The New England Patriots have had a typical Patriots offseason- mid-to-low-tier free agent signings, they re-signed some of their own players, and they had a solid but unspectacular draft. But according to one analyst, that’s good enough to declare the Patriots the winners of the offseason improvement derby. The Patriots did not make seemingly splashy moves in the offseason. The Chicago Bears signed Julius Peppers, the Dolphins signed Karlos Dansby and traded for Brandon Marshall, and the Jets traded for Antonio Cromartie and Santonio Holmes and signed LaDanian Tomlinson. Some went as far as to declare the Jets the best team going, and further declared the Patriots run as perennial AFC East champs over. Not so fast, according to John Clayton from ESPN.
What the Patriots have lacked in splash they have made up in substance. Bill Belichick has stated that some of the best free agents were Patriots, and they have been re-signed. Keeping Vince Wilfork around, who was considered among the top unrestricted free agents, was a big move. While the new faces haven’t been big news makers, the faces that were signed this offseason were among the best available. Here’s what Clayton had to say:
“Re-signings aren’t sexy to fans, but the Patriots faced a difficult challenge before free agency began. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork headed a list of 10 potential unrestricted free agents. Owner Robert Kraft invested $84.414 million in contracts to re-sign Wilfork, guard Stephen Neal, linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, cornerback Leigh Bodden and running back Kevin Faulk. The only losses — tight end Benjamin Watson and defensive end Jarvis Green — were replaceable. Belichick may not have hit home runs in the draft, but he loaded the bases with plenty of singles. The Patriots needed to add a cornerback with the additions of Holmes and Marshall to the AFC East, so they drafted Devin McCourty in the first round. Jermaine Cunningham and Brandon Spikes give the Patriots much-needed youth at linebacker. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez more than fill the void at tight end created by Watson’s departure. The Patriots added a dozen draft choices and have two firsts and two seconds next year. They’ve also beefed up their defensive line by signing Gerard Warren and Damione Lewis to one-year contracts, and added Alge Crumpler at tight end and Torry Holt at wide receiver.”
So what’s wrong with the Jets’ flashy moves? Nothing really, and overall Clayton thinks that they were solid, but here is where he has questions:
“The only debatable moves are how well LaDainian Tomlinson and fourth-round pick Joe McKnight do replacing Thomas Jones and Leon Washington at running back and how ready second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse is to replace Pro Bowl guard Alan Faneca.”
I still think it’s a little early to declare winners and losers for the offseason. There will still be players being cut, and the Pats are likely to look for more players in June. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they try to make a training camp trade if they feel that they are weak at a position. Of course, once the moves actually play out on the field, we can then declare rightful winners and losers. Did the Pats play it too conservative? Are the Jets the new Redskins? We shall see, but I have to agree with Clayton’s point about the Patriots’ making good moves in re-signing players. Pats fans want more, but ask yourself this: If the Pats lost Vince Wilfork or Leigh Bodden, how would you feel about the team compared to now?