Despite the usual grumbling from Patriots fans over the team not spending money (which they have), this offseason has been right on par with a regular Bill Belichick offseason that we have all been witness to for the past 18 years. While mantra’s like the “Patriot Way” have become repetitive, they nonetheless ring true every year. New England has not spent big money this offseason, but instead made a number of low risk, high reward moves that provided them with flexibility and contingency plans heading into 2018.
None of the Pats signings have been flashy, but they have all been relevant. Resigning Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater doesn’t necessarily strike fear into the hearts of other teams around the league. However, those signings will show up on Sundays when the Patriots punt the ball away and Slater makes a tackle inside the ten yard line, or when Ebner pulls off a trick play that helps secure a win for the team. These moves ensure that their special teams unit will continue to perform at a high level.
The trade for Cordarrelle Patterson is a similar move. The Patriots moved from the fifth round to the sixth in exchange for the Raiders wide receiver/return specialist. Some Patriots fans immediately began to talk about Patterson lining up alongside Brandin Cooks to enhance the Patriots deep ball offense. Let’s get one thing straight first: that’s not why New England brought him in. The Patriots are already filled to the brim with receivers: Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Kenny Britt, and Phillip Dorsett (not to mention Rob Gronkowski). Patterson has never shown consistency or significant ability as a receiver. However, he has been one of the best return men in the league since he was drafted, and will help replace the void left by Dion Lewis as a kick returner. While he has little experience as a punt returner, the Patriots may also look to use him in that role due to the departure of Danny Amendola. Patterson has also shown serious skill in other special teams roles such as a gunner on punt teams. And while I did say he is not being brought in to play receiver, he still has the skill necessary to step into that role if necessary due to injuries or other outstanding circumstances (just like Matthew Slater has in the past). This trade wasn’t flashy, but it helped provide them with needed depth.
The recent resigning of LaAdrian Waddle and the signing of Matt Tobin are highly underrated moves by New England. Neither of the two are All-Pro offensive tackles, and they are certainly not one-for-one replacements of former Patriot Nate Solder. However they, along with Antonio Garcia, and Cole Croston, provide the Patriots with depth at the left tackle position. The team has the flexibility to determine which player is the best fit, or even use a rotation of players if they find that most effective. It would certainly be more comforting to know that Tom Brady had an elite level blind side protector, but the money being thrown at that position meant that there was no way New England would be paying for one.
The signing of Jeremy Hill is similar. Dion Lewis cannot simply be replaced, but Hill is a young, talented veteran who helps provide a boost at the running back position for almost no cost.
I have discussed many of these moves previously. However, now that you can look at the whole picture and see what the Patriots have been doing, it’s easier to see that they have provided themselves with immense flexibility heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. Heading into this offseason the team’s biggest needs were defensive line, offensive tackle, linebacker, and cornerback. Everyone has been bouncing their heads around, trying to figure out which positions New England would fill in the draft. These moves have allowed the Patriots the flexibility to go in any direction that they choose. They signed Clayborn and traded for Danny Shelton for defensive line help. They signed/resigned two offensive tackles. They traded for cornerback Jason McCourty. They traded for a return specialist and signed a running back. They resigned linebacker Marquis Flowers. Through low-level moves, the Patriots were able to fill every single need that they had coming into the offseason.
Now this certainly does not mean that these are all fantastic options and that the team is automatically going to Super Bowl LIII. However, it shows how the Patriots were able to fill gaps enough so that heading into the draft they don’t have to be tied down to one player or position. If a player at one position that they are targeting is removed from the board, they can simply look at their number one option at a different position, rather than settling for a player they aren’t completely confident in. They get to look at “best available” rather than anything specific.
Naturally, Patriots fans want the big splash. But there is a method to the madness that is Bill Belichick, and his moves so far this offseason have put the Patriots in a good spot heading into the draft next month.
Until next time – B$