There are multiple factors contributing to the creation of an NFL dynasty. Having a talented core of players around which to build a team obviously is a key component as are a stable and smart coaching staff, the influence of the ownership, and – frankly – a little luck. The New England Patriots, the lone NFL dynasty since the introduction of a salary cap in 1994, had all those go in their favor over the past 16 years.
But they also have something else, something that allowed them to stay on top over a prolonged period of time: A unique approach to the business that is professional football. With a rigorous focus on maximizing value, the Patriots' front office has been able to stay ahead of the curve – and the competition. And this year's offseason is another example of that.
Since winning Super Bowl LI in February, New England has been more aggressive than usual in terms of adding talent to an already deep roster. Two of those acquisitions particularly stand out: running backs Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee. The Patriots signed unrestricted free agent Burkhead to a one-year $3.15 million contract, while giving up a fifth round draft pick and a two-year $6.4 million deal to sign restricted free agent Gilleslee off the Buffalo Bills.
Even with James White's recently extended contract not yet part of the equation, the Patriots currently spend more than $12.4 million of their cap (under the "Rule of 51") on their offensive backfield. A sizeable part of the team's 2017 salary cap has been invested in a position that has seen its value decrease over the last years. The Patriots, it appears, zig while the rest of the NFL zags.
From New England's stance this is business as usual. In the past, the team has already displayed a willingness to make unconventionally looking investments. Whether it is acquiring players to change the defense from a four- to a three-man front or investing in tight ends to run more 12-personnel packages on offense, the Patriots have always evaluated the market to find some potential spots to exploit.
This offseason once again shows this and how the Patriots always try to stay ahead of the market: Rule changes over the past 15 years have led to a devaluation of the running back position. Nowadays, runners rarely receive the big contracts they have in the past or get selected in the first round. While there are exceptions, a general trend is clearly visible.
The Patriots, as they have done in the past, try to use this to their advantage. With running backs currently having a relatively low value, the team has opted to invest to once again stay ahead of the curve and potentially make the team even more dynamic. It has worked in the past and thus would not be a surprise to see the team usher in a running back renaissance.