Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo had a very critical view on how the New England Patriots, and Bill Belichick specifically, constructed their roster this past offseason and that their plan was ‘misguided.’ Angelo slams the Patriots for not having given quarterback Tom Brady enough weapons in the passing game to maximize his talents, specifically at the outside receiver position. Angelo goes so far as to say that Belichick and the Patriots “fell in love with their system,” and stating that with a quarterback the caliber of Brady’s a team should build from the outside in, starting with outside receivers.
My first reaction is to question the opinion of the man who had Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton as his starting quarterbacks and ask what has he won as a GM in the NFL. I also question his notion that you build around an offensive line and a quarterback when the quarterback is limited. No quarterback is good with a porous offensive line. After those cheap shots, I began to think about what he said and contrast it to the Patriots roster decisions made this year. Nobody can argue that the Patriots have a dearth of production at the outside WR spots, but to say the Patriots took the wrong path in building their offense is not only based on hindsight but is misguided.
Coming into this season, the Patriots expected to have a young, dynamic stable of running backs (even before the emergence of Blount), a prized slot receiver in Danny Amendola, a versatile Aaron Hernandez, a hopefully healthy and recovered Rob Gronkowski, a wild card in Julian Edelman and rookies Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Josh Boyce. A mix of proven talent at tight end, receiver and running back with an influx of talent on the outside that needs to be slowly worked in, but would not need to be the primary focus for the offense nor opposing defenses.
Obviously Gronkowski took longer to recover than was hoped, but that was a distinct possibility that both sides knew about, and nobody could have predicted the knee injury he sustained later in the season, nor could they have been prepared for the murder charge that lead to the release of Aaron Hernandez. Right there, the basis for their 2012 offense was now gone before the season even started. Add in Amendola and Shane Vereen getting hurt early in the season, and it’s clear that the planned offense dissipated quickly. Now, instead of having to focus on Gronkowski and Hernandez moving all around the field, Vereen out of the backfield and Amendola in the slot, defenses could turn their attention to the remaining targets, a position that the rookie receivers were not ready for, and they struggled.The key for the Patriots going forward will be to develop Dobson and Thompkins to be reliable, or hopefully dynamic, receivers in this offense. One or both of these players, particularly Dobson, needs to become a consistent outside threat that will draw attention away from the middle of the field and open things up for other players.
It is easy to say that the Patriots should have done more because they fell short of playing for a championship and because Brady was largely underwhelming this year, but it is even easier to say without giving an alternative. It has been reported that the Patriots had interest in trading for Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald last offseason, a move that would have boosted the receiving corps to say the least. The issue with trading for premium talent is not only the cost associated with such a transaction, but also the availability of talent. Most teams are reluctant to trade their proven top receivers, much less on the cheap. Any rookie receiver is going to take time to work his way into the system and build a rapport with Brady. Angelo is being petty and cheap in taking shots at the plan after they have unfolded.