"Big Money" On The Line

Gerard Warren was once considered a first round bust, not living up to his vaunted draft status. Bur Warren, cast aside by the Raiders, has quietly revived his career, like so many before him, under the guidance of Bill Belichick.

In his previous NFL incarnations, Gerard Warren was known as "Big Money," and his replies to questions included about as many colorful words as his paycheck did zeroes.

These days, the 10-year veteran defensive lineman, in his first season with New England, doesn't earn as much money or talk nearly as much, either.

"When Joel (Segal, his agent) called and said they wanted me to come in, I was almost speechless," said Warren on Sunday evening, after the Patriots' 36-7 win over the Chicago Bears. "I mean, first-class organization, great coach, a chance to win every year. It's everything a player could ask for."

Traded twice in his career, and released once, Warren is now with his fourth different franchise. Things are a lot different from when the former University of Florida star was the third overall prospect selected in the 2001 draft, and the Cleveland Browns rewarded him with a six-year, $33.6 million contract. The gregarious Warren was supposed to be a dominant interior defender, and the centerpiece of the Cleveland front line.

Now he is a 32-year-old role player for the Patriots, a guy who doesn't have to be a stand out anymore, just a man who stands tall for the New England defense, and fits into the team concept coach Bill Belichick has inculcated into his 11-2 club.

Warren is typical of the kind of veteran players Belichick brings to the Patriots and whose careers are reborn. You name 'em - linebacker Rob Ninkovich; tailbacks Fred Taylor, Danny Woodhead, and Sammy Morris; wide receiver Deion Branch; tight end Alge Crumpler; safety Jarrad Page - and Belichick resuscitates them.

The Patriots are a real-life Island of Misfit Toys, to steal a term from one of the holiday season's most popular television specials, but the Pats find places for them.

A lot of coaches tell players they are going to make them relevant again. Belichick practices the gospel he preaches, and a philosophy into which players have bought.

"You come here and they talk about it being a whole team, about everybody doing his part, and your reaction is like, 'Well, I've heard this all before.' But here, it really is the case. They make it work. Everybody has a part and is expected to do his job. They treat you like men. It's a great situation," Crumpler said.

There's little doubt that Warren sill has an ego. But as is the case with most players who come to the Patriots after down periods in their careers, it has been subjugated, sacrificed for the good of the whole. And Warren, who has started in eight of 13 games, seems only too happy to do so.

After a four-year tenure in Cleveland where he didn't play up to his draft status, Warren was traded to Denver in 2005, spent two seasons with the Broncos, and then was dealt to Oakland in 2007. Warren was with the Raiders for three seasons, then was released in the spring.

And then the Patriots called.

Said Warren: "They didn't talk about where I had been or what I had done, or any of that stuff. It was all about what they thought I could do for them."

Warren has helped stabilize a line unit rocked by a season-ending hip injury to standout end Ty Warren. A 4-3 tackle most of his career, Warren principally plays at end now in New England's 3-4 alignment. Because of injuries and matchup maneuvers - normally a nose tackle, Vince Wilfork played mostly at end on Sunday, with second-year pro Ron Brace manning the nose, because the Pats' coaches felt that was the best lineup versus the Chicago offensive line - New England has been forced to mix and match on the line.

But it doesn't seem to matter, because the Pats just keep winning, and that seems to be the most important thing.

Warren is playing on a one-year contract worth $900,000. Time was when he might have balked at that term and that salary. But these days, Warren has a lot more than just dollar-signs in his eyes.

His gaze, instead, is focused on another kind of prize, the Super Bowl.

"Football is fun again," Warren said. "I'm playing with a mission now."
--Len Pasquarelli, The Sports Xchange

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