Patriots: Free agency inside story proves Bill Belichick can still recruit

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - NOVEMBER 09: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - NOVEMBER 09: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

Think all the way back to the dark days of, say, Feb. 2021. Remember? When Tom Brady was fresh off a Super Bowl victory for someone other than the Patriots, and the whole world got to speculating about exactly how bad the New England talent drain was about to become.

Would Julian Edelman follow TB12 to New England South? What about James White? Had Bill Belichick lost his entire ethos overnight with Brady’s win?

Well, uh, not exactly.

And Patriots insider Mike Reiss’ series of behind-the-scenes interviews with the additions from New England’s massive free agent spending spree proves exactly how much sway Belichick himself had in the process.

According to every addition New England imported this spring, to a man they came to Foxborough to work with the amazing Bill Belichick on rebuilding this machine the right way.

Turns out there are still plenty of believers in resurrecting what worked here for 20 years.

Also, look at us, talking about a one-time 7-9 team as if the sky fell in. That’s what success breeds, and that’s exactly the attitude that every free agent who followed Belichick home is looking to embody and absorb.

Patriots free agents all want to play for Bill Belichick.

Don’t believe us? Perhaps you’ll believe tight end Hunter Henry, someone who’s seemingly been courted by Belichick for ages.

"“I met him before coming out in the [2016] draft and I always talked to my high school coach [Kevin Kelley] about him, and so we kind of had that mutual connection,” tight end Hunter Henry said. “Just kind of building that throughout the years; I have a ton of respect for Coach, the Patriots, and I’m excited to be under him and have him be my coach now and help me grow as a player.”"

Or maybe you’d rather hear from Jalen Mills, in case you’re the kind of person who still thinks the ex-Eagle was a second-tier addition who Belichick and Co. didn’t have a real “plan” for.

"“I was about to walk out of the cafeteria and I hear ‘Hi Jalen.’ So I turn around and it’s Coach. In my mind, I’m saying ‘this is Coach,’ but it didn’t really click it was Coach Belichick. He was saying he was happy to have me here, and I literally turned my back to him and screamed out loud, ‘This is f—ing Coach Belichick!'”"

If those didn’t whet your whistle, there are plenty more quotes in the Reiss piece linked above.

Player after player, man after man, they all spoke reverentially of Belichick’s impact on the game and the perceived gravitas of actually getting the chance to learn from him.

Will Tom Brady’s leadership engender free agents to come bask in the sun and ideally win titles in a paradise in Tampa? Um, maybe? This winter, all it did was foster a community of bringing back everyone who’d just contributed to the title. Brady’s free agent splurge had a coating of exclusivity. If you were already here, we’ll find a way to bend the cap and take you back. Otherwise, tough luck.

Belichick’s spending spree? It was all newcomers who had a specific goal in mind upon reaching the open market: learn from the best. That says something.