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The Mass Media

Free Agency the Bill Belichick Way

Bill+Belichick
Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick is the type of guy who brings off-brand soda to a party and convinces everyone there that it’s better than the real thing. When the Patriots traded Jamie Collins to the Browns for a conditional third-round pick back in October, the consensus in sports media was that Bill Belichick had made a mistake. After the Patriots earned their fifth Superbowl win this February under Belichick, that consensus quickly changed.
Belichick has shown that despite making seemingly irrational moves, his long-term outlook keeps the team among the upper echelon of NFL teams. An easy example of this occurred over the 2015 off season, when the Patriots let fan-favorite Vince Wilfork walk in free agency. Wilfork quickly signed with the Texans on a two-year $9 million contract, and since then, he has played a little over 50 percent of his team’s total snaps, recording 43 tackles and no sacks. Belichick replaced Wilfork that same off season by drafting Malcom Brown who, in the same time frame, has played a little less than 50 percent of his team’s snaps, but recorded 99 tackles and six sacks. He’s also making, in comparison, a paltry sum of $7 million over four years on his rookie contract.    
Bill Belichick’s long-term outlook and success are important to keep in mind when looking at the Patriots’ off-season transactions, because it makes Belichick’s seemingly irrational moves look very rational in hindsight.  The Patriots are sitting pretty with nearly $46 million in cap space, and part of this is because of Belichick’s refusal to overpay players when he thinks they can be replaced with a player on a cheaper contract.
So far, the Patriots have put up a first-round tender offer for Malcolm Butler and are in the negotiating process with Dont’a Hightower, two players who absolutely need to be signed for the long-term. Yet it wouldn’t be surprising to see them walk in free agency just like Wilfork did, if Belichick thinks allocating the cap space to them will restrict the team’s opportunities in the future.
This can be a frustrating thing for fans to witness, especially after watching Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones be traded for cap space savings, but Belichick’s history with these types of moves must be kept in mind. We have yet to see who the Patriots find with the fourth-rounder that they received from the Browns for Collins, but the Chandler Jones trade has already proven fruitful. The Patriots received two draft picks from the Arizona Cardinals in that trade, and have turned those picks into Malcolm Mitchell and Joe Thuney, two players who have heavily contributed during their rookie years.
Picking relatively unknown players in the later rounds of the draft isn’t sexy by any means, but the Patriots have shown that it works well and that they’ll keep doing it. This strategy surprisingly helps make the Patriots a little bit more predictable for fans, because one can instantly ignore most of the free agency rumors that are being thrown around this off-season and confidently predict which players they’ll let go. Martellus Bennett is a prime example of this. Though he was very effective replacing Rob Gronkowski during his injury, he’s looking to sign his next contract for an average $9 million per season. That’s a contract the Patriots are highly unlikely to pursue, and it was all but confirmed when the Patriots decided to trade a fourth-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for fellow tight-end Dwayne Allen.
Another high-profile player who has been mentioned as a potential free-agency target is the infamous running back Adrian Peterson. It’s not worth getting into Peterson’s legal history, because one look at his desired salary numbers immediately takes him off of the Patriots radar. In the same vain, the Patriots likely won’t re-sign LeGarette Blount, who has shown to be ineffective largely for the same reason; he costs too much, at a time when effective running backs can be found in the later rounds of the draft. It would make more financial sense for the Patriots to take a look at Jamaal Charles, who could be picked up for a heavy discount after having season-ending surgeries.
DeSean Jackson and Brandin Cooks have also been linked with the Patriots, and those two are as equally out of reach as Adrian Peterson is. DeSean Jackson is looking to sign for roughly $11 million per year, and the Saints have been shopping Cooks around for a rumored first-round draft pick. Both of those price tags seem well beyond what Belichick is comfortable giving up, especially for guys who are mostly known for running deep routes. Both of those players have also expressed discontent with their roles on their respective teams, something I can’t imagine Belichick being fond of.
The Patriots will likely increase snaps for Malcolm Mitchell, especially after witnessing him grab a handful of clutch catches late last season. If the Patriots do attempt to bring in another wide receiver just to run the deep routes, Cordarrelle Patterson of the Minnesota Vikings or Kenny Stills of the Miami Dolphins could be candidates. Both of these players have shown that they are very fast, but are largely inconsistent catching and reeling the ball in. Yet they both have potential on special teams, and once again could be brought in for pennies on the dollar.
Though this year’s free agency period is still in its infancy, there are a multitude of players that can be taken out of the Patriots sweepstakes. Though I hope this doesn’t include Dont’a Hightower or Malcolm Butler, I won’t be distraught if either of them sign long-term deals elsewhere. There’s a reason why the phrase “In Bill we trust” has gained so much popularity. Belichick has proven time and time again that he can find hidden gems where other teams fail to look.
So when Bill comes around to the party with a box of Mr. Pib under his arm instead of Dr. Pepper, just trust the guy.