#4 Cornerback Ras-I Dowling:
Ras-I Dowling is entering his third year in New England, and as the first pick of the second round in the 2011 NFL Draft, he is basically in the range of where the Patriots are picking each season. Dowling brought his 4.4 speed and large frame (6 ft.1 in.) Dowling came to New England with a history of not being able to get on the field due to health issues in college at Virginia with ankle, hamstring, knee and back injuries.
Unfortunately, those issues carried over into his initial training camp where he spent much of it on the sidelines. However, he was out starting at cornerback on opening day in 2011, and looked good with a grasp of the defense, solid coverage skills, and great size and speed for a cornerback. However, in week two against San Diego Dowling hurt his hip and was subsequently lost for the year after being placed on injured reserve.
Last season, Dowling was able to play in seven games, but he was out-of-sorts and never made any significant impact on the field as he only was on the field for less than 100 plays (84 total plays per ESPNBoston’s snap count tracking) over those seven games. Another injury, this time a very serious torn thigh muscle, ended his season again and landed him on injured reserve.
This spring, Dowling was finally at full health and looked like the best defensive back on the field during OTAs. However, at this time he has missed four straight practices (as usual, no injury news comes out of Foxboro, MA) in training camp bringing up the same old question of talent versus ability to get on the field and stay on the field.
Cap-wise, there is no benefit to out-and-out releasing Dowling as the dead money acceleration on the contract washes out at about $1.5 million regardless. However, Bill Belichick may eat the money if only to remove a distraction. A more likely scenario would be either shutting him down via injured reserve yet again if there is another major injury or perhaps a release and injury settlement. Also, Dowling’s contract goes through 2014, and that year has a big hit due to the Aaron Hernandez contract and absorbing money on the cap this year rather than next year is probably a consideration of the front office.
Dowling is likely on a short leash this summer at training camp, as Bill Belichick’s history tends to lean towards not having much use for players who cannot get healthy and stay healthy and stay on the field and contribute. Although his roster spot would appear secure based upon his talent and OTA work, his continual injury problems no doubt played into the Patriots raiding the Rutgers defensive backfield this offseason in an attempt to build depth, especially if there is a suspension looming for cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.
At this point of his career, Dowling is basically a lottery ticket: if he contributes at all, it’s like scratching off a winning number; if he doesn’t make the squad, it’s like you throw it away and it was short money for a gamble that didn’t pay off.