10 QUESTIONS - Lions vs Patriots Part 2
5) Despite having cap room, the Patriots opted to allow both receiver Deion Branch and placekicker Adam Vinatieri to walk in the off-season. What was the fan reaction at the time, and what -- if any -- was the reasoning?
JS: The fan reaction to the losses of Vinatieri and Branch were mixed. Some fans said if they're going to be greedy, then good riddance. Others thought that losing them was not only going to hurt the team, but totally unnecessary and that the team was "being cheap" to make a point.
The reality is that the team creates a sense of value for a player's contributions and places an "affordability" price on them. If a player's production has dropped or is projected to taper off, then the team won't pay the player for sentimental reasons or their past successes. If a player is projected to continue to improve or play at a high level, then they get paid. Guys like Richard Seymour, Matt Light and Tom Brady were given big pay days because they're expected to perform at a high level for years to come.
With Branch, the advice he received from his agent(s) was that he could get a better deal by not showing up at camp; similar to what Richard Seymour did the season before. The problem was, Branch's camp projected his value to be higher than what the Patriots allocated for the position. While New England had the cap space to pay Branch, their decision to stick to their overall plan prevented them from overpaying in their eyes. Branch allowed his representatives to force the Patriots hand, and when he did that, it didn't sit well with the team.
Although there are two sides to every story, Branch, and Vinatieri, won't be the only players to leave for better opportunities elsewhere. There's always someone willing to pay more, that's the nature of supply and demand. The question is; are players willing to play for the pay offer on the table and a legitimate chance to win a Super Bowl, or are other factors more important?
4) How has the loss of Branch affected Brady? How has he overcome it to still be an effective quarterback?
JS: Both Branch and Brady expected the receiver to return. They publicly said all along that he would be back because they both believed that would be the case, even when things took a turn south in negotiations. When the trade happened, it floored everyone.
Brady had only Troy Brown as someone he was familiar with at receiver, and that really put the Patriots offense at a disadvantage. It's still affecting the team.
Brady has adapted to the situation by working on improving his connection with tight end Ben Watson. Reche Caldwell has stepped up as a potential target that can get the job done like David Givens did when he was in New England, but the offense is still inconsistent because of all the experience it lost when Branch left and all the new bodies Brady has had to work into the system.
3) What is the outsider's view of the Detroit Lions. As an opposite of the Patriots, what does it seem Detroit is incapable of doing in the past six years that New England has made routine?
JS: Consistency. Each year you take a look at the Lions it looks like a different team. Different coaches, different philosophies, different personnel under center.
The Patriots built a team and a single concept starting with the head coach who works closely with the front office. Scott Pioli knows the type of player Bill Belichick wants and can use on the team and he goes out to get those players. Pioli's goal is to get the type of players that fit Belichick's concept.
The Lions have yet to do that. Each time they change coaches, they change styles and many times concepts. It's impossible to have that many changes without working toward one goal, and find any level of success. That has played out by the product on the field.
2) Can we trade Matt Millen for some of those miniature Patriots' flags -- and maybe a few Tom Brady bobblehead dolls?
JS: [Laughs] You couldn't pay the Patriots (or me) to take Matt Millen. He has become the poster child - as it were - in what NOT to do in a front office position. There's plenty of room aboard the Patriots bandwagon if you're looking for a new place for your football loyalty.
Reading over some pregame notes… it's amazing Millen hasn't been fired yet. He owns the single worst record as a GM over the last five years, and a record so bad; it rivals one of the worst stretches in NFL history, if not the worst. A quick skip around the Internet turns up a website dedicated to his demise www.FireMillen.com. And it's not the only one out there. Millen has embarrassed the team's fans with his flip-flop philosophy of running the organization. You have my sympathy. It' can't be much fun covering them now.
1) Explain to a Lions fan the feelings of a Patriots' fan on any given Sunday. What is it like to follow a winning organization and a team that you know isn't just capable, but likely, to win every time they stop onto the field?
JS: As a football fan myself, looking at what fans have to put up with in Detroit, Cleveland, Oakland and others, you have to ask yourself, don't you have better things to do on Sunday? I would.
The NFL is an entertainment business as much as a professional sport. When the product on the field is so bad, it's no longer entertaining it's hard to justify spending time, and money, watching it just for the love of the sport.
That feeling is something Patriots fans were familiar with long before Bill Belichick showed up. Why pay for parking and overpriced foot and drink to put up with that? That was the fans' only choice back in the old days… Watch a bad product live, or find something else to do on Sunday. Patriots' fans now have a hard time remembering what it was like back in those days.
To watch the modern day Patriots is fun, it's entertaining it's they type of thing that you expect to have a good time doing. Most of the time, it's exactly what happens. The Patriots have the ability to win on any given Sunday so fans look forward to the game all week long, and talk about it for days afterwards.
Detroit has good fans that deserve a winning team. But when it's this bad, no one would blame them if they quit paying attention to the current version of the team and skipped right to 2007.
Prediction for the game. Why?
JS: As is the case most weeks I'm picking the Patriots. I do this mostly because with No. 12 under center, the team has a chance to win no matter how bad the odds. This week New England faces a Detroit team that can score some points and has some playmakers. I just think the Patriots defense will stymie the Lions' offense early, and Tom Brady will get the Patriots on top quickly. When that happens, bad teams usually quit… and that's what I expect out of the Lions. I think Detroit has enough talent to pull off an upset with a few good breaks, but I don't think they're in the right frame of mind to put that talent together enough to win against a solid Patriots team. I also don't think the Lions are going to get those good breaks.
Patriots Win by double digits. Rough guess Patriots 28 - Lions 13
Prediction for the rest of the season?
JS: Looking ahead, it appears the Patriots can get on a roll and hit the playoffs with some momentum. There will be some challenges, and likely another loss maybe two, but the way it looks right now… New England will probably finish 12-4 or 11-5. I predicted 11-5 at the beginning of the season and I'll stick to that. Of course I made that prediction thinking Deion Branch was going to be on the team.
Worst GM in all of sports?
JS: You've probably already answered this just by asking the question. There's no doubt Detroit's front office rivals the worst in the business, second only to maybe Arizona's Cardinals. At least Arizona didn't' draft a receiver first overall three years in a row.
Look for part 1 where Jon addresses Tom Brady status among Patriots fans, the team's success, Junior Seau and more.