Let’s face it, the difference in talent in the NFL between the top team and the bottom team is razor thin. How many players has Belichick pulled from bottom dwellers to bolster a Super Bowl contender over the years? How many top players in New England have left the team only to languish in relative obscurity?
As we watch this off-season develop so far, we see just exactly how fungible Bill Belichick considers the talent in the NFL. TE Martellus Bennett turned down a $7 million offer? Trade for a younger option in TE Dwayne Allen. CB Malcolm Butler’s agent and New England disagree about his value? Sign the best corner available in CB Stephon Gilmore. It’s just the business of Bill Belichick allocating his assets (salary cap cash, draft picks, and players) to acquire the best value for his team. It’s not always pretty, but nobody does it better.
It’s the little things like this that build a championship level roster year in and year out. Bill Belichick has taken his new motto, “No days off”, to heart this off-season as he and his front office team have worked hard to churn the roster and keep the Patriots competitive. The Patriots have stirred up more dust in the first few days of free agency than they have in many years.
Rich Hill wrote a very nice piece a couple years ago about how even though everyone in the league works hard, the Patriots work a “little harder”. The Patriots invest more money into roster depth than most teams as each and every year they expect to play in January and hopefully February. Still the Patriots were too injured in 2016 to get past the Broncos in the playoffs. The result? They fired strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash. The next year the Patriots won the Super Bowl by outlasting their opponent through 4 quarters and overtime. Of course there’s always a little bit more to it than that.
Mike Reiss pointed out one of that one of the “little things” the Patriots do is to continuously improve their facilities:
The Patriots continue to invest in their facilities in hopes of providing the team the best chance to win. Not long after a major Gillette Stadium office renovation that created new offices for the video department, among other things, one of this year's projects is expanding the team's lower practice field so there will be an area behind one of the end zones where players can work out without being on the actual field. It might not sound like a big deal, but the workout area behind the upper practice fields -- which includes a hill that players run for conditioning purposes -- was credited by some for the team's stamina and endurance in Super Bowl LI. Every little thing counts.
They added a new weight room in 2012 under old strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash, and that wasn’t the answer to team health, so they added a new outside conditioning area under new strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera. That’s the Patriots working just a “little harder”.
Now one of the things that impresses me here is how many people had to be on board with these changes. Obviously they aren’t going to add a facility that the strength and conditioning coach won’t use. That guy has to see value. Also Bill Belichick to see value as well. He won’t waste his team resources needlessly. Keep in mind that anyone on staff could have had the idea first, but those two needed to bless it. In addition, Robert Kraft has to want to continue to invest in the team to open the checkbook. He’s trying to keep a quality product on the field, and Bernd Buchmasser informed us he’s not raising ticket prices to do it.
With the success the Patriots have had, it would be easy to be complacent. It would be easy to sit back and admire the shiny Lombardi trophies knowing that even if you did nothing more you’d likely field a competitive team. Yet each and every year the Patriots try to do work a little harder than the next team to make their team successful. While the free agent contract negotiations aren’t always fun for the fans, and somebody whose jersey you own will eventually end up on another team, keep in mind that this is part of the Patriots working a “little harder” to field the best team possible for the longest time possible.