Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Patriots picked off a good one
By Chris Forsberg ESPNBoston.com
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the New England Patriots travel to Philadelphia this weekend for Sunday's game against the Eagles, it will serve as a trip down memory lane for cornerback Kyle Arrington.
Undrafted out of Hofstra in 2008, Arrington latched on with the Eagles and spent the summer with the team before getting cut the day of the season opener. A little more than three years later, he's the NFL leader in interceptions this season with seven, but swears he harbors no malice toward a team that didn't see him fit for its game-day roster.
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Still, it's impossible to ignore the juxtaposition between the secondaries of the Eagles and Patriots as currently constructed.
On one side is the most hyped -- and perhaps most expensive -- cornerback tandems in the league with Philadelphia spending nearly $20 million this season on Nnamdi Asomugha and old friend Asante Samuel. On the other side is Arrington and a no-name collection of fellow castoffs including Phillip Adams and Antwaun Molden. Heck, receiver Julian Edelman played some dime corner the past two weeks.
In a way, it's the Dream Team vs. the Redeem Team.
Arrington has noted in the past that he appreciated the opportunity the Eagles gave him. He spent OTAs and training camp with the team and felt his time going up against fellow rookie DeSean Jackson made him a better player. Getting cut only gave him added inspiration.
A look at how Kyle Arrington's numbers stack up against Philadelphia's big ticket tandem:
After spending the rest of his rookie campaign on the Buccaneers' practice squad, Arrington was cut by Tampa Bay after making his first NFL appearance in the 2009 season opener. Arrington then landed on New England's practice squad in late September. With interest from Cleveland, the Patriots soon moved him to their 53-man active roster, and he played in eight games, making an immediate impact on special teams.
A season-ending injury to Leigh Bodden last season thrust Arrington into an elevated role, and he started 14 games, registering his first career interception (and touchdown) against Green Bay in mid-December. While young corners Devin McCourty and Ras-I Dowling opened this season as starters, injuries to both have thrust Arrington back into a key role and he's thrived.
"It's definitely a blessing," Arrington said. "I've put in a lot of work, a lot of hard work these last 18 months. But by no means am I satisfied or where I want to be or where I think I should be. I just continue to work, each and every day, trying to improve and get better."
In the first return of Pro Bowl fan balloting, Arrington was third in the AFC behind New York's Darrelle Revis and Kansas City's Brandon Flowers. He had 22,259 more votes than Asomugha, who was third in the NFC.
Not even a starter at the beginning of the season, Kyle Arrington merits strong Pro Bowl consideration.
And with good reason: Arrington is having a phenomenal season -- and not just because of the seven interceptions, many of which have been the result of him being in the right place at the right time, particularly on tipped passes.
According to the analytical site Pro Football Focus, Arrington is second in the NFL, behind only Revis, in quarterback rating when thrown at with a 41.3 mark. Samuel is eighth at 54.2, and Asomugha is 14th at 64.9. Arrington also is seventh in completion percentage (45.3) of targeted passes; Samuel is third at 41.2, Asomugha is 22nd at 54.8.
Arrington simply smiles when asked if he's thought about garnering a Pro Bowl invitation.
"I'm not going to lie and say I haven't," Arrington said. "It would be nice to go to Hawaii, but Indianapolis would be a whole lot nicer." Indianapolis, of course, is the site of this season's Super Bowl.
Even so, Arrington seems slightly embarrassed by the attention he's received.
"I just come into work every day and try to work on something, try to get better week in and week out, improve each game and each week," he said.
Arrington had his second two-interception game of the season Monday against the Kansas City Chiefs. After the first pick, he made it a point to deliver the ball to someone behind the Patriots bench.
"That was actually my agent," Arrington said. "He's based in Atlanta and he flew up for the game. A little present for him there."
Not a bad reward after his agents, Sean Stellato and Richard Kopelman of Klass Sports, negotiated him a two-year deal this preseason with a maximum value of $3.275 million. Arrington is still making a mere $525,000 base salary this season; nothing compared to Asomugha's $10 million base.
So where are the other six balls from his interceptions?
"For the most part, I give them to my mom," Arrington said. "I've given one to my fiancee, but most to my mom. She's my biggest fan.
"They might make a nice mantle back home [in Maryland]. It's crazy, growing up and playing sports, watching 'SportsCenter' and ESPN -- she watches more than I do now. She tells me stuff about sports that I didn't know. She's a huge fanatic."
And Arrington's mother must love the amount of TV time her son is getting. He's come a long way since the Eagles set him free.
Chris Forsberg covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.