NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling created a list of “the Patriots’ top 10 personnel moves of the Bill Belichick era,” and, quite frankly, it’s fantastic. There aren’t many critiques that I have for it and it’s well worth your read because Wesseling did a good job with it.
But as Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia would say, nothing’s ever perfect and there’s always room to improve every week. So with that in mind, here are the Patriots top 11 personnel moves of the Bill Belichick era that NFL.com didn’t include.
Wesseling’s list is about free agent signings and trade acquisitions; draft picks are not included. We’ll follow the same rules.
11. CB Kyle Arrington
Arrington signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008 as an undrafted free agent before latching on to their practice squad. He was released and subsequently signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad where he was on the practice squad for the full 2008 season. He was re-signed in 2009 and played in their season opener, but was released and signed to the Patriots practice squad.
He was promoted to the active roster in November of 2009 after Eric Mangini tried to signed him away to the Cleveland Browns. Arrington was primarily a special teamer in his first season with the Patriots, but was promoted to a starter in 2010 and started for the next four seasons, before losing his starting job to Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in 2014.
While Arrington was at times a difficult player to watch, he was a 56-game starter, recorded 9 interceptions, including a league-high 7 in 2011, and started for two Super Bowl teams (2011, 2014). That’s a serious pick-up.
10. RB Danny Woodhead
Woodhead spent his entire rookie season on the injured reserve after the New York Jets signed him as an undrafted free agent. He spent his 2009 season on their practice squad and active roster before the Jets released him on September 14th.
On September 18th, the Patriots signed Woodhead, who promptly gained 2,181 yards from scrimmage and scored 14 touchdowns for the Patriots over the course of three seasons. He was a core part of some of the best offenses of the Bill Belichick era and played at a high enough level to stave off second-round running back Shane Vereen.
PS: Happy birthday, Danny. He turned 32 on January 25th.
9. DT Alan Branch
Branch spent the first seven seasons of his career on three different teams before finally landing with the Patriots halfway through the 2014 season. He was a crucial part of the team’s past two Super Bowl titles and was the team’s best defensive lineman in 2015 and 2016. He was benched this year for poor play and might not be back, but he’s probably one of the best mid-season street free agents of the Bill Belichick era.
8. RB LeGarrette Blount
Other than maybe Blount. After three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Patriots traded a seventh round pick and Jeff Demps to acquire the bruising back. Blount picked up 810 yards from scrimmage and a career high 7 touchdowns before turning that season into a nice contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
And then 11 games through the 2014 season, the Steelers released Blount, who promptly re-signed with the Patriots and led the team to two Super Bowl titles over the next three years. His 18 touchdowns in 2016 led the league and he’s one of the most successful running backs of the Belichick era.
7. LB Rosevelt Colvin
Injuries early on in his tenure prevented Colvin from being the linebacker the Patriots hoped they were signing in 2003, but he still started 42 games and played in 65, racking up 26.5 sacks and winning two Super Bowls.
He was a starter on the 2006 defense before another injury in 2007 ended his time with New England.
6. RB Antowain Smith
Smith spent the first four seasons of his career with the Buffalo Bills before the Patriots stole him away in 2001. He was the Patriots bellcow from 2001-03, winning two Super Bowls and gaining 3,308 yards from scrimmage and 24 touchdowns.
Those 3,308 yards from scrimmage trail only Kevin Faulk and Corey Dillon for the most by a Patriots running back in the Belichick era. He was a huge part of why Tom Brady had time to develop early in his career.
5. WR David Patten
Patten started his career with the Arena Football League before joining the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns. After four years in the NFL, he signed with the Patriots and became a vital part of their offense, winning three Super Bowls in four seasons.
Patten was the #2 receiver on the roster for most of his time, coming behind Troy Brown in 2001 and 2002 and behind David Givens in 2004 (Patten was hurt in 2003). He recorded 2,595 yards and scored 17 touchdowns, including a ridiculous week 6 game against the 2001 Indianapolis Colts where he threw a 60-yard touchdown, ran for a 29-yard touchdown, and caught 4 passes for 117 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns.
4. DL Bobby Hamilton
Belichick brought Hamilton from the Jets to New England in 2000 where he started 62 of his next 64 games for the Patriots, racking up 10.5 sacks, 10 batted passes, and 232 tackles. He won two Super Bowls with the Patriots and locked down the line opposite of Richard Seymour until Ty Warren was ready to start in his sophomore season.
3. DB Patrick Chung
The Patriots drafted Chung in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft and he started 30 of his 50 games with New England. He was an up-and-down starter that ultimately lost his job to Steve Gregory, allowing Chung to land with the Eagles as a free agent in 2013.
That did not go well for Chung, who was released after just one season. New England re-signed Chung as a free agent in 2014 to little fanfare, but he’s been one of the most reliable players on the team ever since.
Chung was misused as a deep safety in his first stint with the Patriots and found his role as a hybrid nickel/linebacker/strong safety this time with Devin McCourty as the free safety. He’s been one of the best free agent pick-ups of the Belichick era.
2. OG Joe Andruzzi
Andruzzi started his career with the Green Bay Packers for four seasons, starting just four and playing in just 23, before signing with the Patriots on September 9th, 2000. Just eight days later, he was the starting left guard and never looked back.
Andruzzi started all 72 games he played for the Patriots over the next five seasons, winning three Super Bowls.
1. EDGE Rob Ninkovich
Any list about the Patriots best acquisitions has to include Rob Ninkovich. Ninkovich bounced between the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins for his first three years in the NFL before signing with New England as a special teamer in 2009.
Ninkovich started 101 games for the Patriots and was a team captain, recording 46 sacks, 12 forced fumbles, 23 passes defended, 5 interceptions, and 469 tackles. He is second only to Mike Vrabel in sacks during Belichick’s tenure and was always reliable to come up with the big play at the right time.
Ninkovich, Andruzzi, and possibly Chung are the only three that I think I would put on Wesseling’s list, but I would absolutely put Ninkovich in the top five behind the Randy Moss and Wes Welker trades and the signings of Rodney Harrison and Mike Vrabel.
What do you think of Wesseling’s list? Who do you think I should have included?