At last year’s trade deadline, plenty of people were bummed out that the Patriots acquired Mohamed Sanu and not Emmanuel Sanders.
I was – quite decidedly – not one of them. Couldn’t have been happier, in fact. Sanu was just what the doctor ordered for the Patriots ailing offense.
Big. Glue-handed. Tough. Liked contact. Route TECHNICIAN!! He came out and caught 10 balls on 14 targets in his second game as a Patriot against the Ravens. I nodded. Knew it all along.
But that game was the high point. Sanu suffered a badly-twisted ankle on a punt return – he’d returned a grand total of one punt in seven seasons prior to arriving in New England – and that mucked up the rest of his season.
Mixed in with the injury he tried to play through were instances of drops, missed blocks (there was an ugly one against the Bills on a fourth-down sweep to N’Keal Harry) and blown assignments.
Remember that ugly pick-6 Tom Brady threw against Miami in the regular season finale? It was because both Sanu and Jakobi Meyers were lined up in the wrong spots on the left side. Brady didn’t think they’d run the correct routes, so he threw to Julian Edelman on the right. Edelman stood dumbfounded. Pick. Touchdown. Loss. First-round bye gone. Derrick Henry. Tompa Bay. And that’s the rest of that story.
Over the summer, there were obligatory reports of Sanu carrying large chips on his shoulder. He was better. Stronger. Faster.
But when training camp began, the mini-media horde sat socially distanced in the bleachers and shared muffled agreement that, “Sanurfff looksssfff really slowfff.”
Maybe it was the big chips he was carrying.
Know this: When a lack of foot-speed during drills and lack of separation on routes is obvious enough for a pack of idiot media to notice, the team is going to notice as well.
And it did, eyesight no doubt drawn not just by Sanu’s glacial movements but also his 2020 salary of $6.5 million. By contrast, Julian Edelman’s making $3.3 million this year.
The truth is, even if Sanu was down to make the minimum he still may have been expendable. He was just that unremarkable. The team had more than $30 million in cap space and spent a second-round pick on Sanu. They could have afforded him if he had any upside. Instead, they cut their losses and after eight games and 26 catches he is an ex-Patriot.
Sanu now becomes perhaps the most expensive chapter in the toaster-sized book entitled, Patriots Wideout Fails. And Sanu’s rapid descent from productive to liability came at precisely the wrong time for the Patriots.
They are painfully slow at the skill positions, a condition I wrote about earlier this offseason. And they are, bizarrely, slow by choice.
When Bill Belichick finally decided to use a first-round pick on a wideout last year, he took the slowest of the best players at that spot, N’Keal Harry.
When he chose between Sanu and Emmanuel Sanders, he chose the slower of the two.
When the draft rolled around this past April and fast, productive college wideouts were once again stacked like cordwood on the board, the Patriots passed on all of them. Through all seven rounds.
They did, however, take a couple of seemingly capable tight ends who ran 4.73 (Devin Asiasi) and 4.71 (Dalton Keene) at the NFL Combine.
Now, the receiving options Cam Newton will choose from are – based on my projections – Edelman, Harry, Gunner Olszewski, Damiere Byrd and either Jakobi Meyers or Devin Ross. (Toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe on the last two.)
Tack on the promising but not exceptionally fast tight ends, the ever-reliable but not exceptionally fast James White and the versatile and quick but not exceptionally fast Rex Burkhead.
You have an offense that will be … challenged.
It’s not like this happened overnight. Since 2012, the Patriots have cycled through Antonio Brown, Josh Gordon, Cordarelle Patterson, Michael Floyd, Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Kenny Britt, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins, Keshawn Martin, Brandin Cooks, Brandon Lloyd, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, Deion Branch 2.0 and Sanu.
One of those players – ONE – was close to being an unqualified success. That would be Amendola.
Some guys were pretty good for a very short time – all the Brandons, for instance.
Others were mostly fine and helped get the Patriots where they were going - Hogan, Dorsett and Patterson.
And God bless the overachieving souls of Martin and Thompkins and pour one out for Mal Mitchell, his NFL career gone too soon.
The rest of the guys the Patriots either took panicked fliers on or misjudged.
And it doesn’t all come back to Mean Tom Brady not wanting to throw to guys not named Gronk, Wes or Jules.
The Patriots gritty, gutty, wide receiver group is the way it is because the Patriots have chosen poorly. For. Years.
It’s a blind spot, an Achilles Heel, a tiny pebble of kryptonite in Bill Belichick’s shoe this struggle to staff the wide receiver position. Meanwhile, he could walk into a bar, grab the first five burly guys he sees and turn them into NFL linemen. Same with corners and defensive tackles. But wideouts? I mean, he tried to talk Thomas Dimitroff out of Julio Jones by saying Jonathan Baldwin was a better player.
Belichick is so accomplished and has so often proven doubters wrong, there’s a hesitancy to point out just how underwhelming their offensive personnel has become.
But failing to mention the hunk of lettuce stuck in your buddy’s teeth doesn’t make it any less distracting.
Cam Newton is about to start his reboot season with the most underwhelming collection of wide receivers in the league. The fact they got better by releasing a guy they spent a second-round pick on last Halloween … that’s a hunk of lettuce you just can’t ignore.