If the Patriots were to acquire a player in season, like freshly-released safety Ed Reed, they wouldn't start their homework on him the day he hits waivers or the open market. Player cuts don't happen in a vacuum; the rest of the league is sensitive to the indications that something may happen. At the first signs, personnel departments get to work.
Head coach Bill Belichick explained Wednesday: "When you have players who are – whatever their situation is – that we think could potentially become available, then we start working on them ahead of time, so that when it happens – or if it happens – we’re not sitting there trying to scramble around and find out the information and evaluate the player on film and so forth."
Belichick noted teams can be tipped off by a decrease in the player's snaps, a contract issue, or information from a solid league source. Having a head start is invaluable.
So how about it: Is Belichick interested in Reed?
"I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to comment on players who aren’t on our team," he quipped.
New England currently has five safeties on the roster. Devin McCourty is an every-week starting strong safety who has most often been paired with Steve Gregory. Rookie Duron Harmon has been the third man in. Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner, who get nearly all their time on special teams, round out the group.
Belichick noted they've communicated well and played tough so far this season.
"Devin and Steve and Duron have kind of been in a little bit of a 3-for-2 situation, or sometimes 3-for-3 when we go to dime defenses where all of them are on the field at the same time, but I think they’ve all been productive.
"I think that those guys have all worked hard, when they’ve been on the field they’ve all been solid contributors, and we’ve certainly had a lot less problems this year than we had last year, even the last couple of years, with balls getting thrown over our head in the middle of the field and things like that. We’ve made more plays on the ball back there, so that’s been a pretty solid part of our defense."
Where would Reed fit in? Though Gregory broke a thumb in New England's last game before the bye week, he does not play the role for New England Reed did in Houston or Baltimore.
It's just one point among many to ponder in any case of player acquisitions.
"It’s more sometimes about timing," Belichick explained, "than it is about the player that’s available or the situation that you’re dealing with on your team at that point in time, which there is always something, whether it’s injuries or the type of scheme that you’re getting ready to face or that you want to use, and where your depth is at different positions, how to put all that together."
He will, of course, do what's best for the team.