Wilfork's road to New England included a Houston pass


Wilfork's road to New England included a Houston pass

Saturday could very well be the last game of Vince Wilfork’s prolific career. He’ll play it for the Texans against the Patriots.

Of course, he’ll always be associated with the latter far more than with the former. But what if the Texans drafted him when they could (and should) have?

This isn’t an “every team failed by not drafting Tom Brady in the first round” thing; each draft has its diamonds in the rough. Vince Wilfork wasn’t a diamond in the rough, though. He was a top prospect in the 2004 draft, ranked 11th by ESPN’s Scouts, Inc. and 13th on Mel Kiper Jr.’s big board. The Texans needed help on the defensive line, played a 3-4 and had the 10th overall pick. 

They would end up going defensive tackle in the first round a year later (Travis Johnson), but their passing on Wilfork in 2004 created a slide that did wonders for the defending champion Patriots, who should also remain grateful to the Ravens for trading them what ended up being the 21st pick in that draft.

Holding a top-10 pick, as Houston did, means being able to go in a number of different directions and come away with what could be a stud. If the Texans wanted to soften the annual beating David Carr took, they could have taken Shawn Andrews or Vernon Carey. If they wanted to pull the plug on Carr altogether after two seasons, they could have opted for Ben Roethlisberger.  

That Texans team was dreadful against the pass (31st in passing yards allowed), so Charlie Casserly went cornerback and took Dunta Robinson out of South Carolina. 

Had the Texans gone D-tackle, they’d have had their choice of Wilfork and Oklahoma’s Tommie Harris. By taking neither, that choice was passed on to the D-tackle-needy Bears, who opted for Harris. That pick was nothing to sneeze at, as Harris was a three-time Pro Bowler for Chicago. 

Once the Bears took Harris, the possibility of Wilfork falling to a team -- the Patriots -- that had just lost Ted Washington in free agency was in play. Six teams needed to turn their attention elsewhere and it would be a reality. 

That draft was considered to be loaded at receiver, so it stood to reason that at least one of those teams would take one. The Buccaneers did, taking Michael Clayton 15th overall and making him one of what remains an NFL-record seven receivers chosen in the first round. 

With top-rated guard Shawn Andrew on the board, the Eagles traded up from No. 28 to 16 to grab him. The Broncos, who had previously traded Deltha O’Neal to Cincinnati to move from No. 24 to 17, went outside linebacker with D.J. Williams. 

Wilfork wasn’t the only guy starting to slide, and that helped the Pats’ chances of getting him. The Saints got good value with Will Smith at No. 18, at which point the Vikings and Dolphins flipped the No. 19 and 20 picks. The Dolphins took Carey, and given that the Vikings had selected Kevin Williams 19th overall a year earlier and also had Chris Hovan, they didn’t seem a landing spot for Wilfork. They weren’t, as Minnesota took highly regarded defensive end Kenechi Udeze. 

Had the Patriots not already shipped a second-round pick to Cincinnati for Corey Dillon that offseason, perhaps they might have had a decision to make with Steven Jackson having also slid. Taking Wilfork was a no-brainer, however, and his selection played a major factor in them getting to four Super Bowls and winning two. Wilfork was a five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro (first team once, second team three times). 

Robinson had a fine six seasons for the Texans before money ruined the relationship and he fled for Atlanta in free agency. The Texans obviously ended up getting Wilfork in the 2014 offseason, but it’s interesting to wonder what the trickle-down effect for both franchises would have been had they taken him in ’04.

Patriots' Gillette Stadium to host 20 percent of fans in best-case scenario

Patriots' Gillette Stadium to host 20 percent of fans in best-case scenario

Cam Newton could make his New England Patriots debut in front of 13,175 fans.

And that's the best-case scenario.

The Patriots announced Tuesday they expect Gillette Stadium to operate at 20 percent capacity for 2020 home games. That's if fans are allowed to attend games at all, which would need approval from state and local governments.

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If fans attend games, they'll be required to wear face coverings "at all times" inside the stadium and stay at least six feet from other parties, per the team.

To aid in physical distancing, the Patriots will distribute tickets in blocks of 10 seats or less and close off the eight rows closest to the field. The team also announced earlier this month that all ticketing will be digital and that parking at the stadium will be free.

Again, this all assumes fans will even be allowed at NFL stadiums -- and that the 2020 season will start on time -- as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the United States.

By announcing an 80 percent reduction in crowd size, though, the Patriots join several teams in at least acknowledging this season will look very different from years past, even under the best-case scenario.

Why Scott Zolak sees Jarrett Stidham, not Cam Newton, as Patriots' starter

Why Scott Zolak sees Jarrett Stidham, not Cam Newton, as Patriots' starter

The New England Patriots are saying all the right things. Stephon Gilmore recently said he's excited for Cam Newton to "compete for a starting job" at quarterback.

But we know this isn't a competition, right? There's no chance second-year QB Jarrett Stidham starts over a three-time Pro Bowler and former NFL MVP, right?

Scott Zolak believes otherwise. In fact, the former Patriots quarterback said Monday on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Zolak & Bertrand" he envisions Stidham, not Newton, as New England's Week 1 starter based on conversations he's had with Patriots players and those close to the team.

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"I believe Stidham will be starting QB from the people I talk to and people that I trust: the players, people tied to the team, team captains," Zolak said, as seen in the video above. "The way they speak of Jarrett Stidham and the work he has put in."

Zolak also related that Stidham has been working out regularly but simply has been less public about it than Newton, who has posted several videos of his workouts to Instagram since joining New England.

"A lot of people thought Stidham was on a two-week vacation on a wedding tour down in Texas," Zolak said. "He did go to a wedding and spent time with family -- and he worked out every day with pro-caliber receivers. That's what I was told."

Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: Did Pats just become Cam Newton's team? | Listen and subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Physical conditioning aside, Zolak believes Newton faces an immense uphill battle in learning the Patriots' offense during an unprecedented offseason in which players and coaches haven't been able to meet in person. In that sense, Zolak thinks Stidham has the upper hand after a year working under head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

"I just don’t know if Cam Newton is gonna do this in 35 days and be ready to go unless some completely different offense that's going to run at 40% efficiency," Zolak said.

Of course, the Patriots signed Newton for a reason, and our Tom E. Curran recently reported New England is confident the 31-year-old QB will master the playbook. Curran has also indicated Newton is committed to the Patriots and wouldn't bail on the team if he wasn't named the starter out of the gate.

At the very least, though, it sounds like the starting QB job won't be handed to Newton. He'll have to earn it.