What doomed Carroll and Pats? The Hall-of-Famer who got away


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 (Photos courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

People tell me that Pete Carroll didn’t work out in New England because he wasn’t more demanding of his players, because he wasn’t involved more in personnel decisions and because he wasn’t more like his predecessor, Bill Parcells. Maybe, but they forget the missing element that hurt Carroll the most.

Curtis Martin.

Yep, the Hall-of-Fame running back Carroll could’ve had left for the New York Jets in 1998 – one year after Carroll arrived as head coach – when the Patriots failed to match an offer for the restricted free agent. The Patriots had their reasons, and they involved a “poison pill” attached to the offer — a clause that would’ve made Martin an unrestricted free agent in one year had he stayed with New England and that included a cap-strangling $3.3 million roster bonus.

So the Patriots passed, and, eventually, Pete Carroll’s tenure passed with it.

When I spoke to him several years later he lamented the decision, saying it was the one move that sabotaged him … and the Patriots … and now, more than ever, I understand why. I look at Carroll’s Seattle Seahawks and see what New England might’ve had if Martin had stayed.

And it’s Marshawn Lynch.

I mean it. Look at those Patriots, and, OK, so their defense wasn’t as airtight as these Seahawks. But they were ninth in points allowed and had two All-Pros in the secondary in safety Lawyer Milloy and cornerback Ty Law. Their quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, was a superb passer who led New England to the Super Bowl in 1996. Their offensive line was solid. Their receivers were as good … if not better … to Seattle’s, especially at tight end where they had All-Pro Ben Coates. And their running back … well, that where there was a hole Carroll could not plug.

I know, rookie running back Robert Edwards was a suitable replacement for Martin, rushing for 1,115 yards in 1998 and scoring 12 touchdowns, but he lasted one year. Period. Hurt in a flag football game at the Pro Bowl the following February, he never again suited up for New England.

Martin, meanwhile, was so durable he missed just one game in his next seven seasons with the Jets. Moreover, he was every bit as productive for them as Lynch is for Seattle, never running for fewer than 1,094 yards in any season and producing as many as 1,697 in 2004 when, at the age of 31, he became the oldest running back in NFL history to win a league rushing title.

But here’s what I like most. In all but one season, Martin had at least 316 rushing attempts, and in three of them he had 367 or more – including a career-high 371 in 2004. In short, he was Marshawn Lynch before Marshawn Lynch, and the envelope, please: In Lynch’s last four seasons with the Seahawks he missed one game, never ran for fewer than 1204 yards in any season and averaged 299 rushing attempts per year. Moreover, he led the Seahawks in touchdowns each year.

If you were to name the Seahawks’ most valuable player, Lynch would get the call. In fact, teammate Richard Sherman earlier this year promoted Lynch for league MVP.  If you were to name the Jets’ most valuable player during the Curtis Martin era it was Martin, with the team giving him the award four times.

With Lynch, Pete Carroll has a durable running back who is productive and reliable and who can ignite teammates as well as fans – as he did in the defeat of Green Bay – with runs over, around and through defenders. Without Martin, Carroll lacked the weapon to back off defenses and the grinder who could wear down and, eventually, wear out defenses … and it cost New England more than a future All-of-Famer.

It cost Pete Carroll his job.

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