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NFL execs think “Patriots are set up for perfection” due to roster depth and speed

How have the Patriots added depth and speed this offseason?

The 2017 New England Patriots offer the best chance of going undefeated of any team since the 2007 version of the Patriots fell short in the Super Bowl. Ask any team executive or coach around the league- other than Bill Polian- and they’ll echo that same sentiment, according to Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman.

“We've all heard offseason "Patriots 19-0" chatter before, but not to the decibel you hear now when you talk to team executives and assistant coaches around the league,” Freeman writes. “They think this is the year the Patriots win all their games, including the Super Bowl. This isn't completely crazy since the Patriots came within a crazy helmet catch of doing it before.

“They believe the Patriots are set up for perfection better than maybe any team in history—including the only team to do it, the 1972 Dolphins, and the Patriots team that lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl after the David Tyree catch.

“They point to Tom Brady, of course, who is at the top of his game. They also note that coach Bill Belichick has built maybe the fastest, deepest version of the Patriots yet. They also point to how the rest of the division has yet to make significant gains on the Patriots in terms of finding a quarterback who is even in the same solar system as Brady.”

Bill Belichick has assembled the “fastest” and “deepest” Patriots squad over the past couple of seasons and he’s ready to cash in all his chips for a run at 19-0.

Remember that the Patriots lost just two games in 2016, once against the Bills when third string QB Jacoby Brissett had to play with a broken thumb on his throwing hand, and once against the Seattle Seahawks when TE Rob Gronkowski suffered a major injury and the Patriots failed to score on a last-second goal line play.

Going 19-0 shouldn’t be the expectation, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility since the Patriots have improved their roster.

When looking at speed, the Patriots have added WR Brandin Cooks and his 4.33s 40 yard dash speed to the offense, and have replaced RB LeGarrette Blount with two slightly-faster backs in RB Rex Burkhead and RB Mike Gillislee. While TE Dwayne Allen (4.89s 40) is much slower than TE Martellus Bennett (4.68s 40), Allen is much quicker, with a 7.12s three cone compared to Bennett’s 7.64s time.

On defense, the Patriots have replaced CB Logan Ryan (4.56s 40) with CB Stephon Gilmore (4.40s 40), and have flipped EDGE Chris Long (7.02s three cone) and EDGE Jabaal Sheard (7.34s three cone) for EDGE Derek Rivers (6.94s three cone), EDGE Kony Ealy (6.83s three cone), and EDGE Deatrich Wise (7.07s three cone).

From a depth perspective, the Patriots have their most balanced roster of high-end players and quality back-ups in recent memory. Our own Brian Phillips did an outstanding job of evaluating the Patriots investment in the middle class of NFL contracts, and I’ve looked back at New England’s cap spending since 2008 to see how the current roster compares to previous versions.

The 2017 Patriots currently have 28 players projected to take up at least 1% of the salary cap (roughly $1.63 million), which is the highest count for New England since 2008. The next highest amount belonged to the 2011 Patriots, which boasted 26 players taking up at least 1% of the cap space. No other Patriots team over this time has had more than 23 players take up 1% of the salary cap.

Note: this does not include the new contract for C David Andrews, which is currently unknown. He could possibly be the 29th player on this chart for 2017.

The 2017 Patriots also have 16 players taking up at least 2% of the salary cap, tied with the 2014 Patriots for the most since 2008.

What makes this investment in depth even more impressive is that acquired players like Cooks, Ealy, LB Kyle Van Noy, and CB Eric Rowe all fall below the 1% threshold and are not included because the cap hit from their signing bonuses remained with their prior teams.

There seems to be a real effort by the Patriots to sign players in the 2-3% range this past year, like CB Malcolm Butler, RB Mike Gillislee, FS Duron Harmon, DT Alan Branch, and OT Marcus Cannon, because these are the players that bolster the New England starting line-up and separate the Patriots from the rest of the league.

Of these 28 players that take up 1% or more of the salary cap, LB Jonathan Freeny appears to be the only one in any real risk of not making the roster, with fellow LB Shea McClellin and OT Cameron Fleming as other players that would be a surprising, but possible release.

There is no exact way to build a roster from a salary cap perspective, but the calling card of a New England squad is its depth from 1st to 53rd man on the team. The successes of all the players still on rookie deals- like the players the Patriots have acquired, along with OG Joe Thuney, OG Shaq Mason, EDGE Trey Flowers- have allowed the Patriots to invest their remaining cap space in some higher-upside veterans.

Injuries and lack of depth are the main reasons why the Patriots have not been able to reach every Super Bowl since 2011 and New England has made a point of adding a top back-up at almost every position that could arguably start for half the teams in the league. If any roster could make a serious push at 19-0, it’s the 2017 Patriots squad.