New England Patriots: "Patriot Way," "Packer Way," ...How about the "Right Way"?

Baloney is flying about "ways" when it's the "means" that count

New York Jets v New England Patriots
New York Jets v New England Patriots / Winslow Townson/GettyImages

The airwaves are full of chatter about what the Patriots are doing now under their new interim general manager, Eliot Wolf. Blather about the "Patriot Way" and the "Packer Way" is floating around Foxborough like a gigantic hot air balloon (an appropriate metaphor!). The "Patriot Way" was a lot of baloney. It began and ended with Tom Brady's New England career, nothing more, and nothing less.

When you had Brady, you had the man and the ways and means to win. That's what it was all about, and that's all it's ever about in the NFL or any other professional team sports league, for that matter. It's not rocket science, and there is only one approach you need to take to win in the National Football League.

This approach has nothing to do with any "Way." It has to do with bringing in the means to make things work. It's no secret that all NFL Lombardi Trophy-winning teams have one thing in common, with just a few aspects as part of the equation. That's what we'll explore here.

First things first in building a winning team, you need great players

The first major hurdle to building a winning NFL team is no secret but it seems to be forgotten often. That's the fact that you have to have a few great players if you hope to win an NFL title. No team that has ever won has lacked that feature. Another facet of that absolute requirement is that you'd better either have a totally superstar quarterback or a darn good one, or, if he's not a great one, a few great players to complement him.

The Patriots with Tom Brady had the All-time best to this point at taking the team on his shoulders and carrying it to six titles and nine Super Bowl games. At different times, Brady also had Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, two great players in tandem. Alternatively, when Brady had less than a stellar cast with him on offense, great defensive players like Ty Law, Vince Wilfork, and Rodney Harrison provided the greatness required.

The current Kansas City Chiefs are another example. In their case, they have two great players, as in Hall-of-Fame caliber players, on their offense. They, of course, would be the dynamic Patrick Mahomes (the guy who'll break Brady's six Lombardis record if anyone will) and their terrific tight end, Travis Kelce. Two are enough, but add a Tyreek Hill, and it's that much better. A couple of Hall of Fame-level players are essential.

And speaking of the "Packer Way" baloney, that can be boiled down to three specific players in the more recent era. They would be the earlier twosome of Brett Favre and the insuperable Reggie White (the greatest defensive player ever not named Lawrence Taylor), along with James Lofton and Charles Woodson to help out. They also had a superstar QB named Aaron Rodgers, who, if he'd had an additional super player or two, he'd have won multiple Super Bowl titles.

The next thing you need is a lot of very good players

In addition to the superstar and great players, you also need a host of very good players. These players may not be Hall-of-Fame level but are Pro Bowl types or close somewhere in their careers and provide very good performances routinely.

These are players like Matt Light, David Andrew, Shaq Mason, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Nate Solder, Willie McGinest, James White, Mike Vrabel, and others, really solid players who, when added to the great, provide the rest of the package to win. They can't do it without the great guys leading the way, but without them, the job is that much more difficult, if possible at all.

This gets us to the 2024 New England Patriots' team-building thus far. They have continued the 'Belichick Way" of bloating up on mediocre players or worse in the name of depth. It's a flawed approach. It doesn't work. Eliot Wolf has trodden down that path of mediocrity and sub-mediocrity thus far in his approach to free agency. There are no great, or even really good players added, which is difficult because you have to pay for them, you know?

In addition, there are the questionable re-signings of Hunter Henry, who's just an OK tight end, Kyle Dugger, a decent safety, Josh Uche, and Anfernee Jennings. They also overpaid Mike Onwenu, a good offensive lineman who was evidently good at playing right tackle, and Jacoby Brissett, a journeyman quarterback.

Wolf has traversed a path similar to Belichick in his final go-arounds after he broomed the best, Brady, from his team. It's a losing strategy, doomed to failure. This free agency period should have been devoted to signing one or two great players or one great and one really good one. They did neither. Instead, they loaded up on questionable types and players who don't have much pedigree now or never had any at all.

A lot is expected in the upcoming draft in April. But Patriot Nation shouldn't be too optimistic. After a great start by Wolf in letting go of Lawrence Guy (a great guy, by the way) and Adrian Phillips, and trading Mac Jones, he reverted to form and the "Belichick Way" subsequently by retaining or adding mediocre or worse players and squandered valuable cap space in the process.

Maybe Wolf will surprise in the draft, maybe not. But to date, he's flopped in free agency. It's not a good sign. If he's auditioning for owner Robert Kraft, he's laid a goose egg. Another one in the draft and expect him to be scrambled out the door just like his mentor, Bill Belichick was.

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