Sportswriters and fans everywhere are taking stock of their team's draft success and failures, as cut down day offers a reality check on recent selections. The Boston Globe's Patriots beat writer Greg Bedard tweeted this afternoon means that the team's release of safety Brandon Meriweather means the Pats entire 2007 draft has been cleared out.
Minutes later, Bedard re-tweeted follower Harlan Geer's observation that of the 41 players the Patriots drafted from 2004 through 2008, only four, nose tackle Vince Wilfork, guard Logan Mankins, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and inside linebacker Jerod Mayo remain. (Geer missed '08 backup WR Matthew Slater, so there are five.)
Five players. That's it. Three quality starters and a kicker. The players in the 2004-2008 window will be entering years four through eight in their careers. They should arguably be the core of New England's or any other NFL club's squad.
And yet, in the seven seasons played since those draft classes flickered out, the Patriots have won seven consecutive divisions, played in two Super Bowls, and won a championship.
The quirky stat sent me to examine the Indianapolis Colts' drafts in that same five-year span. I found six hits, four starters (RB Joseph Addai, S Antoine Bethea, G Mike Pollack, WR Pierre Garcon) and two backups (WR Anthony Gonzalez and TE Jacob Tamme) in Indy's haul. Good players, but no big stars.
Like the Patriots, the Colts performed superbly. They have six division titles, two Super Bowl appearances and a title to their credit the past seven years. Their GM Bill Polian is considered one of the best football men in the business.
This demonstrates, in part, the value of an elite quarterback. Peyton Manning's and Tom Brady's ability to operate their offenses at extreme high levels despite constant churn on their rosters and in their teams' coaching staffs has helped their teams overcome drafting records that might hobble others. It's arguable that Peyton is the Colts OC and has been for some time. Brady is working with his third OC and keeps rolling.
Dallas, by comparison, has twelve picks from that span still on the roster, with seven of them (Demarcus Ware, Marcus Spears, Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer, Doug Free, Felix Jones, Mike Jenkins) starting, while Orlando Scandrick, Jason Hatcher, Martellus Bennett, Tashard Choice and Alan Ball continue to play supporting roles . The Cowboys have seen some success in that span, two division titles and three playoff appearances, but nothing to match those two organizations.
For all the criticism the front office absorbs, and for all the deserved shots the Cowboys 2009 draft is taking right now, what might Dallas have accomplished with a quarterback superior to Tony Romo at the controls? Conversely, what might Romo have accomplished, or not accomplished, with '04 through '08 draft classes like Peyton's and Tom's?
Things could be better, but they could also be a lot worse.