- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

The New England Patriots surprisingly didn’t win a third straight Super Bowl this year, but the decade’s most dominant team still managed to rule the NFL news since the start of last season.

The hot topics of Super Bowl week were whether the Patriots could become the first team in NFL history to finish 19-0 and whether former Pats videographer Matt Walsh possessed evidence that coach Bill Belichick sent him to spy on the St. Louis Rams before the 2002 title game.

When free agency arrived as February turned into March, the two biggest names ready to hit the market were both Patriots, superstar receiver Randy Moss and ace cornerback Asante Samuel. Moss re-signed, but Samuel left for the Philadelphia Eagles and a bigger paycheck.

Spygate persisted throughout March. The scandal was a major item during NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s opening press conference at league meetings in Palm Beach, Fla. Patriots owner Bob Kraft was surrounded that afternoon by reporters asking about Walsh’s allegations, and Belichick was mobbed when he addressed the matter for the first time the next morning.

The Patriots again are the center of attention as the league prepares for this weekend’s draft, and not only because Walsh finally agreed to meet with Goodell on May 13.

Most draftniks agree on the six players who will be taken with the top six picks.

Guess who picks seventh? That’s right, the Patriots.

Belichick can’t be happy that there are six sure bets in the draft — Jake Long, Chris Long, Glenn Dorsey, Darren McFadden, Vernon Gholston and Matt Ryan — while he’s sitting at No. 7.

It’s surely even more galling to Belichick that the New York Jets sit just ahead of him. The Jets, of course, are coached by traitorous (in Coach Hoodie’s eyes) ex-assistant Eric Mangini, whose team turned the Pats in for stealing signals in the 2007 opener and cost New England the second of its two first-rounders this year.

Some suggest Belichick would try to move ahead of the Jets just to take the player he believes they covet. It’s hard to see such a hard-nosed man making such an irrational move. The notion does, however, gain some currency considering that since Belichick’s arrival in 2000 New England has stood pat in both the first and second rounds only once. That was in 2005, after the Patriots had become just the second team in the salary cap era to win consecutive Super Bowls.

“We’ve got a handful of guys that we’re considering, and maybe they’ll be there,” Belichick said. “Maybe one of them will be there. That might affect our strategy. We can’t go too far down from seven and we’re not going to go [up] from [their second pick] 62 to 15.”

The good news for Belichick is that his team’s biggest needs are at cornerback (replacing Samuel and fellow free agent departee Randall Gay) and linebacker (where all four of last year’s starters will be at least 31 this year). All the prospects at those positions should still be there at No. 7.

But always expect the unexpected from Belichick, who shrewdly acquired Moss for a mere fourth-rounder a year ago this weekend and watched the move pay off in a record-setting comeback season.

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