I’m not sure whether Hermey the Elf was the first person to sing, “You can’t fire me, I quit!” but the wannabe dentist’s proclamation has stood the test of time and many occupations.
On Tuesday, N’Keal Harry took the Hermey route. With evidence mounting that the Patriots 2019 first-round pick will be in a fight to even make the Patriots roster this season, his agent, Jamal Tooson, released a statement saying Harry wants to be traded before training camp.
“Following numerous conversations with the Patriots, I believe it’s time for a fresh start and best for both parties if N’Keal moves on before the start of training camp. That is why I have informed the Patriots today that I am formally requesting a trade on behalf of my client.”
Even if the request had been informally requested it wouldn’t be any less bemusing.
The Patriots have been trying to trade Harry. Their offseason moves to add receivers like Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne and the emergence of Jakobi Meyers were all clear signals that Harry was just about out of rope. Nobody is going to ante up anything better than a conditional sixth or seventh-round pick for Harry though because he’s done next to nothing in his first two seasons here.
Why? Well, it has nothing to do with the Patriots not wanting Harry to succeed although Tooson insinuated in his statement that something’s happened that’s caused Harry to go from “a dominant downfield threat who was virtually unstoppable at the point of attack in college."
It’s had everything to do with Harry being unable to consistently respond to the demands of playing for the Patriots.
We wrote last August about living with the ups and downs of the N’Keal Harry Experience.
He’s up, he’s down, he’s in, he’s out, he’s making acrobatic catches, he’s clanging easy ones, he’s manhandling defenders, and Mossing corners, he’s on a knee calling for a trainer … NO WAIT! — he’s back out making a diving catch no other wideout on the Patriots roster could get to.
Put on your seatbelt, button your chinstrap and prepare yourself for the wild ride that is the N’Keal Harry Experience.
The 2019 first-round wideout has had an eventful start to his second training camp.
He answered the bell on the first two days of practice last week, catching pretty much everything thrown his way, looking capable and comfortable. And then after Tuesday, he was gone. When he re-emerged for Sunday’s practice, he wasn’t the best version of N’Keal.
He had drops. He looked sluggish. He wasn’t ready to go for a practice-ending drill.
Monday? He was a beast.
The season began and he lost a fumble and was on the receiving end of this indignity in Week 1. He had his best game as a pro in Week 2 against the Seahawks then, gradually, fell into disuse. How much was attributable to Harry, how much was attributable to the scattershot accuracy of Cam Newton, how much was attributable to Harry not carving a role while Meyers did? Impossible to say definitively.
But the rigors of trying to play here were obvious to even Newton who unhelpfully nicknamed Harry “Doughboy.”
“I do think, Doughboy I call him, N’Keal Harry, he was battered,” Newton said on the I AM ATHLETE podcast in February. "You know, there’s a real thing when they say the New England Way, The Patriot Way."
Tuesday's request was an attempt to save face after an offseason of speculation that Harry's time in New England is almost up. "N'Keal's a goner and here's why ..." is bad for the brand. So might as well try to change the narrrrrraaaattttivvvveeee as they say.
The Patriots selected Harry with 32nd pick in the 2019 draft. With Rob Gronkowski gone, a big, physical outside receiver who could body and bully defenders seemed like a smart addition.
And in his first camp with the team, Harry started out impressively. But he got hurt in the first quarter of the first preseason game with a high ankle sprain. He missed the rest of preseason. He was put on IR and missed the first eight games. After that, the team kept him inactive for one more game before finally unveiling him in Week 11. It was either the high-ankle sprain to end all high-ankle sprains or the Patriots were sensing Harry was a bit overmatched.
That he really was overmatched came clear when he got outphysicaled by Bradley Roby during a Sunday Night Football matchup in Houston. That play landed him on Tom Brady’s poop list.
Brady’s being mean to Harry was frequently fingered as a reason for the wideout going off-track. Maybe. But this cataloging of reasons – Mean Tom, training camp ankle sprain, lack of a second-year offseason, Newton’s inaccuracy, a second-year concussion – is an exercise in avoidance of the simple fact that Harry just hasn’t been any good mostly because of Harry.
The Patriots missed on their assessment of how well his game would translate from college to the NFL and/or how well he’d take to their program.
Unlocking the secret to finding players who prepare, practice and play they way he wants them to is Bill Belichick’s constant quest.
A 2016 ESPN story in which Belichick reportedly said that discerning how committed a player will be is the most difficult trait to predict underscores that. The team’s reliance on Jack Easterby as an employee they hoped could tap into the intangibles and bring out the best in players was more evidence.
In the end, you just have to put your chips on a name and cross your fingers. That the Patriots put their chips on Harry and not D.K. Metcalf, Deebo Samuel, Terry McLaurin or A.J. Brown in the year when Belichick FINALLY used a first-rounder on a wideout is … lamentable.
But there were a lot of lamentable draft decisions in the latter half of the ‘10s and the Patriots “downturn” in 2020 is already on its way to being a bad memory.
The train keeps rolling. When people want to get off, sometimes you just let them and don’t think too long about it.