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Patriots Fans: Exhale and Breath Deep

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Now that the first wave is over, it's time to move onwards in free agency.

Jim Rogash

I hope you didn't hold your breath for Aqib Talib.

Talib has decided to join the Denver Broncos and I don't think anyone can or should blame him. He's taking $29 million guaranteed, the most ever for a cornerback, and grabbing a six year contract for total money of $57 million.

But it's not like the Patriots sat on their hands. According to Derek Havens of Patsfans.com, the Patriots had offered him a 4 year deal for a possible $40 million, which beat out the Denver's offer on a per season basis.

The issue likely came down to the guaranteed money in a Sebastian Vollmer-esque structure of a deal. The ceiling of the deal, per season, is higher, but the floor is much lower.

I'm fine with all of this.

The Broncos may have signed Talib, T.J. Ward, and now DeMarcus Ware to enforce their defense. They're clearly winning all of the headlines and the March Super Bowl.

But keep in mind that there's 11 months until the next Super Bowl. The Broncos are clearly putting all of their eggs into one last basket. Just take a gander at their depth chart (Ware hasn't been added yet). The team is so top heavy, apart from at offensive and defensive tackle, that if any of their starters are injured, they'll be left with a sizable gap with no one to fill it.

They have the names that can win games, that's entirely fair and true. But the odds of all of them making it to the finish line is small. It takes plenty of luck to make it to the Super Bowl, never mind winning it, and the Broncos are going to need a lot of it if they want their team to survive.

The Patriots? They had to reach into their depth at every single position last season, apart from quarterback and defensive end, and they kept winning.

Let's not be delusional; if the same thing happens next season, the Patriots have no shot at winning the Super Bowl. The Patriots need to improve plenty of positions. The Patriots also started free agency with roughly half of the cap space as the Broncos.

Why? Well, first, the Broncos bit the bullet and cut Champ Bailey. The Patriots are holding on to the astronomical cap hits of both Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins.

Neither Wilfork, nor Mankins were up for a restructure. The team didn't even approach it. The team doesn't care for loyalty? You're wrong. The team doesn't pay? You're wrong. Some of you would be upset if the Patriots cut them, some of you would be fine as it would open the gates for free agency.

But the Patriots aren't in the position to spend $63 million in guaranteed money on three players, like the Broncos. We have to hold this perspective as the Patriots navigate free agency. We can't have it both ways. They can't reward their players and still have money to play with in free agency.

The Broncos aren't constrained by the future. They know that their window is closing, not because of Peyton Manning's age, but because their roster is unsustainable. Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Jacob Tamme, Orlando Franklin, Von Miller, Terrance Knighton, Chris Harris, and Rahim Moore (all starters) are free agents after this upcoming season.

This is their last hurrah.

The Patriots aren't playing by that game. The Broncos are mortgaging their future to try and cash all their chips on 2014. Instead, the Patriots have to find way to shop at the bargain bin, while remaining competitive for the foreseeable future.

And you should know that this is par for the course. Most elite teams are quiet over the first couple of days in free agency, instead supplementing their roster with the remaining players on short term deals. These turn into the heart of championship teams- players who have been passed over that want to prove that they deserve the big money contracts the following off-season.

These are the Evan Dietrich-Smith and Brian De La Puentes of free agency. The Jermichael Finley, Garrett Graham, Owen Daniels, and Brandon Pettigrews. The Hakeem Nicks, Emmanuel Sanders, and the Julian Edelmans. The Julius Peppers, Jared Allen, Justin Tuck, Robert Ayers, Shaun Phillips, and LaMarr Woodleys. The Antonio Smith, B.J. Raji, Jason Hatcher, Kevin Williams, and Tony McDaniels. The Daryl Smith, Wesley Woodyard, Keith Rivers, and Dane Fletchers. The Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Walter Thurmond III, Tarell Brown, Corey Graham, and Chris Cooks.

These are players of varying ages and upsides that end up as the core of winning teams. Young players looking for short term deals to take advantage of Day 1 of 2015's free agency. Old players looking for one last shot at a Super Bowl. Players looking for redemption and players with everything to prove.

The Broncos can have Talib, Ware, and Ward for $25.25 million per season. The Patriots could swoop up a trio of the above for $10 million combined and still have cap space to spare.

There's more than one way to attack free agency. Some teams sense a need to give up everything and bet on a single season. The Patriots don't have to do that. They want to set themselves up for the next, and possibly last, five seasons of Tom Brady's career.

The way to do that is by avoiding day one of free agency. By evaluating the market and taking advantage of the under-appreciated remainders. This is how championship caliber teams are built. This is how they become sustainable.

Don't hold your breath for any spectacle during free agency. Instead, breath deep. It's a long season and it's just getting underway.