We in the media have done the league’s bidding.
Reacting to the marionette strings the NFL has us on, we’ve swallowed the myth that the NFL Draft and opening of the free-agent period are the biggest determinants for a team’s immediate success.
So we produce that high-calorie offseason junk food NFL consumers gorge on and the notion of “winning” the offseason has -- in the estimation of fans and the media -- become a goal in itself. Hell, there are teams that feel the same way. No team wants its fans to have the impression that its GM is in, “No thanks, just looking…” mode when free agency begins. The crap team that drafts a quarterback too high because the quarterback sells hope? They’ll probably be drafting high once again.
The Dolphins and Titans were offseason darlings during the free-agent period last season.
As we’ve seen both locally and around the league, the bit players that make critical differences to a team’s success often aren’t the ones who were flying around the country in early March as coveted free agents or hugging Roger Goodell on a stage in April.
Asked Monday about some of the key roles that bit players have played for the Patriots this season, Bill Belichick pointed out, “There are a number of different ways you can acquire players and build your team in the offseason. I think that pretty much covers it, some of the guys you mentioned -- (Joe Vellano, LeGarrette Blount, Julian Edelman) draft choices, college free agents that weren’t drafted, waiver wire players like Chris Jones, trades like LeGarrette, veteran signings, offseason signings or re-signings in the case of Edelman. Those are all ways to build your team.”
Jones, Vellano and Sealver Siliga are a story unto themselves. Three undrafted stiffs the Patriots added whose acquisitions I paid no attention to are going to be absolutely vital to this team’s chances of getting to the Super Bowl. They are the interior defensive line, every bit as important as 2012 first-rounders Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones.
“You have some kind of an idea of what the player can bring to your team, but how it’s all going to turn out and how the team is going to come together . . . nobody really thought when we were putting the team together that we would lose our top three defensive tackles, with [Vince] Wilfork and [Tommy] Kelly and [Armond] Armstead before the season started,” Belichick explained. “Those kind of things are unexpected and you just have to react to them along the way. Of course it’s good to see that guys that you’ve brought in have been able to fit in, not all of them obviously, but some of them have been able to fit in and contribute. It’s a long process and one that takes a lot of different twists and turns. It’s hard to tell sometimes where players will come from.”
The most scrutinized move of the Patriots offseason revolved around Wes Welker signing with the Broncos.
Welker and his agents turned down the Patriots’ offer at the outset of free agency and decided to test the market. The Patriots -- realizing their offense was dependent on slot receiver production -- signed Danny Amendola to cover their asses. When Welker went to the Broncos for a much more modest contract than he -- and many in the media -- predicted he’d get, the howling began. The Patriots could have just given the job to Julian Edelman but Edelman had been injury prone over his career. So too had Amendola. So on April 10, after Edelman found no other serious suitors, he returned to the Patriots for a modest deal.
Welker decided to leave but the Patriots covered themselves. Edelman and Amendola wound up catching 158 for 1,689 yards between them.
Belichick said Monday he can’t concern himself with outside perceptions.
“I really can’t worry about what everybody else thinks outside of the organization because those opinions are very wide,” he pointed out. “Some people think some things are good; some people think they’re bad. Whatever it is, it doesn’t make a difference once we make a commitment to a player or a position or a situation, then we try to let it play out until we feel there’s the need to change that decision, whether it’s to move on or bring somebody else in or accelerate that player in his role. I just can’t be concerned with what everybody thinks because there are so many opinions out there. There would be no way to satisfy them all anyway. I just don’t want to spend too much time worrying about that, in all honesty.”
That people do worry about it -- tens of millions of people worrying a lot -- is what makes the NFL so financially successful. There’s no need to apologize or feel bad for producing or gorging on the offseason junk food. As long as there’s a little sliver in your brain that can still tell you that, by December, it probably won’t matter that much at all.