It’s that time of the year again. Yes, it’s football season of course but something else happens at this exact point every season. People begin to doubt the New England Patriots and what they are doing with their roster. According to most people the Patriots are awful on defense, have no wide receivers, will struggle on the offensive line and don’t have a dominant running game. Of course, that still doesn’t stop anyone from taking them to win at least 12 games and be in contention for the Super Bowl every single year. It is a system which had worked ever since Bill Belichick started coaching the team in 2000 and has survived a lot of changes in personnel.
The Patriots have been letting players go for years before it comes time to pay them that monster contract. They know that it’s a team game and can correctly evaluate how much value a player has in their system. Players like Richard Seymour have been let go to everyone’s surprise but then the Patriots just continue to win. If not Super Bowls at least they win the division and have a shot every season.
This doesn’t mean that fans and analysts alike don’t have the right to question some of the moves that Belichick has made. Not all of them have been right and sometimes the players go on to show that they still have big seasons ahead. Years that the Patriots could have used on their teams and gone up another level. That also doesn’t mean the Patriots are always this cold-blooded machine. They make the same mistake many teams do and keep players for the one season too long. Here are ten players the Patriots should have kept longer and ten they released too quickly.
20 Gave Up Too Soon: Wes Welker
Wes Welker was undrafted out of Texas Tech University. Most people didn't think that he would be able to make it in the NFL as an undersized wide receiver, but the Dolphins decided to sign Welker and keep him as a punt returner.
Welker signed with the Patriots in 2007 and helped make one of the greatest offenses ever with 1,175 yards and 8 TDs.
After that Welker was a pro bowler from 2008-2012 for the Patriots. heading into 2013 the Patriots let Welker walk to the Broncos. While he was never a Pro Bowl player again, Welker was still very effective with the Broncos with 800 yards and 10 TDs in 2013. That's production Tom Brady could have used.
19 Kept Too Long: Brandon Browner
Brandy Browner spent a long time just trying to make an NFL roster and play full time and finally got his chance in 2011 with the Seahawks. That year Browner was a standout player coming onto the scene and making the pro bowl in his first season with six interceptions. His production declined over the next two seasons, but the Patriots still decided to take a chance on him in 2014.
It was only one season, a year the Patriots won the Super Bowl in fact, but it was too long for Browner to be on the team.
He was a disaster, leading the league on pass interference penalties and teams would attack him on the other side of Darrelle Revis. Remember they let up big plays in the Superbowl with some coming right over Browner. Most players wouldn't have made it to the playoffs on the Patriots with those kinds of flaws.
18 Gave Up Too Soon: Jimmy Garoppolo
Jimmy Garoppolo was drafted by the Patriots in the second round in the 2014 NFL Draft. He was the backup quarterback for Tom Brady in all his years in the NFL until the Deflategate scandal meant that Brady had to sit for four games. Garoppolo started in two and impressed throwing for 500 yards, 4 TDs and 0 INTs. it was clear that he was the quarterback of the future.
However, the debate over how long Brady would stay started to divide the franchise and Garoppolo was moved for only a second round pick. At the end of last season with the 49ers, Garoppolo took the league by storm going 5-0 with 1,500 yards, 7 TDs and 5 INTs. Garoppolo can be a great quarterback for 10 years and that's something not even the Patriots can easily replace.
17 Kept Too Long: Troy Brown
Troy Brown is as much a part of the Patriots way as any player they've ever had. Yes, that includes Tom Brady. Brown made his way on the roster by being a big-time punt returner and slowly made the transition to wide out in 1997 with 600 yards through the air.
Brown really took off in 2001 when he had 1,199 yards and his lone Pro Bowl appearance.
Even after that Brown was a Swiss army knife, playing special teams, wide out and occasionally cornerback for the Patriots as he won three rings with the team. But from 2005-2007 Brown never reached 500 yards in a season with the team and was well past his prime. This was one of the rare guys the Patriots kept partially because they were sentimental.
16 Gave Up Too Soon: LeGarette Blount
LeGarrette Blount was an undrafted running back in 2010 when he was picked up by the Buccaneers. As a rookie he ran for 1,000 yards for the team and was very effective. However, as time went on Blount was less effective before he joined the Patriots in 2013 rushing for 700 yards and 7 TDs. Blount played for the Steelers but was released quickly.
Blount had a monster 2016 season running for 18 TDs with the Patriots. And they let him go once again... This time he joined the Eagles and won a Super Bowl in 2017 as a big-time player. The Patriots could have used his power rushing at critical points throughout the season.
15 Kept Too Long: Kevin Faulk
Kevin Faulk was drafted by the Patriots in the 2nd round of the 2001 draft. He was a running back prospect but became a key on the roster because of all the different things he could do out of the backfield. Faulk never ran for more than 700 yards but on the same token he caught 25 or more passes for 10 straight seasons. He outlasted all the pure runners the Patriots had like Corey Dillion and Antowain Smith because if that ability and made five Super Bowls and won three because of it. However, in 2010 and 2011 Faulk didn't have much left in the tank. Both years he had less than 110 total yards from scrimmage and was basically a mentor.
14 Gave Up Too Soon: Jamie Collins
Jamie Collins was taken in the 2nd round by the Patriots in 2013. He was picked as a possible threat at the outside linebacker position and the Patriots used him perfectly in that role. It took until year two but Collins had 4 sacks and started to show his impact.
In 2015 Collins became a big impact player with 5.5 sacks and he made the Pro Bowl.
But in the middle of 2016, they moved Collins to the Browns for a pick. Collins hasn't been the most productive there, but the impact on the Patriots defense has been immense. Over the last two years they've struggled getting to the passer and the loss of Collins has a lot to do with why the defense hasn't been the same.
13 Kept Too Long: Deion Branch
Deion Branch was a second-round pick for the Patriots in 2002. He was supposed to be an explosive threat in the passing game and reached some of that potential but for the main part he was someone that the offense could trust to know his routes. Branch had five years of over 700 yards with the team including a season when he signed with the Seahawks and re-joined the Patriots later.
While Branch showed how effective he can be in his role the Patriots wanted him around for a long time. But In 2012 he stayed a year too long and only got 145 yards in the entire season.
12 Gave Up Too Soon: Vince Wilfork
Vince Wilfork was taken in the first round of the 2004 draft by the Patriots. They wanted to sure up their defensive line after losing great players off a three-time champion. Wilfork lived up to all their expectations with his play early. In 2007 people started to realize his impact and he made his first pro bowl. From 2009-2012 Wilfork made the Pro Bowl every season and he became a team leader for the unit. But after their Super Bowl in 2014 Wilfork was a free agent and went to the Texans. He retired after 2016 but he still had something left and showed it by helping the Texans defense stay elite in his two years there.
11 Kept Too Long: Ryan Mallett
Ryan Mallett was taken in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Patriots. He was the first in a long line of quarterbacks who were supposed to be Tom Brady's successor. He was also the first player the Patriots had which many around the league thought had absorbed whatever secret formula the team had given Brady.
People looked at him at 6'6 and assumed if the Patriots helped his mechanics he would be a star.
But Belichick didn't move him in 2014 when he would have been incredibly valuable. Instead he left in 2014 with the Patriots not getting much for the mediocre QB. In this instance it wasn't production but the capital the Patriots could have gotten for him.
10 Gave Up Too Soon: Darrelle Revis
Darrelle Revis had an outstanding career before he ever played for the Patriots. As the 14th pick of the 2007 Revis was a pain for the Patriots to deal with as a cornerback. Revis made the pro bowl from 2008-2011 for the Jets before missing most of 2012 with an injury. After a pro bowl year with the Buccaneers he joined the Patriots for a championship run in 2014. Revis was such a talent that he helped propel the Patriots back to the Super Bowl and made a Pro Bowl in the process. Both sides knew that the Patriots weren't giving Revis a long-term contract and he left for the Jets in 2015 and made another Pro Bowl.
9 Kept Too Long: Randy Moss
Randy Moss is the most talented player the Patriots have ever had and it's not that close. The star wide receiver was making incredible plays since he was drafted in 1998 by the Vikings. Before joining the team Moss had already gotten over 10,00 yards and 100 TDs as a member if the Vikings and the Raiders. After being traded to the Patriots, Moss made magic happen in his first three years. He had 3,900 yards and 50 TDs with the team.
But in 2011 the Patriots realized that Moss was slowing down four games too late. They did trade Moss, but they expected him to fill a void and didn't have the resources ready for when he declined.
8 Gave Up Too Soon: Asante Samuel
Asante Samuel was taken in the 4th round of the 2003 draft by the Patriots. They didn't know what to expect from the undersized cornerback, but Samuel was always a big-time playmaker.
It took until 2006 for Samuel's ability to show in the NFL when he got 10 interceptions that year.
In 2007 Samuel backed it up with 6 interceptions and his first Pro Bowl appearance. After 2007 they let Samuel go and he joined the Eagles for three more pro bowl seasons. He clearly had a lot of great years left but the Patriots didn't think he would be worth the price.
7 Kept Too Long: Chad Ochocinco
Chad Ochocinco was a superstar before been joining the Patriots. Ochocinco mad six Pro Bowls in 10 years with the Bengals and had over 10,000 yards receiving with them. However, when Ochocinco joined the Patriots it just wasn’t a fit form the beginning. He was supposed to be the big play receiver to replace Randy Moss, who had been traded the year before. They didn’t want to give up another wide receiver, but probably should have given what little Ochocinco gave them. Over 15 games he only had 278 yards and 1 TD for the team. To make things worse he only had one catch in the postseason. Not nearly the kind of production they expected from him.
6 Gave Up Too Soon: Ty Law
Ty Law was one of the rare players taken before Bill Belichick was the head coach of the Patriots who survived through it. Law was taken with the 23rd pick of the 1995 draft by the Patriots. As a cornerback Law was consistently one of the better players in the NFL. He made a pro bowl in 1998 but reached a different level in 2001. At that point Law was a part of three Super Bowls and made three pro bowls. But in 2005 Law became a part of the Jets and made the Pro Bowl yet again. Law was one of the moves that led to the 10-year Super Bowl drought for the Patriots because they didn't have a bridge for his talent.
5 Kept Too Long: Rodney Harrison
Rodney Harrison was drafted in the 5th round of the 1994 draft by the Chargers. He was a star player for the team for years and made two pro bowls for the team over his 9 years with the team. He was known as a hard hitting player from the safety position who could still make plays with his 26 interceptions for the team.
In 2003 the Patriots got Harrison to replace the role that Lawyer Milloy used to play and he succeeded by making the Pro Bowl in 2003.
Harrison won two Super Bowls with the team but started to decline quickly. Staring with 2005 he was never healthy and never played in more than 12 games in one year for the Patriots again.
4 Gave Up Too Soon: Curtis Martin
Curtis Martin is the only player on this list that wasn't a Bill Belichick decision, but it was still big enough to be mentioned. Martin was taken in the 3rd round by the Patriots in 1995 and had immediate success in the NFL. He ran for 14 TDs and over 1,100 yards in his first two years on the Patriots making the Pro Bowl each season. In 1997 he misses the Pro Bowl with 1,100 yards but only 4 TDs and the Patriots let him become a part of the Jets. With them Martin had a close to Hall of Fame career he ran for over 1,200 in six seasons and got three pro bowls with the team. On the Jets Martin had 10,000 yards and 60 TDs. All production the Patriots could have used.
3 Kept Too Long: Tedy Bruschi
Tedy Bruschi was another player who was the face of the Patriots organization during the first three Super Bowl trips. Bruschi was drafted in the 3rd round of the 1996 draft by the Patriots and played there for his entire career. Bruschi was often overlooked for the leadership and smarts he provided the team as the middle linebacker.
He started on the team for all three of the Super Bowls from 2001-2004 and made his lone Pro Bowl in the 2004 season.
Bruschi continued to be a solid player until 2008 when his production completely fell off. He had only 38 tackles in 13 games with the team and that signaled that his career was winding down.
2 Gave Up Too Soon: Jacoby Brissett
Jacoby Brissett was taken in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL draft by the Patriots. They decided to take a flyer on the former Florida quarterback even though he never had a huge impact in college. Brissett ended up showing nice production when Jimmy Garoppolo and Tom Brady both missed time in 2016. He threw for 400 yards in his two games and went 1-1. After that, Brissett got his chance when he Patriots traded him to the Colts.
Last year he passed for 3,000 yards, 13 TDs and 7 INTs. Given the fact that the Colts had one of the worst rosters in the NFL it's clear Brissett could have been a full-time starter in the future for the Patriots.
1 Kept Too Long: Antowain Smith
Antowain smith was drafted 23rd overall by the Bills in 1997. As a pounding running back the Bills thought he would be perfect for the cold weather games of the north east with his bruising style. Well they were right, and it showed when he had 1,100 yards rushing for the team in 1998. But his production declined, and he ran for less than 700 yards in the next two seasons.
In 2001 the Patriots picked him up and figured out how to make Smith productive again. He gained 1,157 yards and ran for 12 TDs as the team won their first Super Bowl. Smith was decent with 900 yards in 2002 but in 2003 it was clear that he was over the hill. They did win a Super Bowl but it was clear Smith was there for a season too long.