On the same day that the New England Patriots officially lost a major contributor, they also gave up on a player many had projected as one.
The loss of Julian Edelman to a torn ACL has obvious ramifications: the absence of perhaps the game’s best slot receiver and Tom Brady’s favorite target, the one that the All-Pro quarterback trusted the most to move the chains on the most important down in football.
The release of defensive end Kony Ealy, on the other hand, ends a five-month experiment that essentially went nowhere.
Ealy wasn’t on the street for long, however, as the New York Jets claimed the former second-round pick Sunday.
Back in March, the Patriots made a splash when they acquired the former Super Bowl standout from Carolina for dropping down eight spots in the draft, from No. 64 overall (the last pick in the second round) to No. 72.
Ealy had fallen out of favor with the Panthers despite the fact that he might have been the team’s best player in the loss to Denver during Super Bowl 50, when he recorded three sacks on the game’s biggest stage.
Many in Charlotte expected that performance to kickstart Ealy to the next level as one of the game’s best edge rushers, but by 2016 he was a part-time player and then sent off to Foxborough, a place where many have revived their careers.
That didn’t happen for the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Ealy, who simply never caught on to the scheme Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia were trying to get him to buy into.
Ealy was banished to the second- or third-team defense for most of the summer, and the end came early in the fourth quarter during Friday night’s 30-28 preseason win over the Detroit Lions. The fact that Ealy was on the field at such a late stage tells you where he was in the pecking order. Then, he lost contain on consecutive plays, a clear indication that he just wasn’t disciplined enough for the so-called “Patriot Way.”
“I just think it’s one of those things that didn’t work out or wasn’t going to work out,” Belichick explained.
The coach didn’t throw Ealy under the bus, however, and when you combine the player’s raw talent with the number of teams in this league looking for competent pass rushers, don’t expect the Missouri product to stay unemployed for long.
“Nobody’s fault,” Belichick asserted. “He worked hard. … A lot of effort put in, but in the end, we didn’t feel like this was going to work out. It gives him an opportunity about a week ahead of next week to hopefully create a better opportunity for himself. I think he deserved that. He did everything we asked him to do. It just didn’t work out for either one of us like we hoped it would.”
Those are, of course, two diametrically opposed schools of thought.
If Ealy truly did everything that the Patriots asked, then there is enough upside there that he would still be a member of the organization, even if things were coming slowly for him. Then there is the realization that Ealy was held out of the final OTAs in the spring, something labeled as a coach’s decision, and that he also missed the opening day of training camp with the same designation.
Clearly, this was not a fit. And the inability for Ealy to start heading in the right direction with such a highly regarded organization will be a strike against him. But there is enough there to assure that he gets the third swing, even if the count is now at 0-2.
The die was already cast with the Patriots before the dress rehearsal game against the Lions, a thesis confirmed by the fact that Ealy didn’t even enter the game until the third quarter.
If the light doesn’t turn on for Ealy with the Jets, however, it probably never will.
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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