For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been bludgeoned with stories comparing the 2017 Patriots to the team that nearly ran the table a decade ago. The surface similarities are easy to spot. And sure, starting September 7th there will be weekly side-by-side looks at how this year’s team is living up, but let’s look back a little earlier than that. What were the headlines surrounding the Patriots in the 2007 pre-season? Did people know how special that team would be? Did they know records would fall? While few, ifany, had 16-0 on their minds, there are examples of history repeating itself here in 2017. Lets take a look at the big ones…
Patriots Load Up, Add Moss, Welker, Stallworth
While we know now that these three moves revolutionized the way NFL offenses operate, at the time they were written off as auxiliary moves by Bill Belichick. Randy Moss, after being one of the elite pass catchers in the game in Minnesota, had fallen into a black hole of obscurity in Oakland (yes, I see what I did there), where he caught 82 passes for 1,558 yards in two years. By comparison, he regularly flirted with, if not surpassed, both of those numbers on a yearly bases with the Vikings. By the time the Patriots traded a 4th round pick for Moss at the 2007 draft, he was on the wrong side of 30 years old, and vocally uninterested in football. Many assumed his time as a dominant NFL wide receiver was over. A hamstring injury early in training camp that held him out of all 4 preseason games (back when everyone played in preseason games) only furthered that narrative.
The Patriots added Moss to an already acquired Wes Welker. For a guy who would go on to catch 672 passes in a Patriots uniform, he arrived with little to no fanfare. An undrafted rookie in 2004, he spent three seasons with the Dolphins, primarily as a kick returner. Given his lack of reps, pundits were critical when Belichick parted with a second round pick to acquire the restricted free agent from division rival Miami. At the time, the move seen as an upgrade at kick returner over Lawrence Maroney, and a way to add depth to a receiving corps that has underwhelmed the year before.
A few days later, the Patriots signed former 1st round pick Donté Stallworth who had been hampered by injuries for most of his career, playing just 12 games in 2006 and catching just 38 passes. While the 2017 additions of Brandin Cooks and Dwayne Allen come in with more positives than negatives, the idea of the Patriots reworking their offense around new offensive firepower is as much a focus now as it was then.
Patriots Place Tag On Asante Samuel
The 2007 offseason was not a fun one for the Patriots and Asante Samuel. The former 4th round pick had a career year in 2006. The Patriots promptly franchise tagged him, and a holdout ensued. After struggling to lock up and extension and even trying to trade Samuel, he signed his tender at the end of August and played one last year in New England for $7.79 million. He used the Patriots refusal to pay him what he wanted as motivation, putting together an All-Pro season in 2007, then signing a 6 year, $56 million contract with Philadelphia the next offseason.
While Malcolm Butler’s situation is a little different (RFA vs. Franchise Tag), the parallels are there. Butler’s offseason was filled with trade rumors and uncertainty of where we would play in 2017. Unlike Samuel however, he is participating in training camp, and has been one of the best players on the practice fields to this point. If he can give the Patriots a similar contract-year performance they got from Samuel in ’07, he’ll be back in the Super Bowl and looking at a record-breaking contract in the spring of 2018.
Stephen Gostkowski Struggles
Perhaps no Patriot faced more pressure in 2006 than Stephen Gostkowski. The 4th round pick out of Memphis was tasked with replacing a fan favorite, Super Bowl hero, and future Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri after he bolted for Indianapolis. His rookie campaign left fans wanting more, he went just 20 for 26 kicking field goals, and missed an extra point (back when they were 19 yard kicks). His 2007 preseason did little to dampen the concerns; he made just five of nine kicks, including a 1 for 3 performance against Carolina. It ended up having little effect on his regular season, he was 21 of 24 in 2007, and connect on a record 74 point after kicks, not missing one (in fact, he wouldn’t miss another extra point for 9 years). Following his struggles in 2016, and already with one miss to his name this preseason, Patriots fans are hoping for a similar turnaround.
Patriot Family Adds A Jet
Tom Brady missed the final few practices leading up to the Patriots third preseason game in 2007, he was away from the team for a personal matter. No, it wasn’t a TB12 brand promotion. No, he wasn’t taping adds for luxury mattresses or cars. No, he wasn’t making a cameo in the latest Mark Wahlberg movie (which in the summer of 2007 would be We own the Night). He was in Los Angeles with his ex-girlfriend Bridget Moynahan for the birth of his firstborn son. Yes, he was allowed to miss the team flight to Charlotte to welcome John Edward Thomas (JET) Moynahan into the world. 10 years later, the Patriots and Robert Kraft added twin-jets (Boeing 767s, to be specific) to their family, becoming the first NFL team to buy their own planes instead of taking charter flights to road games.
So what is the point I’m trying to get across? While preseason beats no-season, it needs to hurry up. There is always a lot of NFL click bait being thrown around in August as people wait for the regular season, and with it, meaningful content, to arrive. But congratulations. After reading this, you’re now 5 minutes closer to regular season NFL football. Xs and Os are almost here!
Written By: Alex Barth (@The_REAL_Alex_B)