"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
- Albert Einstein
Here we are again, everyone. Free Agency is almost upon us, and once again we find ourselves in a very familiar position. The New England Patriots have some needs, they have some players they are hoping to re-sign, and as we approach zero hour exactly nothing has gotten done yet in regards to the players on everyone's mind. We've all been here before, we all know the drill, and yet somehow, none of us want to listen to Mr. Einstein and we expect something different to happen this time around.
It seems that no matter how often the Patriots approach Free Agency THE EXACT SAME WAY, there will always be those - fans, haters, and media alike - who can't for the life of them understand what the hell New England is doing. Words like "complacent," "arrogant," "stingy," and "stubborn" are tossed around at will, and the minutes, hours, and days tick by with New England doing very little in terms of making any big moves. Big splashes are made all across the league, players are signing with new teams almost hourly, and still the Patriots do nothing. Pacing, hair pulling, and Hank screaming ensues.
But let's all remember: this is what the Patriots do. They have a system, a tried, true, and proven one, that gives them the best possible chance to be successful. They will not be deviating from that system today, tomorrow, or in the future. And in case you aren't familiar with that system, it goes something like this:
- Set a value for potentially returning players. Offer said players deals that reflect their value to the team. If player accepts, great; if he chooses to seek more money elsewhere, great. Offer will stand until he signs with another team.
- Sit back, let the teams that are going to overpay overpay. Avoid the initial frenzy. Avoid getting caught up in "sexy" signings, attention getting headlines, and big-money players.
- Target players who would be a good fit for the team, aggressively pursue those players with deals that reflect value to the team (see point 1). If player accepts, great; if he chooses to seek more money elsewhere, great. Offer will stand until he signs with another team.
- Allow dust to settle, make the bulk of moves with second tier players in mind, build depth, address needs.
- Focus on Free Agency as a supplement to effective drafting, potential trades, and later acquisitions as opposed to the end-all and tone setter for the whole year.
- Sign players that can potentially help win a lot of football games.
- Win a lot of football games.
It hasn't failed them yet (But Alec, the Patriots haven't won a Super Bowl in ten years! Shut up, Hank.), and it gives the Patriots the best possible chance to be competitive. There are absolutely no guarantees in the NFL, and there have been PLENTY of big FA signings that have done very little for their respective teams, but at the end of the day pretty much everything in football is a gamble, so only focusing on the negative is a pointless exercise. Furthermore, I'd argue that the ratio of free agents who have helped lead a team to the Super Bowl is microscopic compared to the ratio of free agents who didn't do all that much to improve a football team. By definition, a player becomes a free agent when a team thinks that his services are no longer valuable enough to keep on, either through performance or cap hit, and so it isn't all that often that the big money signings really pay off (looking your way, Adalius).
So when everything starts in about 45 minutes or so and Julian Edelman has visits scheduled with the Denver Broncos and Aqib Talib is linked to Cleveland and Jared Allen signs with the Chiefs, I invite us all - me included - to not expect something different than years past. Let's not allow ourselves to get worked up as player after player drops off the board with New England still sitting there with the exact same roster they had in 2013. Let's have a little faith in the fact that there are zero guarantees no matter how much money you spend, Bill Belichick has contingency plans for his contingency plans, and New England's track record speaks for itself. And if New England does end up making a splash early, if they do deviate from the norm and go get a big name right away, let's not go too crazy, either; it's a long, long time before September comes, and there is still plenty of offseason left.