Can you believe this off-season?
The team has moved on from Steve Gregory and Aqib Talib. LeGarrette Blount's role is in jeopardy. Brandon Spikes signed with the division rivals up in Buffalo. Four starters, gone.
And this is indisputably the best free agency Bill Belichick has ever had.
Come follow along our journey for the off-season:
Safety Steve Gregory is released - I understand he's a cap hit. Always rough to see a team leader go; wish they could have restructured or something.
Long Snapper Danny Aiken - Okay, he's going to have to fight for his spot in camp. Necessary, but not the splash we wanted in free agency.
Tight End Michael Hoomanawanui - I don't want him on the field, but he's a solid third tight end. If this is how free agency is going to go, I'm going to be disappointed.
Cornerback Aqib Talib signs with the Broncos - seriously? stick a stake in my heart right now.
Defensive Tackle Isaac Sopoaga - Too little, too late. Now the Patriots can't bring back Talib and I'm sure that the money from Sopoaga's cap hit would have been enough to lock up the shut down corner.
Cornerback Darrelle Revis - Seriously? 1 year, $12 million, with possible room for an extension? Later Aqib, the Patriots just picked up the best cornerback of the past decade.
Vince Wilfork wants to be released - Well that brings us back down to earth in a hurry. Do we really want to join the Broncos in the arms race and forsake the players who brought us to where the team currently stands? I mean, Julian Edelman did play his heart out.
Defensive Tackle Tommy Kelly restructures his contract, opening up nearly $1 million in cap space - Eh, I guess it's a consolation prize if the Patriots are going to lose out on Vince.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes signs with Buffalo - We knew this wouldn't last, but I just wish he didn't have to go inside the division. I hope he doesn't annihilate our weak interior line.
Cornerback Brandon Browner - He signs, and doesn't sign, he leaves, and doesn't leave, he's the alpha and the omega, and when he returns from suspension he's going to make it extremely difficult for opposing teams to throw the ball. But I thought the Patriots already addressed the cornerback spot with Revis? There are other pressing matters...
Wide Receiver Brandon LaFell - This is reactionary, right? The Broncos signed true target Emmanuel Sanders and this is the Patriots consolation prize? LaFell gets 3 years and $11 million? We totally overpaid! Wait, Sanders got 3 years, $15 million? And Sanders herky-jerked multiple front offices? And wait, LaFell is really only getting $9 million?! I guess I could be fine with this. But what about Edelman?
Receiver A: 56 career games in 4 seasons (14 per), 161 receptions, 2030 yards, 11 TDs, 6 fumbles
Receiver B: 60 career games in 4 seasons (15 per), 167 receptions, 2385 yards, 13 TDs, 2 fumbles
LaFell vs Sanders. Fairly comparable, not sure if I'd pay one $2 million more per season. Oh, and LaFell is Receiver B.
Wide Receiver Julian Edelman - Oh, hell yeah. Four years for the big man on campus and now the Patriots have some fantastic continuity at receiver. With both Edelman, Danny Amendola, LaFell, and Aaron Dobson locked up for the 2014 year, it's even possible that Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins are playing for the same roster spot.
That's a clear upgrade at both cornerback and wide receiver, although there are still questions at tight end, the interior offensive line, and at defensive tackle. I wonder when the Patriots are going to release Vince Wilfork...
Linebacker Dane Fletcher signs with Tampa Bay - You know what, good for him. I'm feeling better about
Defensive Tackle Vince Wilfork restructures his contract, opening up over $3 million in space, with potential for more to roll over into 2014 - UNDENIABLE BLISS.
The Patriots upgraded immensely at cornerback and wide receiver, they managed to get both aging and injured defensive tackles to restructure their massive contracts, they made the necessary cap cuts without a negative impact on field quality, and they kept some faces of the franchise on team friendly deals.
This is the best Bill Belichick has ever done in free agency.
You might look to 2007, but both Wes Welker and Randy Moss were acquired via trades, the latter the result of a draft day move. Beyond that, Adalius Thomas came with a lot of fanfare, but he's not even close to the top of his position as Revis.
Maybe you think of 2003, where Rosevelt Colvin and Rodney Harrison were brought aboard to complete a dynasty. Colvin came to the team with similar expectations to Thomas in 2007, but injuries prevented him from reaching his potential. Rodney was a 31 year old who was considered to be getting over the hill and three of his four prior seasons fell short of expectations. Harrison was a quality addition, but his production far outreached his initial welcome.
But no, this 2013 is Belichick's finest. From Edelman, Wilfork, and Kelly to Revis, Browner, and LaFell, to letting Talib and Spikes walk, Belichick has again shown why he's at the top of the class when it comes to team building.
Don't start up the duck boats; the season's just getting started. But this is the best start in the Belichick era and it's all the more reason to be excited for the upcoming year.