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Just over two years ago, the Patriots made a shocking trade with the Oakland Raiders that sent the five-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Richard Seymour to the Raiders for a first round draft pick. In the past, we had seen a number of great players leave because they wanted to be paid more than the Patriots were willing to offer. But the difference with this trade is that Seymour was still under contract with New England and was still performing and leading the Patriot defense at an extremely high level. Although it is still to early to say who got the better end of the trade, as of now, it appears Oakland did.
Richard Seymour came to New England in 2001 as the sixth overall pick. Many people questioned the use of a pick that high on a defensive tackle wondering how much of an impact Seymour would make. But, Seymour proved his naysayers wrong, starting 10 games his rookie year and recording 3.5 sacks during the regular season and another one in the Super Bowl victory over St. Louis. He only got better from there, following his rookie season with his first of five straight Pro Bowls as well as his first of five straight All-Pro selections. While this streak was broken after he missed half of the 2007 season due to injury, Seymour followed it up with one of his best seasons in ’08, recording 8 sacks and leading the Pats with 17 quarterback hits.
Richard Seymour’s best asset to the Patriots was his ability to play at an extremely high level in both the 4-3 and the 3-4 defenses. Upon his arrival, there was a lot of speculation on whether or not Albert Haynesworth could play in a 3-4 defense, which he seemed unable or unwilling to do in Washington. No matter what the scheme was, Richard Seymour commanded double teams, and still put consistent pressure on the quarterback.
On September 6th 2009, just eight days before the start of the regular season, Seymour was traded to Oakland for a 2011 first round pick. The trade shocked Seymour, as well as most Patriots fans, not just because he would be leaving the only team he’d ever played for, but because he was going from one of the best teams in the league to one of the worst. Though he initially refused to report to the Raiders, Seymour arrived on September 12th and two days later registered two sacks in the Raiders’ season opener against San Diego. After another disappointing 5-11 season, the Raiders returned to .500 for the first time in seven years with an 8-8 season in 2010. Seymour’s 5.5 sacks last year earned him his first Pro Bowl since 2006. This year, the Raiders seem to have the potential of surpassing last year’s effort, and Seymour already has 2.5 sacks through three games.
Although he was initially unhappy about joining a losing team, Richard Seymour has since embraced his role on the team. Although he has played great on the field since coming to Oakland, he has made even more of an impact in the locker room. No one on the Raiders except the punter and kicker were on the team in 2002 when they lost the Super Bowl. Before Seymour, there was no player on Oakland that had played on a Super Bowl-winning team, let alone played a major role in that team’s victory. So when Seymour said, while wearing his three Super Bowl rings, “I’ve won these rings, but the group that I’m standing in front of today is more talented than any of those groups that I won these rings with,” you know his teammates listened.
So far the Seymour trade has benefitted the Raiders more than it has the Patriots. It remains to be seen whether Nate Solder, player the Pats drafted with the Raiders’ pick, will develop into a Pro Bowl player. But so far, the Patriots have not been able to replace the production Seymour provided on the defensive line. In each of the two years they have been without Seymour, they lost in the first game of the playoffs, giving up 33 and 28 points. It’s not to say Seymour would have completely changed the outcome of these games, but his ability both to rush the passer and warrant double teams would definitely have helped. On the other side, the Raiders got a great player, voted to the NFL’s “2000′s All-Decade team,” whose impact on the field is only surpassed by his leadership off it.
Two years ago, the Patriots and Raiders were teams heading in completely different directions, and now, through Week 3, they are each 2-1 and have lost close games to Buffalo. While Seymour can’t be the only reason for this newfound parity, he definitely is one of the biggest reasons for it.