Rodney Harrison was the pulse of the '03-'04 Patriots

Rodney Harrison was the pulse of the '03-'04 Patriots

There was no wrong answer among the three nominees for the Patriots Hall of Fame. But if I were putting odds on the three candidates – Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison – odds would have been longest on the player who was here for the shortest time. 

And that’s why I don’t drive a nicer car. 

Rodney Harrison won the fan vote over fellow nominees Seymour and Vrabel and will be the next man inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. 

If we’re being completely honest, the fact Seymour is closing in on a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame but is still waiting on Foxboro’s does cause me to wince a little. 

And, since we’re being completely honest, I feel like Vrabel noses out Seymour in a photo finish based on versatility, cradle-to-grave contributions while with the team and being emblematic of that nebulous, indefinable, somewhat hokey concept of “The Patriot Way.”

But there may never be three more equally deserving candidates on the ballot. And with the pick being Harrison, I can quite easily pivot to making his case. 

And his most important contribution was putting the paddles to the chest of the franchise in 2003 when he was signed in the offseason. 

In July and August of 2003 Harrison was the catalyst for reinfusing the team with the vicious, competitive temperament it had in 2001 but which waned in 2002. 

Those training camp practices were watershed moments. The late Alan Greenberg of the Hartford Courant wrote this on August 1, 2003, just a few days after camp opened.

“In these dog days of training camp, when the only people the Patriots can beat up are their teammates, Harrison is hammering the Patriots offense as if he's still playing for the Chargers.

At one of the first scrimmages, Harrison hit Troy Brown, then poked him in the eye. The mild-mannered Brown caught the ball and in a rare fit of pique, threw it at Harrison.

"I've been getting the ball thrown at me every year," Harrison said. "That's all part of it." 

A few days later, Harrison bashed Brown again. Tuesday he hit Kevin Faulk with a head-high takedown. (Matt) Light jawed at Harrison and just as the two grabbed each other by the helmet, Lawyer Milloy jumped in and Tedy Bruschi did a flying leap onto the pile.

"It gets a little frustrating in training camp," Harrison said. "It's hot. You're tired. Everyone basically just wants to get it over with. When I'm on the field, I'm already in a foul mood."

So there are five Patriots Hall of Famers – Harrison, Brown, Faulk, Light and Bruschi –  and one you could make a case for – Milloy – losing their collective s*** because of what Rodney Harrison wrought.  

The tone he set carried over into the regular season. When Milloy was released and Harrison became his successor, the team dipped for a week. But Harrison – who understood perfectly the Darwinian reality of the NFL – never apologized for unseating a beloved player. The back of the secondary was his office now. No conversation needed. 

The 2003 and 2004 seasons were probably the greatest run of consecutive excellence the team had in its reign. 

Harrison’s play, playing style, bravado and personality meshed perfectly with the pieces in place and somehow – even though we all knew already how good he was before he got here – he became an upgrade over the former heart-on-his-sleeve leader of the defense, Milloy. 

He was at the epicenter of a defense that was the reason the Patriots won those rings. The plays he made (picking off Peyton Manning in the end zone in the 2003 AFC Championship, Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004 AFCCG), his constant search for any slight to motivate, his trash talking, borderline hits, using an opponent’s helmet for support as he got to his feet after a tackle, Harrison was the kind of player that made fans happy to pay for their season tickets. 

Maybe that’s why Harrison wins this fan vote despite Seymour being the more dominant and decorated player and Vrabel being one who contributed in more spots for longer. 

His style was identifiable. Around here, great talents with a nose for combat are the most celebrated. Harrison follows in the footsteps of Larry Bird, Terry O’Reilly, Cam Neely and whoever else you want to lob in there. He’s the forerunner of Julian Edelman. He was the People’s Patriot. 

As to the matter of Seymour and Vrabel, they are Patriots Hall of Famers, they just aren’t in yet. 

What gets interesting is the line forming at the door that those two are at the head of. Behind them stands Bill Parcells. Soon, Logan Mankins and Wes Welker become eligible. After them, Vince Wilfork doesn’t just join the line, he probably should go to the head of it. Same goes for Gronk five years hence. What about Adam Vinatieri. Stephen Gostkowski. Ernie Adams. Dante Scarnecchia. 

Then there are the Hightowers, Chungs and McCourtys to consider. Isn’t Hightower this decade’s Vrabel (yes, I know there are differences in durability and versatility; the comp stands)? Scott Chandler. OK, just seeing if you were still here. 

There are enough candidates from 2001 to 2019 to keep the line moving until 2032. 

There will be indignation expressed over candidates that aren’t yet in or those that are. Suggestions for “fixing” the process will be floated. 

Personally, I think this is the best way to do it. For instance, the Panthers have a Hall of Honor that includes PSL owners. The Packers inducted former GM Ted Thompson over the weekend. He is the 162nd individual in the Packers HOF and joins luminaries like Chris Jacke, Ryan Longwell and Ahman Green.  

Rodney Harrison said during that first training camp that he wasn’t here to make anybody like him. Well, he failed at that. 

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Could Patriots ranking among dead money leaders cost team in 2020?

Could Patriots ranking among dead money leaders cost team in 2020?

The New England Patriots have won six Super Bowls over the last 20 years in part by spending wisely.

Is that all about to change?

The Patriots currently have the least amount of cap space of any NFL team at $1.85 million, per Spotrac. Part of the reason for that is the amount of money they're paying to players who won't play for them in 2020 -- otherwise known as "dead money."

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In fact, New England currently owes $24 million in "dead money," which according to Spotrac puts the team in dubious company.

Let's just say the Panthers, Jaguars, Rams and Dolphins aren't expected to be Super Bowl contenders in 2020.

And if the last four seasons are any indication, the Patriots would be bucking a trend just by going 9-7 in their first season of the post-Tom Brady era.

Brady is the primary reason why New England is in this position: He accounts for $13.5 million of that $24 million number, while Antonio Brown is next-closest with $4.5 million in dead money owed.

But such was the contract that Brady signed last August that gave him a potential out in 2020 -- one he took to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rather than take another pay cut to stay in New England.

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The Patriots, who have signed all of their 2020 draft picks, still can create extra cap space by trading or extending offensive guard Joe Thuney, who currently has a $14.7 million cap hit that's second-highest on the team.

New England also could restructure the deals of several other players -- like it did recently with Patrick Chung -- to free up more space.

That dead money isn't going away, though, so Bill Belichick and presumptive starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham have another historic precedent to overcome this season.

What's with Jarrett Stidham's surprisingly strong 2020 NFL MVP odds?

What's with Jarrett Stidham's surprisingly strong 2020 NFL MVP odds?

Christian McCaffrey led the NFL in total scrimmage yards in 2019. Jarrett Stidham attempted three passes that weren't intercepted.

Both players share the same odds to win 2020 NFL MVP.

That's right: The New England Patriots' second-year quarterback, who has yet to start an NFL game after backing up Tom Brady last season, is listed at +5000 to win the NFL MVP award at DraftKings Sportsbook.

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Stidham shares those +5000 odds with eight other players. Here's the list:

Josh Allen, QB, Bills
Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 49ers
Derrick Henry, RB, Titans
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons
Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions

To reiterate: Stidham (who might not even start in Week 1) has the same chance to be named the NFL's best player as the league's rushing title holder (Henry), a former Rookie of the Year (Barkley) and the guy who was supposed to be Brady's heir apparent in New England (Garoppolo).

How is this possible? It's all about expectations.

Many expect the Patriots to nosedive following Brady's departure to Tampa Bay. But if Stidham can guide New England to a winning record or even a playoff berth, he could gain traction as a dark-horse MVP candidate who worked wonders with an offense lacking elite weapons.

Considering Bill Belichick's Patriots went 11-5 with Matt Cassel after Brady got hurt in 2008, that scenario isn't totally far-fetched.

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Of course, there still are 11 players with better MVP odds than Stidham, including Brady, whose +1600 odds rank him behind Dak Prescott (+1400), Russell Wilson (+800), Lamar Jackson (+700) and favorite Patrick Mahomes (+400), per DraftKings Sportsbook.

But it appears there's faint optimism among oddsmakers that "The Stidham Plan" will pay off in a breakout season for the 23-year-old QB.