When explaining a shaky performance by a player, Bill Belichick sometimes will say something along the lines of, "I'm sure there's a play or two he'd like to have back."
One could say the same thing about personnel decisions, and the Patriots' release of cornerback Ras-I Dowling on Wednesday falls into that category.
Dowling was selected 33rd overall in the 2011 NFL draft, the top pick of the second round. Naturally, a team hopes to get more than two years, nine games and two starts out of a fringe first-round pick.
As we look back on some of the players selected in that range that year, Browns defensive end/outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (37th, Browns) and Texans defensive end/outside linebacker Brooks Reed (42nd, Texans) are two names that stand out as players who we liked at the time that, and as time has passed, we can now say would have been better picks for New England.
Obviously, that type of second-guessing can be played with any selection so it's not entirely fair. And the Patriots couldn't have predicted how injuries would derail Dowling's development; some believed had he entered the draft the year prior, he might have been a first-round pick (ideal size and speed).
So for multiple reasons, this is one the Patriots would like to have back.
In 2010, they had swung a deal with the Carolina Panthers in which they shipped a third-round pick (89th overall) in exchange for a 2011 second-round pick. That second-round pick ended up being 33rd overall (Dowling), meaning they improved 56 spots by waiting one year to make a selection.
The Patriots were widely praised by that deal, especially after the Panthers selected little-known Armanti Edwards of Appalachian State.
But today's cut of Dowling serves as a reminder that even though draft-day trades can look good when they are made, it still comes down to selecting the right player.