I had just started my drive home last night when the news came over WEEI-Boston that Adam Vinatieri had signed with the Indianapolis Colts. The reaction of the sports talk hosts and callers can be summed up as "panic stricken."
There was sure to be gloom in Patriot Nation if/when The Greatest Jackrabbit left, but there were several factors that made yesterday's annoucement more traumatic. It appears the Patriots are not trying very hard to keep their veteran players, Vinatieri was lost to a key conference rival, and the leading candidate for the Patriot placekicking vacancy seems to be goofball Mike Vanderjagt.
The Patriots have let receiver David Givens, linebacker Willie McGinest and Vinatieri escape in free agency this winter. There have been no acquisitions of note. Regarding a replacement for McGinest, I'm sure Bill Belichick's plan is to find some underappreciated and undersized defensive end, coach him up at linebacker, and rotate him in with five other guys. The philosophy around here is it's better to pay middle-class wages to six OK linebackers rather than a king's ransom to one big-name guy. But you can't replace one great placekicker with six mediocre guys! Ask the Cowboys whether that works.
Everyone figured if Vinatieri left, he would be on his way to the NFC, either Green Bay or Dallas. Having Indy sign him was a thunderbolt. There are five teams in the AFC that Patriot fans have enjoyed tormenting recently: the three division rivals, the Steelers, and the Colts. With the Steelers winning the Super Bowl and Miami appearing poised to challenge for the division, having the Colts steal Vinatieri has introduced another little bit of doubt about whether Belichick still has his genius cap. The biggest nightmare for Patriot fans would be to see Vinatieri kick a game winner for the Colts in Foxboro in an AFC playoff game.
Still, the Pats apparently have a chance to sign the most accurate kicker in the history of the league, Vanderjagt. What's wrong with that? Maybe the superstar quarterbacks for the Colts and Patriots can explain.
Peyton Manning, 2003: "We're talking about our idiot kicker who got liquored up and ran his mouth off."
Tom Brady, 2005: "Adam is the most clutch kicker in the history of football."
When last seen, Vanderjagt had an ugly failure on an attempt that would have sent the playoff game against the Steelers into overtime. He sliced it so badly that it reminded me why I gave up golf. A few days later he was yukking it up on Letterman, which greatly irritated Colts management. That's why the black cloud stuck in the minds of Pats fans can be summed up thusly: "They got Adam and we're stuck with Vanderjerk."
Patriot safety/nutcase Rodney Harrison came up with the "Vanderjerk" nickname when the idiot kicker said something stupid before a playoff game two years ago. I think Vanderjagt is still expecting a beat-down from Harrison so I doubt he will be seen on the practice fields in Foxboro this fall. Maybe Belichick could get back some of that genius status by going with an undrafted free agent out of a Division II school. It worked spectacularly last time.