When I first learned that Mike Vrabel had been traded to the Kansas City Chiefs I was very dissapointed. Mike Vrabel had in fact been one of my favorite Patriots players of all time.
Mike Vrabel first came to the Patriots on March 17th, 2001, on a four year contract. He had spent the previous four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers where he played in a similar system as an outside linebacker. Vrabel had originally played defensive end for Ohio State. However, Vrabel was never able to break the starting lineup, and at one point, even contemplated retirement.
After joining the Patriots, Mike Vrabel quickly impressed. In fact, his play was strong enough that the Patriots chose not to retain Chris Slade, as he was in the lineup by week one. That first year he really made some big plays. But his biggest may have come in week 12 against the Jets. The Patriots had been getting clobbered by the Jets, and at 6-5, they desperately needed a win. Vrabel came up with a key 2nd half interception that helped turn things around, and keep the Patriots in the hunt for the playoffs.
However, the biggest turn in Vrabel’s career may have come in 2002. This was the first time he lined up at tight end in a goal line formation, and the first time he caught a touchdown (one of eight in the regular season).
Vrabel’s greatest season, however, may have come in 2003. In 2003, Vrabel only played 13 games, but was able to put up 9.5 sacks and two interceptions. And in the playoffs, he came up just as big, particularly in Super Bowl XVIII where he had two sacks (one forced a fumble) on Jake Delhomme, as well as a touchown reception. He probably should have garnered the Super Bowl MVP trophy.
In 2004, Mike Vrabel continued to do great things. He had another 5.5 sacks as well as two touchdown catches. Again, he may have made his greatest impact in the playoffs. In Super Bowl XXXIX he made one of the most historic catches in not only Patriots, but Super Bowl history, bringing in a catch with Eagles defender Jevon Kearse draped all over him. He also came up with a sack on Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Donovan McNabb.
Just when you thought Mike Vrabel couldn’t do anything more versatile, he did just that. In 2005, the Patriots thought they picked up two prized inside linebackers in Chad Brown and Monty Beisel. Well, not so much. With Tedy Bruschi out because of his stroke, Mike Vrabel moved to inside linebacker. Playing inside, he had one of his finest seasons as a pro, recording 108 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and two interceptions, one of which he returned to the house. He even had three goal line touchdown catches.
Mike Vrabel played just as well in 2006, recording 89 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and three interceptions.
However, 2007 was certainly his greatest season in a Patriots uniform. Mike recorded an amazing 12.5 sacks, capitalizing on the Patriots high scoring offense to become one of the most dominant edge rushers in the game. Vrabel seemingly controlled the outside in every single game. He came up huge in a blowout against the Washington Redskins, tallying three sacks, two forced fumbles, and a touchdown grab.
In 2008, Vrabel was expecting similar results. He even got off to a great start, recording two sacks against the Kansas City Chiefs in week one. But then Vrabel’s sack numbers really slowed down, as he recorded just two the rest of the year. However, when the Patriots top edge rusher Adalius Thomas went down for the season, Mike Vrabel really stepped it back up, providing a consistent rush that greatly improved the Patriots pass defense. He was also reportedly suffering from a shoulder injury during this time.
However, at the end of the season, I guess Bill Belichick saw Mike Vrabel’s $4.3 million cap hit as too much to absorb for an aging veterain. But I still don’t get it.
Mike Vrabel was so much more than an edge rusher. He was one of the smartest players on the field, with the ultimate knowledge of the 3-4 and Belichick’s schemes. He was a leader, a strong locker room prescence. He was versatile. In fact, I would consider him one of the most versatile players in the history of the NFL. He was coachable. He was consistent. He was durable, playing all 16 in seven of his eight years as a Patriot. He was everything you could ask for in a Patriots player.
In the end, I believe that Mike Vrabel goes down as one of the greatest Patriots of all time, period. He certainly played enough years, and also had the production. Ty Law played ten years, Drew Bledsoe played nine, Chris Slade played eight, Andre Tippett played eleven, Mike Haynes played seven. Clearly, he has played enough.
If his three Super Bowl rings, 10 touchdown catches, 50+ sacks, eleven interceptions, versatility, and leadership don’t speak enough, nothing can. Thanks Mike, for some exciting years of Patriots football.