Feb 1, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; New England Patriots quarterbackTom Brady
(12) hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Any discussion involving free agency and the New England Patriots results in a situation where it is very easy for the fan base to stirred into a frothing frenzy of frantic frustration. In their history the Patriots while under control of head coach and de facto general manager Bill Belichick are not a team that breaks the bank and moves aggressively when the new NFL season starts and players are free to shop for offers. This is yet another free agency period that has all of New England frustrated and dejected as free agent after free agent signs elsewhere.
Other teams pay high-end prices for free agents while New England tends to stay on the sidelines and shop for deals. In other words, Bill Belichick is not often buying the new model year BMW with all the bells and whistles, but instead is kicking the tires on a used Toyota without a lot of miles and at a bargain price. To the frustration of everyone watching other NFL teams and their crazy spending habits, the Patriots appeared to be standing still while other teams threw millions of dollars at the prime talent.
Of course, the New England Patriots always have a method to their madness as they search for bargains and perfect fits on offense and defense. They subscribe to the philosophy that big spending on free agents often come with big regrets. As a cautionary tale, check the recent history of these “off-season winners”:
Sep 15, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; San Francisco 49ers cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (28) commits a pass interference penalty on Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate (81) during the 2nd half at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated San Francisco 29-3. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
2011 Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles were coming off an 11-5 season and loaded up in free agency. brought in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha at cornerback to team with Asante Samuel; defensive lineman Jason Babin was added to bookend Trent Cole. Cullen Jenkins and Anthony Hargrove were added to the defensive line. On offense the Eagles grabbed running back Ronnie Brown to pair with LeSean McCoy, back-up quarterback Vince Young as insurance to Michael Vick, wide receiver Steve Smith (the younger one), and two new offensive linemen. The dropped to 8-8 and cost Andy Reid his job.
Dec 14, 2014; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills defensive end Mario Williams (94) tries to block a pass by Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Buffalo beat Green Bay 21-13. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
2012 Buffalo Bills: The 6-10 Bills went out to sign a new pass rush and paid a record contract to Mario Williams to be that superstar and team with #3 overall pick from the year before Marcell Dareus. In addition, they snagged pass rush specialist Mark Anderson from the Patriots. Nose tackle Kyle Williams was returning from injury and first round draft pick cornerback Stephon Gilmore seemed to be the final piece in the puzzle. A healthy Stevie Johnson and C.J. Spiller seemed to make the Bills the favorite to knock-off New England. The Bills repeated at 6-10 despite their spending and ushered in a new regime as well.
Dec 1, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace (11) can not make catch near the end zone against New York Jets free safety Jaiquawn Jarrett (37) at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
2013 Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins were coming off a 7-9 season when they decided to make some moves to surround second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill with some improved talent. In came top free agent wide receiver Mike Wallace and slot receiver Brandon Gibson. Tight end Dustin Keller was plucked from division rivals the New York Jets. Offensive linemen Lance Louis and Tyson Clabo were signed and guard Dallas Thomas was drafted to upgrade the weak offensive line after letting former #1 overall draft pick Jake Long walk away. On defense linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett were dumped while the team paid a premium for Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. In the draft the Dolphins traded up to #3 overall spot to grab pass rushing defensive end Dion Jordan. It was unanimous in the press: the Patriots’ Reign in the AFC East was over. Instead it was a team that finished 8-8, averaged less than 20 points per game, and allowed a whopping 58 sacks as the Dolphins locker room disintegrated.
The point is that the teams that “win” in free agency often do so because they are a bad team to begin with and have to use premium contracts to lure flawed players. These teams are ones with a ton of cap space because they have no pipeline of young players of their own and the players they have they have no desire to keep.
Last year saw NFL.com after the first week of free agency crown the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (worst record in the league in 2014!), the Denver Broncos (where was that explosive offense and superstar defense and DeMarcus Ware in January?), and the Oakland Raiders (whoops!) as the winners of free agency. In fairness, they also included Baltimore (which was primarily due to re-signing their own key players) and Green Bay (ditto–although Julius Peppers was not the difference maker as expected).
Oct 5, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Travaris Cadet (39) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the fourth quarter of a game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Buccaneers 37-31 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
The Patriots already have a great offense and lost only running back Shane Vereen (who was never going to be re-signed) and established receiving back Travaris Cadet was signed at a team-friendly deal. Guard Dan Connolly could still return and either way the interior offensive line is very likely to be targeted in the NFL Draft. Danny Amendola and Brian Tyms are staying and the Patriots added Brandon Gibson and Kevin Dorsey to compete at wide receiver. Tight end Scott Chandler was a fantastic and underrated signing who will pay big dividends in the fall.
On defense, the New England Patriots lost cornerback Darrelle Revis and released Brandon Browner and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. The Patriots brought back Sealver Siliga and Alan Branch to mitigate the loss of Wilfork while signing defensive end Jabaal Sheard at a discount rate to boost the pass rush. The Patriots boosted the secondary keeping All-Pro safety Devin McCourty and adding inexpensive cornerbacks Robert McClain and Bradley Fletcher to compete as the team adapts to a no-Revis defensive style.
Sep 14, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; New England Patriots defensive tackle Dominique Easley (74) celebrates his interception during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Vikings 30-7. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Recent draft picks defensive tackle Dominique Easley (2014 1st round), wide receiver Aaron Dobson (2013 2nd round) and running back James White (2014 4th round) are also being counted on in 2015 as the pipeline of young players in New England is a key to staying strong year after year. Dobson was hindered by injuries in 2014 and will be given every chance to fulfill the vast potential he showed as a rookie in 2013. Easley was shut down in 2014 to ready him for 2015 and will be counted on to boost the interior pass rush. White will get a shot to compete with Cadet as the receiving back and can earn a significant role in 2015.
The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl with a dynamic offense, a strong defense, and excellent special teams play in 2014. The offense could be better, the special teams still strong, and the defense will try a different set of tactics to thrive in 2015. The Patriots were winners without Revis before, and the team will be a Super Bowl favorite again in 2015. The defense may be different, but with a ball-hawking zone scheme with pressure from the front seven–which certainly works in Seattle–the Patriots should be right back on top despite “losing” in free agency yet again.