- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Taylor finished his career with the Patriots, dressing for 13 games (one start) over the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Before that, he was pretty much "Mr. Jaguar," starring for Jacksonville from 1998-2008.
The 36-year-old Taylor was finishing up some holiday errands this week when ESPNBoston.com reached out to him for his perspective on the Patriots, Jaguars and life after football.
Q. How do you sum up your time with the Patriots?
A. I wish it had been a little longer. My time there was great, I tell people that all the time. Coach [Bill] Belichick. Tom [Brady], he's just awesome. I was a little biased earlier on in my career because I came in with Peyton Manning in '98; all my years playing against Peyton as a [Florida] Gator, seeing some of the punishment we gave him, and then the punishment he took early on in his [NFL] career, to see him turn into the player he is, I always used to say Peyton is the best. But that Tom Brady, man, being his teammate there is no doubt in my mind that he is, absolutely, the best to play.
Q. What are you doing on a day-to-day basis?
A. A little bit of everything. One thing I realize is how valuable relationships are; something I started taking away from my last couple years in the league. If you treat people certain ways, it's reciprocated. Relationships are everything. I'm networking and working to build off my football career, even though for years people told me I played in a small market and wasn't as marketable. I'd say that's off the mark, because it's all how you treated people over the years. I'm investing, I'm a full-time father, I'm a full-time husband, and trying to stay in shape the best I can while building relationships with companies and partnering with others.
Q. Any specifics on things you are up to?
A. I have a concept with some friends I've gotten to know over the years, and we're starting to manage a consulting firm, basically to just engage and help players by introducing them to companies that are strong. It's not investment advice, but it puts them in good hands with people who aren't going to try to rip them off. I'm not sure the league has found a way [to help in this area] enough. Maybe the league has done enough, but having been one of those guys that didn't listen early on, I hope that because of my story, because of the person I am and have always been, they'd trust me to help direct them to the right places so they don't have problems when they're done playing football. It's showing them time management, financial management, transitioning to post-football; it's tough if guys think they are going to make that amount of money [after their career is over], or if they think investments are easy. It's not easy. It's tough to make $100,000 when you're not playing. I have to convince guys not to let financial advisors say, "You play football, we'll handle that." That's bullcrap. So that's my mission.
Q. You recently did some work for the Jaguars on the personnel side. How did you enjoy that?
A. As players, we're always on the other side; there isn't a lot of time to see how it works behind the scenes. Our agents tell us one thing in negotiations, but we don't have a chance to really engage and build [a relationship] with the GMs in terms of contract negotiations. We see the scouts on the field during practice and all that different stuff, but we don't really know what they do, or what their job description entails. But those guys, I think they put in just as much work, if not more, than the coaches.
Truth be told, my time there shadowing [general manager] Gene Smith and his staff, it was great. A lot of people there have been calling for Gene Smith's head because of the record of the team, but I can tell you this, it's not Gene Smith. It's the NFL, number one. Football is tough. You're not going to have a perfect team and fans have to be patient. Gene is dedicated more than anyone would know; he learned under Tom Coughlin, and these people have to give him a break.
The fans were spoiled really early with those AFC Championship Game appearances as a young organization, and they don't really understand tradition. You have to grow with the team, take the pounding with the team -- you live through the good and bad.
For me, I was evaluating players, learning from Gene and his staff, and they taught me a lot. The idea is that in a year or two or three, if I can come back around the football, what would my opportunities be? I just wanted to give myself a fair chance to keep learning and see if I liked it, and if it would be an area I could engage in down the road.
Q. We don't talk about the Jaguars much up here in New England; how do you see their future unfolding?
A. It's much like Mr. [Robert] Kraft came in and took over control of that team [in 1994]; the Patriots weren't great at the time. But his business savvy, and the fact he was committed to bringing a winning organization -- that's what they've become. Things have to all match up. Timing is everything in life. Much like Mr. Kraft [in 1994], you have a new owner in Shad Khan and he's a businessman first. This is his business now and he's learning the business of the NFL. From that standpoint, he's going to do his research and get the right people in the right places. He's going to have to make changes at some point, whether it's players, coaches, personnel department, whatever it might be, I don't know. But it's not the end of the world, as far as who the Jaguars are.
Much like the Patriots, they've had their ups and downs. When the Patriots lose a game, like the past week, I'm sure it felt like the Mayan prediction came true. I was there and losing one game there it seems like you're in last place in the entire NFL. That's how it should feel. Guys have to understand, this is your job. Coach Belichick does a great job reiterating that on a day-to-day basis, and you can't help but notice it because when you walk into the building, it's right there on the door -- "Do your job." I loved that. That's one of the things I loved about being there the most -- guys have to really buy into that.
The guys down there in Jacksonville, they have a coach [Mike Mularkey] that wants good character guys in there. You can have guys in there that are talented and great players, but if they're not meeting the criteria in terms of the character, then the team is going to suffer and you can't have those guys play for the organization. You don't sell your soul for talent. You want to have guys in there that fans can relate to, that fans know if the team has invested in them that they will be around for a long time. And if it means you lose some games, you take the pounding as you work to get the right people in the right places. I think Mr. Khan is going to do that and I think the coaching staff is going to do that with their players. It's just a matter of time.
Q. Whenever relocation comes up, the Jaguars seem to be mentioned. Do you think the team remains in Jacksonville?
A. I think the team will be there. The fans want the team there and they have to be very receptive to the fact that they're going to go through this. It's football. You're going to have to endure. When I was there, the first two years, it felt like [competing for a championship] was going to happen every year, but then for five years or so, things were tough. Being impatient actually ran one of the best coaches in history, Tom Coughlin, out of town. Look at what he's done since, and look back on what he did in the few years he was in Jacksonville, taking two teams to the AFC championship. You have to be patient or otherwise things like that can happen. I think the team is going to be OK.
Q. What did you learn the most in your time with the Patriots?
A. Because of the tradition that is there, because of the commitment, because the guys believe in their coach first and everything he says -- they allow him to lead. Everyone in the entire building allows Coach Belichick to lead them, and you have to respect that. That's what I saw first. I was in awe in almost every meeting I was in, and I feel like I know a lot about football; I think any of my teammates over the course of my career will tell you that I was a note-taker, and that I was paying attention, and reiterating what the coaches were saying. I wasn't always the guy that led by voice; I thought being a leader was more by example. I could have been a little bit more vocal [over the years]; I do admit that. But being in New England and just seeing how they operate, and how it's a business first, this is your job, it's what you do for work. I wish I could have done more.
In the little that I did do in those two years, those fans were so appreciative. You see how appreciative they are of all the players for laying it on the line. They'd boo at certain points during the game because maybe they're a little spoiled, but they understand tradition, backing their team, and they don't take any flak. They won't let anybody talk about their team -- all the sports up there.
New England is an area that is sports heaven, to be honest with you. I felt that when I was there. I lived in Providence and no matter where I was -- in Boston or Providence -- people would recognize you. Even though I didn't do as much as I would have liked, somewhere else I might have gotten booed, but truth be told, even now, everywhere I go people recognize me as being a Patriot for those two years. It was an awesome experience. I wish my last year there we could have made that run and not lose in the [divisional] round to the Jets, but the experience altogether was top-notch. I appreciate Coach Belichick for giving me the opportunity. I was in Jacksonville, a smaller market with a young franchise, a place that needs to grow that type of tradition. To be able to see that in New England, it was amazing. So I got a full circle in my time in the NFL. No regrets at all.
Fred Taylor dishes on his time in New England and life after football.