FOXBORO — In the biggest surprise of Patriots practice on Saturday, Randy Moss took the podium after the session to speak with the media. He talked at length about his former teammate Rodney Harrison, who will be inducted into the Patriots Hall Of Fame this Monday (4:30pm, free attendance for the public). Harrison and Moss, and their careers in New England, have a lot in common. Harrison yesterday, and Moss today, spoke about getting a second chance from Bill Belichick when the rest of the league had ‘given up’ on them. They became two of the first Bill Belichick ‘reclamation projects’ that the Patriots head coach has become so well known for.
At the time, it was easy to understand the impact Belichick had on the careers of guys like Harrison and Moss, and vise versa. In the Patriots, the two got a chance to show they could still play at a high level despite a recent history of lower productions and questions about their dedication to the game of football. Meanwhile, the Patriots got talented players, at a discount, who helped them with a number of trips to the Super Bowl.
However, decade plus removed from their Patriots careers, the impact Bill Belichick had on the legacy of Randy Moss, Rodney Harrison, and others continues to grow. In Rodney Harrison’s case, the Patriots extended his career and allowed him to reach the potential he showed early in his career. An All-Pro in 1998 with the then San Diego Chargers, Harrison never again matched that level of play with the Bolts, leading to his release after the 2002 season. 30 years old and carrying a reputation as a ‘dirty player’ Harrison was not in high demand among NFL teams, as he himself told the media on Friday. However, the Patriots gave him a chance. His career would last another six years, and include two more All-Pro nods in 2003 and 2004, when he was one of the elite defensive weapons in the league. The time and opportunities the Patriots gave him allowed him to extend his legacy into one of the best safties of his era.
The Patriots and Bill Belichick had a similar effect on Corey Dillon. Dillon was a diamond in the rough with the Cincinnati Bengals in the late 90s and early 2000s, making the Pro Bowl three times in seven years, while his team won just 34 games in that span (4.8 wins/year). Dillon fell out of favor with the Bengals in 2003 due to injuries and feuding with coaches (even once calling the owner out publicly), and the following offseason the Patriots were able to acquire him for the mere price of a second round pick. Despite being called a ‘question mark’ when the Patriots brought him in, Dillon set career highs in carries, yards, and touchdowns in 2004 during the Pats dynasty-clinching Super Bowl run. He put together two more strong years in New England before retiring, extending the dominant portion of his career and changing the narrative around him from locker room issue to key Super Bowl contributor.
With Randy Moss, the idea is the same but the stakes are raised. No matter what happened, Moss was always going to be considered a great receiver based on what he did early on in his career in Minnesota. However, his final year with the Vikings was the first he failed to reach 1,000 yards. He followed that up with two underwhelming years in Oakland. A dip in production, paired with nagging injuries and comments about his devotion to the game, left many people assuming his best days were behind him. It was that assumption that allowed the Patriots to acquire Moss during the 2007 NFL Draft for the price of just a fourth round selection. The rest, as they say, is history. Moss rebounded in a major way with one of the great wide receiver seasons in NFL history in 2007, and would post 1,000+ yards and 10+ TDs in each of his three full seasons in New England. What did those three years mean to Moss’ overall legacy? Like was mentioned above, had he wound down his career quietly in Oakland or elsewhere, he still would have been considered one of the great NFL pass catchers due to his early career with the Vikings. However, in the years since his retirement his name has crept into the conversation of ‘Greatest WR Of All Time’, with most people listing him and Jerry Rice the consensus top two in that discussion. Does that happen without Bill Belichick, 2007, and his Patriots career? Probably not.
We are even starting to see this effect with players who have been with the Patriots more recently. Like Randy Moss, Darrelle Revis didn’t need the Patriots to be considered an elite players at his position for his era. Three All-Pro seasons with the Jets took care of that. However, following a torn ACL and good-not-great season in Tampa Bay, it looked like Revis’ best football was in the past. With his recent resume not as strong as his past, Revis signed a 1-year, $12 million dollar ‘prove it’ deal with the Patriots in 2014. Revis went on to earn his fourth and final All-Pro nod, and his only Super Bowl ring while putting together perhaps the best single season of any corner in the decade. That performance has catapulted him into some people’s conversations involving the best cornerback of all time.
Keeping this historical context in mind, what other players might have their legacy boosted by Bill Belichick’s/the Patriots’ touch? Perhaps running back LeGarrette Blount, who won a pair of Super Bowls in two stints in New England. Before coming to New England, Blount was best known as ‘the guy who punched a Boise State player in the face’. After being acquired on the cheap by Bill Belichick, Blount flourished in the Patriots offense, and starred in the playoffs on the way to the team’s Super Bowl XLIX win. Blount did enough in his lone season in Foxboro to earn a two year contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers the next spring. However, after 11 games he was back in a Patriots uniform, helping the team to another ring. His second go around with the Pats lasted 2 more years, which included a breakout 2016 season that saw him rush for a career high 1,161 yards and a league leading 18 TDs. Will Blount go down as an all-time great running back? That seems like a no. But because of the Patriots giving him a second chance in the NFL, he built a reputation as a top power back, great teammate and leader, and Super Bowl champion, as opposed to ‘the guy who threw a punch after a college game’.
Ultimately, time will tell where the legacies of these and other former Patriots stand. But it is clear even at a quick glance that being a ‘Belichick Reclamation Project’ does not just have the short term benefit of extending one’s NFL career. The lasting implications of getting a second chance from the Patriots reach far beyond retirement. The odds seem good Rodney Harrison will touch on this topic at his induction speech on Monday, and CLNS will have it covered. Be sure to be following us on Twitter @PatriotsCLNS and on the CLNS Media YouTube page.