I think that personnel folks in the NFL have to deal with a lot of fear at this point in the year. Fear about whether or not you’ve done enough in the offseason to succeed in the upcoming season, or fear about whether you should’ve paid a little extra to sign that free agent or traded up to draft that prospect.
But I think the biggest fear right now is whether or not you’re cutting the right player. What happens if you let go of a player, and then they go on to start for the next decade for another franchise? That’s the fear in focus at this point in the season.
The Patriots just cut a handful of veterans this week in cornerback E.J. Biggers, defensive lineman Frank Kearse, and running back Donald Brown as the team has opted to retain the younger players for the final two weeks of camp. For head coach Bill Belichick, that’s the big decision happening in every front office in the league.
“That's the 64,000 dollar question,” Belichick said, referencing a television game show that aired from 1955-58. “That's what it is. It's been like that since the day I got into this league. From all of the personnel meetings I've ever been in it's a [matter of] a player who's more experienced [and] more ready to help the team now, versus a player that's not as ready now but at some point you think the pendulum will swing in his favor.
“Will you do that? Can you do that? What are the consequences of making that move? What are the consequences of not making that move? How likely, as you said, is it that you could keep both players in some capacity?”
The $64,000 Question was the 50s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and I think it’s a total Belichick reference. The game was a simplified version with only one topic category for questioning. Belichick was between the ages of three and six when it was on the air, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he would have won the “football” category at that point in his life.
The big question for the Patriots is whether you keep the veteran or the inexperienced player. The Patriots have decided to keep Tyler Gaffney and D.J. Foster over Brown, Anthony Johnson and Woodrow Hamilton over Kearse, and Darryl Roberts, Jonathan Jones, and Cre’Von LeBlanc over Biggers.
These decisions were about maximizing the potential of the team now, and three years down the road.
“That's what it's about, trying to balance now with later,” Belichick said. “We're going to field a team in November, we're going to field a team next year, we're going to field a team in 2018. Not that we're getting too far ahead of ourselves, but we're going to be in business in those years, so we have to sort of have an eye on those moving forward and a lot of the other factors that go into that. Those are all tough decisions. They're all things that you really have to think about.”
Belichick is in a unique position where he can think about the 2018 season, because not many coaches have that level of job security. There might only be ten head coaches in the league with that type of luxury.
The Patriots have been the most successful team in sports under Belichick because he is able to find the key balance between now and the future.
Belichick will have some more tough decisions on his plate in the coming weeks. The Patriots have to cut to 75 players by August 30th and then to 53 by September 3rd.
The front office will have to decide between the proven ability of Terrance Knighton and the surprising potential of Anthony Johnson. They’ll choose between veteran Clay Harbor and sophomore AJ Derby. They’ll roll the dice with Jonathan Freeny or with rookie Elandon Roberts.
It’s a tough question and the answer won’t be known until a year or two down the road. Let’s hope Belichick continues to make the right decisions.