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Few of Bill Belichick’s 2011 off-season acquisitions have worked out. Chad Ochocinco has barely contributed. Albert Haynesworth is gone. The Patriots rotating cast of defensive backs has quite possibly been replaced by cardboard cutouts.
The same can’t be said of Andre Carter, who on Wednesday was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. The award follows Carter’s franchise-tieing four sacks against Mark Sanchez and the Jets on Sunday. Overall this season, the Patriots’ pass-rush has been pretty mediocre; it’s currently ranked 20th in the NFL with 20 sacks. They sacked Sanchez five times Sunday, but that game’s total was a full third of the Patriots’ total over the previous nine games.
Though the Patriots have an above average run defense, most opponents have responded by just giving up the run, happy to just pick apart the Patriots’ awful secondary instead. After all, how much pressure will they really have to face?
The lack of pass-rush cannot be blamed on Carter, who has been as much of a disruptive force in the backfield as he can be. His 8.5 sacks tie him for fifth in the NFL. While Mark Anderson has helped out with 5.5, Carter is far and away the best pass-rusher on the team.
Carter is exactly the kind of experienced but unsuccessful player Belichick loves to work with. In his first 10 years – split evenly between the 49ers and then the Redskins – Carter’s teams went a combined 67-93. He’s never played in a conference championship or Super Bowl.
At 32, Carter knows his time in the NFL will come to an end sooner rather than later. Carter’s chances to win a championship dwindle more with each passing year. Carter correctly saw the Patriots as a playoff-caliber team, so he took a pay cut (just $1.75 million for one year with a $500,000 signing bonus and up to $500,000 in incentives) to play for them.
How many castoffs have come through Foxborough with exactly that same mentality? Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Corey Dillon, Mike Vrabel – all were considered leftovers who Belichick turned into superstars.
Though Carter will probably never do enough to earn the same caliber of fan-adoration that players like Bruschi have, he can still flourish in the same system that worked so well for so many others.
In many ways, Belichick is the opposite of Theo Epstein.
Belichick has never enjoyed developing young talent as much as he has taking no-name free agents and turning them into major contributors. Though both execs have struggled with evaluating big-name free agents, Belichick has always preferred the experience and willingness of older players to the raw skills and exuberance of young players. When Belichick can find a veteran with no history of off-the-field issues, it’s like icing on the cake.
Carter is all of those things: experienced, hungry enough for a championship to follow orders, and completely devoid of behavioral or disciplinary issues. That Belichick went after Carter makes perfect sense.
And so far, the move has worked out perfectly.