No need for Patriots to panic just yet

No need for Patriots to panic just yet
March 10, 2014, 1:30 pm
Share This Post

On Tuesday at 4 pm, Bill Belichick will kick off his 15th round of free agency as big boss of the New England Patriots, and by now — after a solid two months of evaluating the options — we’re pretty familiar with the lay of Belichick’s land.
We know that the Pats have about $12.7 million in cap space, and that Julian Edelman and Aqib Talib are their top priorities. We know that New England hopes to bring them both back, but then again, we also know that hope and reality are two different things. We know that Edelman will be looking to make the best of his first and probably only opportunity to land a legitimate NFL payday. We know that Talib will be looking for something in the neighborhood of the four years/$32M that the Dolphins gave Brett Grimes and the four years/$39M that the Packers gave Sam Shields. Aside from Edelman and Talib, we know that the Pats might also consider bringing back LeGarrette Blount, signing an established downfield receiver (Hakeem Nicks? Emmanuel Sanders?) and/or bolstering the defensive line and secondary.
Elsewhere, we know that Vince Wilfork will be asked to restructure his contract and give the Pats a little more freedom. We know that, either way, that cap space won’t be used on Brandon Spikes. We know that the Pats have a ton of options with Danny Amendola, but will likely just stand pat. We know that while it might be the offseason, Tom Brady is still in peak form. Just a pure physical specimen — even if he’s slower than a four-year old.
All told, we know most everything that’s on Belichick’s table —
We just don’t know what he’s going to do with it. That’s because he’s Bill Belichick. He’s tricky like that. So, while we wait to see how his 15th free agency season in New England unfolds, here’s what I want to know: Do you remember his first?
That’s a silly question. Of course you do. Who could forget February/March of 2000? As Belichick famously popped his Patriots cherry with a spending spree for the ages! First, by signing tight end Eric Bjornson away from the Cowboys, and then offensive lineman Grant Williams from the Seahawks, and then —
Well . . . OK, so that was it.
Truth is, there was absolutely nothing memorable about Belichick’s first run at free agency. But that’s fine. Back then, that was the plan. The Pats were handcuffed by the salary cap. Belichick was more focused on plotting out and installing his system than trying to boldly conquer the world all at once. He was measured. He was patient. He was deliberate.
And it worked. Two years and six days after Belichick took the job, the Pats were champs. Then twice more over the next three years. And in the time since, Belichick’s experienced prolonged success with that same formula. Aside from a few aberrations, the Pats have played it slow and steady. They’ve been the model of NFL consistency.
Of course, that’s all thanks in large part to tripping over Tom Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 Draft, and nearly 10 years after that last title, Brady is still the story. Only now, he’s older. He’ll be 37 at the start of next season. He’s still desperately waiting on that fourth ring. And after all he’s done for this organization, many believe that it’s now up to the organization — aka Belichick — to return the favor. Basically, to go all in. To forget being deliberate. To screw patience! To finally accept that the era of slow playing the hand and skimping on free agents and stockpiling draft picks needs to end. That’s it’s time to step up, take a swing and make a move that will push the Pats over the top — long term ramifications be damned. They say to follow the recent Ravens model. Go for it, win a Super Bowl and then deal with the immediately ugly aftermath.
To those waiting for that, I say:
Don’t hold your breath.
Could Belichick pull a fast one and break the bank on a star? Sure, he’s liable to do anything. But the urgency is a little overstated. We might be approaching that territory, but we’re not there yet. At this point, there’s no use in sacrificing the future to win right NOW, because the future still includes Tom Brady.
For years, Brady has said he plans to play into his 40s, and there’s no reason to think that he’s lying. And there’s no reason to think that’s unrealistic. Brett Favre won 12 games and made the NFC Championship when he was 40. Why can’t Brady do that, too? That gives him at least four more years of quality quarterbacking. As long as he keeps his arm healthy and the Pats keep the offensive line in good shape, he can still be successful. He will be successful.
Not to mention, with the state of the AFC East, the Pats will still win the division — at least for one more year. They’ll still head into the playoff as one of the three or four teams with a legitimate chance to make it out of the AFC and into the Super Bowl. In the NFL, all you need is that chance. The playoffs — with injuries and the one and done format — are wild and crazy. This was past Super Bowl was only the second in the last 20 years to feature both No. 1 seeds. And looking ahead, even though it’s insanely early, is there an AFC juggernaut next season? A team like Denver (who will likely look very different) that appears to be a cut above the Pats?
Nope. I don’t think so. And sure, it’d be nice to see the Patriots make a move and potentially BECOME that juggernaut. If a reasonable opportunity presents itself, you have to assume the Pats will be ready to strike.
But for now, there’s no reason to carelessly chase that dream. Not yet. Not in the name of sacrificing a future that will still include Tom Brady.
Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine