‘A Sickness To Be the Best’
Has joining the Patriots, going 12-4 and earning the AFC’s No. 1 seed changed anything about what you value? Is this why you joined New England?
No, it hasn’t. My greatest value, footballwise, is just winning. I just think this was the best situation for me when I got released from Tampa last year and became a free agent. I tried to weigh my options, especially me growing as a player and as a man. Being through all the stuff I've been through in the past, I felt like this was the right place for me.
Your time with the Jets was so tumultuous. Do you regret anything from your time in New York?
No. I think that everything happens for a reason. From me being drafted there— them moving up 10 spots and all of a sudden getting me—they took a chance. You jumped up 10 spots, that's really huge. So that means that you really believe in the player you're drafting and have a lot of confidence for him to come in and play right away. Nah, no regrets. Everything happens for a reason. Even my ACL [injury in September 2012]. It was meant to happen, and it was meant for me not to be there anymore—and then for me to get traded to Tampa. It is what it is, man. You live and you learn and you grow. That's how I look at my whole situation, and I continue to do that as I continue to grow as a football player and as a man.
I appreciate Rex Ryan because...
...he came to work every day and he gave it his all. He busted his butt every day to try to bring a winning attitude to the New York Jets organization. I mean, I met him when he had his press conference when he first got the job, and the first thing he said is, “I believe you're the best corner in the league, and we're going to make sure that happens.” He busted his butt every day to make sure he was going to change the atmosphere around there, and he did that.
I appreciate Bill Belichick because...
...from the outside looking in, I viewed it differently. Being on the inside now, I see why we win so much on a week-to-week basis. He's probably broken every record you can break as a coach. I mean, he's won five Super Bowls [as an assistant and head coach] and been to seven, so that tells you he knows what he's talking about—he definitely knows ball, so you have to respect him for that. And just being around him, seeing how he operates as a head coach, how he works and runs the team, it's pretty awesome.
How did you view them from the outside looking in? And how do you view him now?
From the outside in, we were rivals, you know? The good thing about it, now, is that we joke about it. We kind of joke about it and just have fun with it, because that's where we're at. I don't think Bill knew I was going to be here years ago, and I didn't think years ago that I would be here. Like I said, everything happens for a reason. Everything's new, and there are different things that come in people's careers—for players and coaches—and I felt like this was the best fit. Bill and Mr. Kraft, when I sat down and met with them, it made me feel very comfortable and I felt like this was the spot to come. I know a lot of people think, Oh, because the Jets... No, I felt like this was the best spot for me to win.
What have you learned about Bill Belichick and Tom Brady that you didn’t know before becoming a Patriot?
I didn't know Bill's dad played in the league. I didn't know he was a military brat. Tom? I don't know, I think I knew mostly everything. When you compete against elite players, you try to figure out everything possible about them, because you want to know how they operate all the time, on or off the field. I think Tom, I don't know, he talks a lot of trash. He does. I think that's just him being very competitive. Some of us great players, we have a sickness about just trying to be the best, trying to be the best at our craft and trying to do anything we can to just be awesome and be elite. I think he has a sickness of just being very competitive and wanting that edge all the time and wanting to destroy his opponents. I think from the outside looking in, you know he's competitive. But when you're here every day with him and you see how he works, man, it's like, Wow, I see why he's so successful because of how he approaches the game every day.
In what ways did you first see Brady’s competitiveness manifest itself?
Just going the extra mile with certain things, whether it was laps, sprints, him spending time with his receivers after practice ... it's those little things that set players apart from others. You see that and how in tune he is, how focused he is, and it goes back to me and him having a sickness to be the best. I feel Bill's the same way. He wants to be perfect. I think that's his coaching style. He wants to be perfect, whether it's a step here or a step there, or hand placement. I think that's why we're so successful at winning every week.
How would you describe your relationship with Belichick? Kindred spirits?
I think it's pretty great. Bill is Bill. Everybody thinks he has a straight face, but he smiles—and he might throw a joke here and there. It's fine. He's fine to me. He says how he wants his rules to be and how he wants to run a team, and everybody abides by them. But at the same time I think he lets us be who we are. That's why we are so successful at what we do. We talk trash in the middle of plays, Bill just sits and listens. Whatever it may be, every head coach has to have a structure that he goes by. But, personally, Bill's fine. We joke sometimes. Don't really talk about the past—we talk about what can we accomplish as a team and what can we do now.
Have you had a cool interaction with Belichick?
Not really. When I met with him and Mr. Kraft it was just more so, “What do you think? We want to hear about your thoughts about coming here. We both have a lot of history playing against each other, we really think highly of you and respect what you do, but how do you feel?” I told them how I felt, I respected them and I'm happy to be sitting here now having a conversation about me being a part of the organization. It was perfectly fine. It wasn't really that much football talk. It was here and there, but I was talking to Mr. Kraft mostly. I was almost in awe because I'm sitting there with Bill, and he's talking about the past stuff that he’s been through, like being with the Giants, and we were just talking about his whole career and how Mr. Kraft was involved as an owner. It was pretty great just to hear some of the things they were talking about.
Many people, including myself, have viewed you as the ultimate NFL mercenary because you’re one of the few non-quarterbacks to maximize your value. Fair or unfair?
Everybody has an opinion. Some may view it as him having leverage, and he does well with that leverage. Some may look at it as he's overpaid. There are a million things that can be said. The only thing I look at is, you get paid for what you do on the field. Everybody. It's the Tom Bradys, Peyton Mannings, and it goes down the line. That's all I ask for. At the end of the day it's negotiations. You go back and forth, we come to a common ground, and everybody's happy. That's how you look at it. I just focus on what I need to do and not worry about it.
Why has maximizing your value been important to you? Is it still important?
Well, I think it should be important to every player that plays this game. You get paid for what you do. Calvin Johnson is one of the best receivers in the league, and he gets a huge paycheck, and that's great, he should. I mean, the dude is 6-5, runs a 4.32 40, nobody cannot watch him. He's usually getting double-teamed, he's still coming down with balls. You get paid for how you perform, and that's how you look at it. And it's leverage. You have to use your leverage when you have it because that window is going to close sooner or later. That's with anybody.
You're an assistant NFLPA rep, so in essence you work for DeMaurice Smith. But your uncle, Sean Gilbert, is going to be running against him. How do you deal with that?
I’m taking it in stride, man. It's something new for me, and I think it's just me growing as a player and what I've been through and seeing other guys going through their situations as well. And the league as well, going through our situations like the new CBA. So it's something new. I'm not the head guy [Matthew Slater is], but at the same time, yes, I work for De Smith and I'm not picking sides. It is what it is. I can't make a prediction on who gets the job in the future.
Will you be campaigning for your uncle?
I can't say that either. I can't make a prediction on that. My uncle's doing that, I'm proud he's doing that, and I have to support my uncle. But at the same time I work for De Smith and I have to support what De Smith is doing now, too.
What's it like to play bump-and-run coverage the way that you do and stick with the NFL’s best receives like Velcro? Are you the league’s best cornerback?
I think it's great to play bump and run. You just smother the receiver. It's kind of tough, because of the new rules and where we're at today playing the game, so you have to use certain techniques or certain tactics to cover some of the best receivers in the world. I love it. I love to do it. I've been playing corner since I was 7 years old, so I just love the challenge. Am I the best? I'm past that; I'm over that question. Everybody has their own opinions, man. There are some great corners out there: Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Joe Haden. I support them all. It's a movement, and it's great to have a bunch of corners that can cover. At one point it wasn't. After the Deions and Darrell Greens, after the Champ Baileys and Charles Woodsons, it kind of fell off after those guys. Now it's great to have a group of corners that can bring that talk back up—cover corners are the top corners in the league.
You play with extraordinary footwork and balance, and anyone who has ever watched you knew you wouldn't have trouble adjusting to the new rules. How much of that is just natural, and how much is from hard work?
I've been put at the position since I was 7, and I could have been put anywhere. I don't know, it's just being comfortable with the position. And then seeing formations and route trees and route combinations all the time, you kind of grasp that—especially when you're studying film. OK, they're doing this, I know this, I know the tell now. It's all mental when you can place yourself sometimes and just knowing routes like, He's going to be here, so I'm going bait it for a second and then I'm going to end up beating him to the route. It's just playing a chess game out there as much as you can. And it's from experience. Trust me, I've had touchdowns scored on me. I try to keep that to a minimum, but you learn from your mistakes and grow. Just like some of the best, like Tom and Peyton and those guys, you learn. Sometimes you might jump a route and they might not throw the ball, and you're like, “I’ve been studying that all week and they just didn't throw it! Why?!” So it goes both ways. But at the same time, if you continue to just play consistent and stay on top of your game and maintain that, you'll be fine.
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