasions that the Buccaneers are not just a team, but a 'family'; as this NFL.com video shows, 'family' is even the word the Bucs break down on in the locker room after a game. To frame it in such terms, we may consider that the accountability comes from Talib now being excommunicated from his footballing family. Some players may not care, I suppose, but part of what Schiano is trying to engender in the Bucs locker room is an atmosphere that players want to continue to be a part of, and as the Schiano programme continues to take stronger root among the players, it's an attitude that should be shared by more and more of the players - one that will, theoretically, make the players fall in line. It's an attitude that, by his repeated missteps, Talib would never have adopted himself, and would have threatened the viability of it being shared throughout the locker room as a result. Yet another reminder to the team to make sure they toe the line; a fourth round pick that Mark Dominik has shown he can potentially work wonders out of, as a bargaining tool or just on a player; and some much-needed stability to the Buccaneers secondary in the long term. With a new head coach building for the future, this deal is a definitely a win for the pewter pirates.

- The Pulling Linemen

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