By: Steve Balestrieri
It is what it is, but it ainâ€™t what you thinkâ€¦ Brandon Spikes
That was the phrase of Brandon Spikes as he discussed his lack of straight line speed to the Boston media upon being drafted by the Patriots in 2010. And it sums up Spikesâ€™ tenure in New England to a tee because there are many sides to Spikesâ€™ character.
The 6â€™2, 255 lb linebacker from Florida has been one of the most intimidating, physical run stuffers in the NFL since being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft. And now he is a unrestricted free agent.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Spikes was the 2nd ranked inside/middle linebacker against the run. And in 2013 with big Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly and Jerod Mayo on IR with an assortment of injuries, Spikes stepped up big time in run support as the team struggled with rookies inside.
Bad End to 2013:Later in the season, Spikes injured his knee and was hobbled the rest of the season before being placed on IR prior to the divisional playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. This is where the stories differ, the Patriots claim that the decision to place Spikes on IR was a mutual one. Spikesâ€™ camp through his agent, claim that it was not, and that Spikes could have played on.
Rumors persist that Spikes wore out his welcome in Foxboro and with Head Coach Bill Belichick by doing things his own way, and to an extent that is true. Spikes has always gone to the beat of his own drum. But on a snowy morning in Central Mass, Spikes tweeted a picture of his vehicle, stuck in his driveway and was late for a meeting. That was reportedly the last straw for Belichick who during the spring took exception that Spikes missed the voluntary minicamp with the other players.
Spikes wanted to work out on his own with a trainer in Florida to squeeze some more speed out of his frame this season and become a three-down linebacker in 2013 so that heâ€™d be in line for a big payday. Belichick was clearly miffed and made mention that only one player was missing from the roster.
Worse, Spikesâ€™ off-season work went for naught, he remains essentially a two-down linebacker who is a liability in coverage. So where does this leave the Patriotsâ€™ free agent linebacker in 2014?
Why Spikes May Go: If indeed Belichick has had enough of him and his ways, then the Patriots wonâ€™t even bid to retain his services, but that isnâ€™t a fact yet but indications are pointing that way. With Spikesâ€™ biggest supporter in the coaching staff Pepper Johnson gone to Buffalo, this doesnâ€™t bode well.
Spikes has been an intimidating, run-stuffer for the Pats.
(USA TODAY Images)
And with him being a two-down linebacker, as good as he is against the run; he can be replaced with the more versatile Dontâ€™a Hightower in the middle. One thing the Patriots needed to do in 2013 was get more athletic at linebacker and in drafting Jamie Collins, they have done that. Collins is now ready to assume a starting role in 2014 and that may make Spikes replaceable.
Why Spikes May Stay: As good as the other trio in Mayo, Hightower and Collins are, none brings the combination of physicality and intimidation that Spikes does in the middle. And that factor canâ€™t be overlooked.
None of the three also quite excels in the running game as well as Spikes does. While the NFL remains a passing league, the transition to small, faster more athletic defenses also means that offenses are trying to become more balanced and running the ball more. As long as that happens, there will always be a role for a player of Spikes ability.
Bottom Line: Spikes may have very well played his last down in New England if the rift between he and Bill Belichick canâ€™t be repaired. Given the time to prepare, the Patriots defense with Hightower in the middle flanked by Collins (strongside) and Mayo (weakside) may actually be a better overall unit.
But when he signs a new contract it probably wonâ€™t be for the big money contract that he is looking for. It most certainly wonâ€™t be in New England for a big pay day. A best guess estimate would be in the $4 million to $4.5 million dollar range.
As we mentioned earlier, Spikesâ€™ biggest supporter (Pepper Johnson) now resides in Buffalo as the Bills new LB coach. As the Bills are one of the poorer teams against the run, it wouldnâ€™t be inconceivable to see Buffalo to make Spikes a decent offer.