2013 Off Season Complain-a-thon Part 4: Moving On From Jermaine Cunningham

Please no more… Jermaine Cunningham

I’m not bent on bashing 3rd year DE/OLB Jermaine Cunningham. I’m a fan of his, and I’ve always seen his potential. But realistically speaking, Cunningham remains the lone bumout pick from an almost flawlessly executed 2010 draft. I’ve been saying this for the last two years and maybe someone will eventually listen to me; Cunningham was meant to be a 3-4 outside backer.

I know BB insists that different fronts are “just a matter of semantics.” It is, but in some ways it isn’t and this is specifically relevant at the defensive end/outside linebacker split. We could talk about how the 4-3 DE position can put a DE on an island with an offensive tackle instead of getting help from a 5-tech DE in a 3-4. It’s a lot easier to point out the long list of recent veterans who excelled in one front and failed in another: Aaron Kampman, Dwight Freeney, Andre Carter, Derek Burgess, Shawne Merriman to name some.

I’m looking at this strictly from having watched Cunningham play in 2 different defensive fronts and seeing the results. He’s just not effective with his hands on the ground. The plan of shifting him to the interior in passing situations was doomed from the start. He’s a lank 255-260 lb pass rusher who gets lost among interior lineman, and his spin move isn’t fooling anyone. The coolest thing he’s done in 3 years as a Patriot was injure Michael Vick in a preseason game.

Not that THAT won’t ever not be cool…

I’m not here to call the guy a bum, or insist that he’s lazy or he sucks. But I’ll say this. Cunningham was the 53rd pick overall in 2010. His Gator teammate Carlos Dunlap was the 54th pick. Dunlap had more tackles, he had 2 more sacks than Cunningham, he ran a faster 40 and was almost universally recognized as a 1st-2nd round talent who was better than Jermaine Cunningham. Belichick hipster drafted and took Cunningham. I vaguely remember the Bengals coming right in with their pick at 54 as if they couldn’t believe we took the lesser known guy over Dunlap. So far the Pats have 3.5 sacks in 3 years to show for Cunningham. Dunlap, meanwhile, is the Bengals all time rookie sack leader. At Cunningham’s current pace he’ll reach Dunlap’s sack numbers in another 5 1/2 years. Here it is in table form just because I think it looks nice:

Player Games Played Total Tackles Sacks Forced Fumbles
Jermaine Cunningham 36 59 3.5 2
Carlos Dunlap 38 87 20 4

I think the results are in on this one: Cunningham was the wrong pick.

Cunningham is under contract for another year at $575,000. He’s cheap but what exactly is the money going to? A 2nd round pick that plays 20 snaps a game? At his peak he averaged somewhere around 20-30 snaps a game. By the end of the 2012 season he had been supplanted by UDFA Justin Francis and reduced to only 6 snaps in the AFCCG. There are a handful of 3-4 D’s out there still in development, and we know Cleveland is going to be looking for 3-4 personnel. If they know what’s good for them they’ll come calling about what it would take to trade for Cunningham. The problem is he’s been on the field so little that a lot of teams still haven’t gotten a good look at him.

SOLUTIONS?

In House The Pats took Jake Bequette in the third round last year and he couldn’t even crack the roster. He didn’t suck too bad in pre-season but I still don’t get that pick. The only way it truly makes sense is if he was insurance on Cunningham. It would free up a roster spot for Jake Bequette to maybe actually do something. Trevor Scott will be a free agent in March. He played 22% of the defensive snaps and usually made the most of them. I don’t see him sticking around if the Pats find something better on the market. The Pats have also made some interesting futures contract moves with:

  • Marcus Benard (Browns) – 3 year veteran from Jackson State. Came on strong his first 2 seasons (11 sacks in 21 games). The new regime didn’t care for him much when he SURPRISE couldn’t hack it in the new 3-4. Got in a motorcycle accident on the way to practice.
  • Armond Armstead (CFL) – CFL rookie of the year and former USC standout. Projects to play either inside or outside in a 4-3.
  • Jason Vega (CFL) – Described as the black Rob Ninkovich and export of my hometown BROCKTON, MASSACHUSETTS

    With all the other positions in need, this might be the best route to go if any of these younger guys work out.

    The Draft
    Off the top of my head…

    • Margus Hunt (SMU) – You can cross most of the premiere pass rushers off your list. Everyone wants their own Aldon Smith and defensive end will be in high demand. Enter this 6’8″ 277 lb Estonian hulk who is fast, strong, big and still learning the game.
    • Sam Montgomery (LSU) – If Montgomery is on the board when the Pats are up that means more than one team screwed up bigtime. Some mocks are putting him in the 2nd round, but I think he’s 1st round material.
    • Brandon Jenkins (FSU) – Jenkins was on pace to be a first round pick then injured his knee. He’s waving his medical reshirt year and declaring for the draft. It makes no sense but it’s a raw talent available at low cost.
    • William Ghloston (Michigan State) – 6’7″ 270 lbs, he’s a freak. He’s got a Richard Seymourish feel to him at about 20-30 lbs lighter.

      Free Agency
      Belichick is a guy who likes to have a veteran insurance plan for his younger players though, and has no problem bringing in a guy for a 1 or 2 year stop-over. Some names I’d watch are:

      • Dwight Freeney (Colts) – Obvious name to watch. You know Belichick respects his rivals. Freeney has 3 sacks in 7 career games against New England.
      • Israel Idonije (Bears) – The Bears need to get Shea McClellin into the starting lineup. Idonije is probably on his way out despite a great season. He had 7.5 sacks last year, but you could attribute a lot of that to playing across from Julius Peppers.
      • Osi Umenyiora (Giants) – Okay I know… total head case. 31 years old. Noted Patriots enemy. But this guy kicked our ass in 2 Super Bowls. He’s done as an every down player but still pulled off 6 sacks last year.
      • Wallace Gilberry (Bengals)Mark Anderson type. You put him in there when you know the other team has to pass and let him get at the quarterback. Otherwise you forget about him. 6.5 sacks last year in limited snaps.

        And one more time:

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