Bill Belichick knows what he wants. He knows that the Patriots have a task list for this off-season:
1. Shore up the safety position
2. Add depth to the defensive line
3. Add weapons to the wide receiver group
4. Sign the Patriots' own free agents
That's the game plan. The Patriots have to accomplish their goals while not overspending. Robert Kraft knows this. The Patriots have been playing their free agency game for a long time now and have some basic ground rules. Ignore the big shiny hood ornament. Don't spend your allowance in one place. Take advantage of the market's attention.
While teams are spending absurdly high sums of money on wide receivers, the Patriots will most likely franchise Wes Welker as the cost effectiveness just doesn't exist. While teams like the Redskins spend ridiculous money on second tier receivers, the Patriots are sitting on their hands. The receiver value lies in the draft and that's where the Patriots will make their move. Maybe they'll bring in a cost effective veteran- but I'd bet they're going to double dip in the draft.
While teams are looking for safeties and defensive linemen, most are looking at the top for players like safety LaRon Landry. It's a dry market- don't jockey for Landry's contract. Teams will bid up and he will become overvalued. Instead, look towards those without the attention. While all teams are looking at one player, sign the 2nd tier players at a reasonable price. These are the players that fill out the depth chart while not breaking the bank and they are crucial to championship teams.
While teams are trying to land the big fishes, the Patriots are trying to take care of the fish in their own tank. Extensions to key players like Matthew Slater, Tracy White, and Dan Connolly are why the Patriots are consistently ahead of the curve- they find players who fit with the team and they bring them back. Don't spend money on something that you aren't sure will fit on the team- instead, pay the players you know have had success in the system. The Rob Ninkovichs. The Matthew Slaters. They represent the core of the team.
So other teams may be making splashes with their own free agents. They may be picking up some fun new toys. Don't think that the Patriots are sitting on their hands, though; they know what they're doing. For the Patriots, everything is going according to plan.