As soon as Bill Belichick announced that he had traded a fifth-round draft pick to the Redskins for Albert Haynesworth, the comparisons to past Belichick moves started. Back in 2004, Belichick picked up the then-troubled running back Corey Dillon. In 2007, Belichick stunned the football world by trading a fourth-round pick for whom everyone assumed was a washed-up Randy Moss.
It’s been seven years since Belichick swapped a second-round pick for Dillon, and the way Belichick transformed Dillon and Moss shows one thing: Belichick has the ability to take players with supposed attitude problems and good potential and turn them into stars.
In 2004, the Patriots were coming off their second Super Bowl victory. Dillon, who had rushed for 1,000-plus yards in each of his first six seasons with the Bengals, had a more disappointing 2004. In 13 games in ’04, Dillon rushed for just 541 yards and two touchdowns. Intermittently, Dillon found himself in trouble, like in 2000 when he was arrested. But it was Dillon’s attitude that gave him a bad name in football. It certainly didn’t help Dillon’s reputation when he kept telling the Bengals that he wanted to go elsewhere.
Then he came to New England, and the speculations started. It was a common thought that Dillon’s attitude problems would affect the Patriots, an organization normally untouched by those problems. Dillon responded by breaking his previous record for rushing yards in a single season. Through 15 games, Dillon rushed for 1,635 yards. Dillon’s production dropped a little bit after that season, thanks largely to injuries, but Dillon never said anything bad about the Patriots, and he never said that he wanted to leave.
Randy Moss’ story is a little bit different. He was a good player before he found himself in Oakland, but he still performed some very questionable acts in Minnesota. In his second year at the Black Hole, Moss’ statistics started to drop drastically, almost like they had in his last year in Minnesota.
In seven years with the Vikings, Moss put up 1,000-plus receiving yards in six seasons. The only year he didn’t surpass 1,000 yards with the Vikings was in 2004, his last year in Minnesota, when the problems surrounding the wide receiver started. In the playoffs that season, Moss fake-mooned the crowd at Lambeau Field in an excessive touchdown celebration. He later acted like the $10,000 fine meant nothing.
In 2005, Moss went over to Oakland via trade, and in his first season finished with 1,005 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. One season later, however, Moss only caught 42 passes in 13 games for 553 yards and three touchdowns. Then Moss started to complain about the Raiders and the situation in Oakland.
When Belichick stepped in and took Moss from Oakland for a cheap price, the questions started again. It was obvious that Moss’ conduct was detrimental to his previous teams, and Moss’ production had also dropped. The move didn’t make sense, but Belichick proved, once again, that he knew what he was doing. Moss’ numbers jumped up drastically and he finished with 1,493 receiving yards and 23 receiving touchdowns as he helped the Patriots complete their historic season.
The Patriots eventually traded Moss back to the Vikings, not long after Moss expressed his displeasure with the Patriots. But while Moss was a full-time member of the New England squad, he totaled 3,665 receiving yards and 47 touchdowns through three full seasons. That’s not bad from someone whose career was thought to be over by most people.
New England seems to have some kind of strange aura that keeps players on their best behavior. Maybe it’s because of the Patriots’ winning ways, or because Belichick has sent a clear message that he’s not a coach to be messed with. Players with troubled pasts find their character issues suspended in New England, but the poor performances and lack of production seem to come back after they leave.
Since leaving the Patriots, it appears as though Dillon has returned to his old ways. He’s out of the NFL now, but he was arrested twice in less than a month in 2010, once for drunk driving and once for assault. In 2010, Moss’ production seems to have dropped again. He split the season with the Patriots, Titans and Vikings, and only compiled less than 400 yards receiving in total. And he expressed his desire to return to New England.
Haynesworth has his own set of problems, and there’s no way of knowing for sure how he’ll play with the Patriots, but Belichick’s track record shows that the savvy New England coach can handle Haynesworth and transform him into a better teammate and player.