Perhaps the biggest mistake the Patriots made last offseason was their decision to include linebacker Mike Vrabel in the trade that sent quarterback Matt Cassel to the Kansas City Chiefs. Soon, they could have the opportunity to make amends.
Vrabel, 34, spent eight seasons in New England after coming over from the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2001. His best effort came in 2007, when Vrabel notched 12 1/2 sacks and forced five fumbles on defense, and also caught two touchdown passes out of the goal-line formation on offense.
The hallmarks of Vrabel?s tenure with the Patriots, though, were his consistency and leadership. The former Ohio State Buckeye missed just three total games due to injury (in 2003), enabling the rest of the defense to rely upon him for stability, both on the field and off. Along with safety Rodney Harrison and fellow linebacker Tedy Bruschi, Vrabel set the tone for his younger teammates in rushing the passer, stopping the run and providing leadership in the locker room.
Vrabel?s departure set off a domino effect that proved quite costly in 2009. It thrust Adalius Thomas into a larger role that he was clearly not ready to handle. It put added pressure on Jerod Mayo, who has all the tools to be a star but continued to be plagued by injuries. And that, in turn, led to a heavy dose of undrafted free agent Gary Guyton and declining veteran Junior Seau. In other words, Vrabel?s absence may have been the key factor behind the linebackers??C? grade for the past season.
Meanwhile, Vrabel amassed 53 tackles and two sacks in 14 games for the mediocre Chiefs, showing that he can still be an effective component of a linebacker rotation. Vrabel has said that he would eventually like to transition into a coaching role for his alma mater, Ohio State, but his agent, Neil Cornrich, told the Boston Globe that his client is not ready to hang up his cleats yet.
"He feels he has a number of productive seasons left, he loves playing in the NFL, he loves the game," Cornrich told the Globe. "He'll probably continue with it in another capacity after he's done playing, but he wants to continue as a player, as long as he can help a team win games."
Vrabel is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, so he?ll be available on the open market come March 5, and Cornrich indicated that a reunion with Bill Belichick is a possibility.
?Clearly, he had nothing but spectacular experiences and spectacular results as a Patriot,? Cornrich said. ?He has only the best of feelings for what he was able to accomplish with the team.?
Considering the Patriots? struggles without Vrabel last season, it?s a reunion worth considering.