FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- “He's an all-in guy. There's not much to not like about him."
That’s how Bill Belichick described defensive lineman Dominique Easley after the New England Patriots strayed from their usual script of "safe" prospects with a clean medical file and selected him in the first round of the 2014 draft (29th overall).
Less than two years later, Easley has gone from all-in to the outside looking in. The team waived Easley on Wednesday, a move that means the Patriots are willing to assume a larger salary-cap charge for not having Easley on the roster than if they kept him.
Naturally, the question is why?
Start with health. Easley’s knees were an issue coming out of the University of Florida, and they remained a concern with the Patriots. His first two seasons (22 games played) ended prematurely because of knee and thigh injuries. That was a miscalculation by Belichick, who after drafting Easley said, “We feel like he’ll be all right.”
Easley never truly was all right health-wise.
So if the Patriots felt like Easley was an injury waiting to happen in 2016, one could understand the thinking to cut bait now.
Meanwhile, this offseason, Easley spent some time in Germany, and one person close to him relayed that he was experimenting with different rehabilitation options for his knee. Perhaps that was part of the reason Tom E. Curran of Comcast SportsNet tweeted that “philosophical differences on following injury programs” was part of the team’s thinking in releasing Easley.
Another reporter, Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post, brought to light that Easley is facing charges for an alleged dog-bite attack.
As Belichick often says, when a team brings a player aboard, it gets everything that comes with him -- on and off the field. Belichick sometimes uses the word “mosaic,” and the pieces with Easley -- who recently hired his third agent in three years -- had shifted significantly in Belichick’s view since the coach lauded him as the team’s first-round pick in 2014.
On the night the Patriots drafted Easley, Belichick touted his explosiveness and versatility, saying he "saw a guy that likes football, [is] smart [and] very instinctive. Football is very important to him.”
But not everyone at Florida saw it the same way.
In a 2015 ESPN.com piece on the “rise and fall of Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators,” Jeremy Fowler wrote: “One coach on the staff said the 2010 class was the most unruly he has ever witnessed. Another player viewed by some as problematic was Dominique Easley, a five-star defensive lineman from New York who threatened to quit the team repeatedly, missing meetings as a result.”
But Belichick, who perhaps envisioned Easley being mentored by Vince Wilfork and others in a strong locker room, didn’t seem concerned.
“I’m glad he was able to last that long,” Belichick said the night the team selected Easley in 2014. “I’m looking forward to having him."
As it turns out, Easley didn’t last long in New England.
He is Belichick’s most significant first-round miss in his 16-year tenure.
The reasons why aren’t entirely clear, but the picture is starting to come into sharper focus.