It’s another year of NFL Free Agency and 31 teams are not waiting for the legal tampering period to end before the news explodes with agreements in principle. In fact, by mid-way through the second day of the two-day tampering period, 31 of the 32 NFL teams had news leaked of at least one free agent either signing or re-signing with them.
One team appeared to be on vacation. Check that. The New England Patriots as an organization were figuratively and head coach Bill Belichick was LITERALLY on vacation.
Somehow, with all these moves going on around them, the Patriots still seem to have come out on top. Without signing a single player, the Patriots are still winning free agency.
How is that? New England is down a starting left tackle and their best pass rusher. This would decimate any other team.
For the Patriots this is business as usual in Foxboro. Last season it was long-time starting left tackle Nate Solder, primary running back Dion Lewis, wide receiver Danny Amendola, and starting cornerback Malcolm Butler. Those moves were expected to cripple the Patriots. Instead, they won a sixth Super Bowl.
New England drafted Lewis’ replacement with rookie first-round draft pick Sony Michel providing a spark to the running game. The Patriots sent a third-round draft pick to San Francisco for tackle Trent Brown and a fifth-round draft pick.
New England swapped picks to get cornerback Jason McCourty and found undrafted gem J.C. Jackson to replace Butler. New England already had Julian Edelman back and replaced Amendola with the trio of Phillip Dorsett, Cordarrelle Patterson and holdover Chris Hogan.
In the past, it was the loss of cornerback Aqib Talib to the Denver Broncos who was to doom the franchise. He was replaced with an upgrade in Darrelle Revis. Revis was “lost” in free agency to the New York Jets and replaced by Butler for a fraction of the price.
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How about replacing Trey Flowers? Well, the Patriots used him to replace former first-round draft pick Chandler Jones who was dealt prior to leaving in free agency. Before Jones, the Patriots lost Mark Anderson and Andre Carter. Before them, it was Richard Seymour being traded and Ty Warren leaving via free agency.
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The examples over the years are endless. The loss of a Deion Branch, David Patten, David Givens or Wes Welker in free agency. The loss of Ty Law or Asante Samuel for greener (money) pastures. These are just a few examples over the past 20 years.
So while many New England fans are freaking out about the loss of Brown and Flowers, as usual, there is a need for patience. There is always a plan in New England. The second wave of free agency is where the Patriots will strike. In addition, the Patriots don’t have a shortage of draft picks in this April’s draft. Plenty of ammunition for a Bill Belichick/Nick Cesario led front office.
Another part of that lack of panic in Foxboro is due to the Patriots having already been active in advance of free agency. The market for Trey Flowers exploded and the Patriots were prepared as they traded a fifth-round draft pick for Michael Bennett and a seventh-round draft pick. Bennett is signed to a ridiculously cheap contract in comparison to the deal Flowers will sign.
Bennett is a short-term fix at defensive end. His production is as good as Flowers and he has the same versatility that should make him a fit for the defense. With a deep draft class at the position, the Patriots will likely pick his replacement by snagging a couple of defensive ends.
As far as Brown, the Patriots spent a first-round draft pick last year on Isaiah Wynn, a left tackle. The investment was already made and as long as Wynn is back to full strength for training camp after missing all of 2018 due to a torn Achilles in the preseason, they shouldn’t miss a beat. Wynn should be able to step in based on his strong play last year pre-injury and potentially be an upgrade.
The Patriots are losing kick returner/wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to the Chicago Bears as well. It is a loss, but another one that is not going to make-or-break the 2019 season. Would New England have a role for him? Of course. Will he be replaced? Absolutely.
Oh, and the Patriots are not going away empty-handed from losing Brown and Flowers. Both should net the Patriots a third-round compensatory pick in the 2020 draft. Already the Patriots will have five top 100 draft picks for next season to reload once again. They may end up with more compensatory picks by the time free agency is over.
Yes, it is frustrating to see other teams making big splashes, but the Patriots are just not going to be chasing the next big deal–they just do not operate that way. With six Super Bowl championships and nine trips to the Super Bowl since 2001, it makes it very difficult to get too worked up over letting a player go or not signing a big name player.