Ezekiel Elliott The Latest Of Belichick's Projects

By Brett Walker

Late on Monday night UK time, news broke that the Patriots have signed running back Ezekiel Elliott to a one-year deal worth $6million.

And thus continues Bill Belichick’s tradition of scooping up other team’s offensive cast-offs and inserting them into the Patriots’ schemes – previously, we’ve seen the likes of Randy Moss, Chad Ochocinco, Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown come to New England in the hope of rejuvenating their careers.

While Elliott is undoubtedly a talented running back who is capable of making a difference (and I personally think it’s absurd running backs are struggling to get paid by NFL teams currently), history is not on the Patriots’ side when it comes to taking the NFL’s ‘broken toys’, shall we say, with a history of legal issues and making them work again as productive offensive weapons.

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You may have read the above and disagreed, as, famously, the signing of Randy Moss worked out very well for the Patriots; while he never won a Super Bowl with the Pats, he was part of the team’s 16-0 season in 2007, during which he also grabbed the NFL single-season touchdown reception record, catching 23 TDs.

Due to these achievements, he also won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award and was a First Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection in 2007. A good argument could also be made that Moss’s other achievements – induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and selection in both the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team and the NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team, among others – is due, in part, to his successes during his time at the Patriots, where he was also the NFL’s receiving touchdowns leader in 2009.

However, it cannot be said that subsequent ‘broken toys’ the Patriots have brought in can be considered a success in any way.

For example, while Chad Ochocinco Johnson played in a Super Bowl for the Patriots, as Randy Moss also did, Ochocinco experienced the least productive season of his career while he was with the Patriots, catching 15 passes for 276 yards and one touchdown, which were all career lows. He was then released in June 2012 after less than a year with the team.

Similarly, Josh Gordon was traded to the Patriots in September 2018 with a reputation as both a fantastic receiver and someone who had substance abuse issues. Both of these traits were on full display during his time with the Patriots; in the three months (September to December 2018) that Gordon was with the team during the 2018 season, Gordon had 40 receptions for 720 yards and three touchdowns before announcing that he was stepping away from football to focus on his mental health. It then emerged that Gordon was facing an indefinite ban for violating the terms of his conditional reinstatement under the NFL drug policy.

After being conditionally reinstated by the NFL ahead of the 2019 season, Gordon played in a further six games for the Pats, making 20 receptions for 286 yards and one touchdown, before being waived by the team from the injured reserve list. While he did put up good numbers for the team during his time in New England and he did receive a Super Bowl ring from the team following the Pats’ victory in Super Bowl LIII, Gordon’s substance abuse issues meant he played no part in that game and then was gone from the team again 13 months after first joining before being suspended indefinitely two months later for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs and substance abuse again.

Gordon clearly was capable of being productive within the Patriots’ offensive schemes though, and so, you have to wonder what could have been if it wasn’t for those issues. On this, it would also be good to know just how much the Patriots organisation did to help him tackle his issues with drug addiction too, and if they knew he was still dealing with addiction issues at the time of his second release, or was he simply viewed as someone that could help them on the field and the substance abuse was for him to deal with?

Finally, Antonio Brown played one game for the Patriots after signing for the team in 2019. I remember it vividly; he caught a Tom Brady TD pass against the Dolphins and was then cut from the team the next day. While he was/is undoubtedly a very talented player, the question has to be asked why the Patriots even signed him at all – Brown was facing serious sexual assault allegations at the time of his signing, and he was only cut after further allegations came to light, along with allegedly sending intimidating text messages to one of his accusers after he was signed by the Pats.

Therefore, the question also has to be asked if the Patriots should be signing Elliott. This is someone who was suspended by the league for six games in 2017 following multiple domestic violence allegations. Then, rather than being a man about it and accepting the suspension, he instead got the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) to seek an injunction from a judge putting the suspension on hold indefinitely after a league-appointed arbiter ignored his appeal and upheld the suspension. If Elliott had been able to show that the allegations against him were false, then fair enough, but he didn’t, and, for me, the fact that he refused to accept the consequences of his actions speaks to his character (or lack thereof).

Talent v Character

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Ultimately, this speaks to teams in the NFL seemingly prioritising talent over character too. All personal transgressions will apparently be overlooked as long as you can produce on the field. In my opinion at least, that’s a bad stance to take given that these guys are high-profile athletes with both national and increasingly international exposure that are role models for young men and women.

Don’t get me wrong; Should a person be allowed to play after pretending to moon opposition fans or voicing his displeasure about the team he’s playing for? 100%. It would be ridiculous to suggest otherwise. Should a man get a second chance after being suspended for substance abuse issues? Absolutely, and he should also get the full support of both the league and his team given that drug addiction is a disease.

There is a fundamental difference between Randy Moss and Josh Gordon’s actions, and the things Antonio Brown and Ezekiel Elliott were accused of though. While it should be noted that no criminal charges were ever brought against Elliott, what message does it send to young men and boys when someone with multiple domestic violence accusations against him had the NFLPA fighting multiple appeals on his behalf to prevent him from suffering any consequences? More importantly, what message does it send to our young women and girls when someone is facing serious sexual assault allegations, including rape, only escaped investigation and possible prosecution because the accusation fell outside the statute of limitations, and he is still signed by the most successful team in the history of the NFL?

For now, let’s see how Zeke does for the Patriots. I just sincerely hope the Patriots next move isn’t to trade for Deshaun Watson.

Brett Walker

NFL Analyst

Having discovered the NFL in the late 90s, Brett was a Patriots fan before he’d even heard of Belichick and Brady. Based in Greater Manchester, he also writes about MLB and the NBA. Follow Brett on Twitter @BrettChatsSports.