Sunday, September 06, 2009

Way to Spoil the Writers' Labor Day Weekend, Bill

In evaluating blockbuster trades, a category in which the Patriots' deal of Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders for a 2011 first-round draft choice certainly qualifies, this blogger has a rule of thumb. Since talent assessment is very hard looking in from the outside (the far outside in my case), I generally give the benefit of the doubt to the organization that has a better track record of knowing what the hell it's doing.

The Pats' record in personnel management is unsurpassed in this decade (the Steelers are very close). So is Oakland's, actually, since no other NFL franchise has done worse. Ergo, we should probably err in New England's favor in assessing the swap. Way in favor.

Seymour remains a solid professional. But he hasn't been near the force he was in the first seasons of his career for several years now. He's also in the last year of a contract. In purely generic terms, that is the kind of player successful franchises seek to trade to losing ones for future draft picks all the time. It is roughly the equivalent of the big-stack player bullying the short-stack at a poker tournament. The Pats can play the percentages with a vengeance. The Raiders have more imperative requirements.

Let's face it. On the Oakland roster "solid professional" equals "one of our four or five best players." The chance of 2009 improvement, however slight, is well worth mortgaging the future for the people who made this decision. Al Davis doesn't give a damn about the future and never has, even when he wasn't obviously near death. His underlings must figure that the percentages argue they will no longer be employed by the Raider organization by late April, 2011. That's a safe bet, too. If Seymour helps the team soar from its expected 4-12 record this season to a glorious 6-10 campaign, they at least have a better shot at being Raider employees in 2010.

Meanwhile, back in Foxboro, the Pats have the luxury of (relatively) long-term planning. No Seymour makes it ever so much easier to satisfy Vince Wilfork's contract desires. It also means they will not face the problem of dealing with potential free agent Seymour at a time when the odds are overwhelming that he will be on the descent from "solid pro" to "just OK" or worse. There is, of course, a short-term cost. Teams whose goal is winning the Super Bowl seldom improve their chances by shedding solid professionals on the Seymour level at any position. But all in all, that cost appears payable.

The Pats are recreating their defense on the fly whilst they depend on their offense for wins. Looking at their offense, this seems like a sound strategy to me. The various linemen who wind up replacing Seymour's play totals this season need not be Pro Bowlers, or even as good as was Seymour in 2008. Really, all they have to do is not suck. I tend to trust Bill Belichick's ability to determine that players are above the suck level.

So at a real but manageable risk in 2009, the Pats have the luxury of waiting for their payoff. Despite what Davis may think, it is very likely the 2011 draft will take place as scheduled. If memory doesn't escape me, New England drafted Seymour with the 6th pick overall in the 2001 draft (if I'm wrong, I know it was in the 5-8 range). I'd be willing to bet right now that the Raiders choice in 2011 will be AT LEAST the 6th overall pick.

Apparently, so was Belichick.


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