Silencing Hank: Free Agent Frenzy

Will you just trust this man? Will ya?? (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

This happens every year, doesn't it?

Free Agency opens, the same teams come out of the box and make some huge signings, everyone is all fired up about the sudden shift in power in the various divisions, and fans all across the country are dancing in the streets over their new quarterback or receiver or defensive end or whoever it is that just became set for life with a massive payday. ESPN and NFL Network are airing coverage nonstop of various free agent desitinations and making predictions about who is going to land where next. After a dark, grey February without a cheerleader in sight, Free Agency blows through March like a warm spring breeze and gets everyone excited for football again. It's a brief, beautiful oasis in the dry, arid desert of the NFL offseason.

And once again, we Patriots fans are standing on the sidelines like a nerd at the prom, watching everyone over in Washington and Tampa Bay taking their shiny new players out for a spin. The days pass, and more and more players travel off to teams that don't play in Foxboro. And with each new signing, that little pit in our stomachs grows just a little bit. It's never surprising, but for some reason we still find ways to let it get to us, don't we?

After all, we all knew, deep down, that New England wasn't going to sign Vincent Jackson, but then...well...they didn't sign Vincent Jackson! Mario Williams never really had a shot at being a Patriot, but...well... now he isn't a Patriot! We try to tell ourselves to relax, Super Bowls aren't won in March, and in Bill We Trust, but there's still something about seeing the players we really wanted to join the Pats take their services elsewhere that makes us feel like the last puppy left in the box as all our brothers and sisters travel off to their new homes.

Sure, there are always some free agent signings in New England - but they are very rarely the kind that makes you get so hydrated from celebrating that you have to call in sick to work the next day. Patriots free agents are more often than not solid, role-player guys that make sense in the Patriots' system but aren't seen as legitimate game-changers. They are the kind of players that are fun to analyze and guess as to how Bill Belichick will best use them, but they weren't on the top of anyone's wish list. They are Jonesville Community College when we were reeeeallly hoping to get into Harvard.

I know it's all going to work out. I know that every player the Patriots bring in is there for a reason and will help make this team better. I know that the Patriots will most likely be hosting a playoff game in January 2013. But of course, in spite of all this, Hank is once again having at it. He's worried that the rest of the league is getting better while the Patriots are standing still.

It's time to shut him up.

But Alec, are Steve Gregory and Jonathan Fanene really the answers to our defensive woes? Why can't we just go out and get a big name?

Shut up, Hank. Was Andre Carter the answer to our pass rush this time last year (well...this time last year we were all terrified that there was going to be no season. But you know what I mean)? Were we all doing backflips over Mark Anderson and Brian Waters? I know I wasn't. I trust the Patriots front office knows what it is doing, and I'm sure both Fanene and Gregory will have solid seasons. We also have another, say, 6 MONTHS until the season starts. And I think that there's something going on in April where we can get some players out of college, or something like that. Let the full offseason happen.

But Alec, we NEVER make any big splashes in free agency! How come other teams are always signing a bunch of big names and we're stuck with all these damn role players?

Shut up, Hank. First of all, New England has made big splashes in free agency in the past. Rosevelt Colvin and Adalius Thomas immediately come to mind. Some of the team's best offseason acquisitions - Randy Moss, Corey Dillon, and Wes Welker - came via trade, so at the end of the day the Pats really haven't had a lot of luck signing big-name free agents. Secondly, only a handful of teams have done any major work in these first three days of free agency. The Packers, Ravens, and Steelers haven't spent a dime yet, and a lot of other teams are still working on resigning players back onto their rosters. Let the teams that always get aggressive in free agency have their fun right now; I'd much rather be celebrating in February than celebrating in March.

But Alec, the Bills just signed Mario Williams! He's the greatest defensive end that ever lived! It takes 15 guys just to block him, and there are only 11 players allowed on the field at one time! Tommy B is done for! The Bills are going to win the AFC East!

Shut up, Hank. You're being absolutely ridiculous. Yes, Williams is a beast. Yes, he makes the Bills defense better. And yes, Buffalo now has one of the better defensive lines in the league. But do you really think that signing one player immediately makes Buffalo playoff contenders? There is still a lot of work to be done on that team before they can dethrone the Patriots atop the AFC East. Were the Texans dominating the playoffs with Williams in the lineup? Did he make them perennial Super Bowl contenders? They seemed to do just fine without him this year, didn't they? Furthermore, Williams has seen his sack total decrease every single year since 2007, and he has been sidelined with injuries the past two seasons. I think it was a great signing for Buffalo, and the race for 2nd place in the division just got more interesting, but to say that Mario Williams is going to singlehandedly turn the Bills around and transform them into playoff contenders is like saying the new pair of pants I just bought is suddenly going to make me attractive - it's a huge upgrade from the crusty, holey mess that was there before, but there needs to be significant improvements everywhere else before anyone can take me seriously.

But Alec, Brandon Lloyd is visiting the 49ers today! What if they sign him and we don't have a deep threat? How will this offense function without him??

Shut up, Hank. My guess is that they will function pretty much like they functioned in 2011, which was pretty damn well. The entire offense is back next year, with the exception of possibly BenJarvus Green-Ellis, with a full offseason to continue working together. Yes, it would be nice to have a deep threat, and I still really want to see Lloyd catching passes from Tommy B, but I haven't lost sight of the fact that this team was one play away from being World Champions last year - a play that probably would have gone the other way 90 times out of 100. I think the offense is going to be OK if we don't sign Lloyd. There's no need to panic over it. Plus, just because he's visiting the 49ers, that doesn't mean he's going to sign with them. Let's wait until he has a contract before we start looking for a noose.

But Alec, it's boring watching other teams make moves and sign big free agents! I want to be in on the action!

Shut up, Hank. If you want to support a team that makes big splashes every free agency period, generates a lot of hoopla, gets all the analysts excited over what this revamped team will be able to do once the season starts, and then goes 7-9 every year, become a Redskins fan. If you want to win football games and be in the Super Bowl discussion every single year, just shut your damn mouth, relax, and let Bill Belichick do his thing.

Maybe it's just me that feels this way. And I'm more than a little ashamed of it, to be honest; the Patriots have never given me a reason to doubt them before, and it isn't fair to be jealous of teams that would gladly trade all of their big free agents for the kind of success the Pats have had. March and April are historically not the most fun times to be Patriots fans - but that's OK, because January and February are all that really matters. Let's all continue to enjoy Free Agency, let the suckers other teams throw their money at the top prospects, and wish them all better luck next year as we go on to compete for another Super Bowl.

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