Once again, we saw a bunch of the Patriots top free agents sign elsewhere for big money. That what happens when bad teams that don’t have a lot of talent on their roster, but have a lot of cap space, do to try to improve their roster as quick as possible. That leads to bloated deals that puts the Patriots in a financial bind to match and ultimately decline to do so. We’ve seen this time and time again where the Patriots lose their top players to free agency and that instills a lot of panic only for Bill Belichick to find unheralded players from other teams and turn them into key contributors.
Louis Riddick comments on Belichick’s ability to navigate through free agency although you’ll need to turn the sound up to hear the first video:
.@LRiddickESPN on Bill Belichick and the #patriots pic.twitter.com/EYTGVnsQn6— Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) March 14, 2018
As Riddick opines in the 2nd video I posted, the one player the Patriots paid a premium price to acquire was LT Nate Solder, a first rounder in 2011. Solder leaving is the biggest blow to the team since we as fans don’t know what Plan B is at left tackle. In the case of Lewis, Butler, and Amendola, all three were Day 3 picks or undrafted entering the league. Amendola came to the Patriots with the most fanfare of the three with a pretty hefty free agent contract back in 2013 (5/$28.5M, to which he only saw about $17M due to willingly taking paycuts after Edelman emerged that season). Lewis was out of the league the year before the Patriots picked him up and turned him into one of the most electric RBs in the game. Malcolm Butler was an undrafted free agent that tested poorly that only had 1 team interested in giving him a tryout before recording the greatest interception in Patriots history that year. Belichick has a habit of picking up the Lewises, Amendolas, and Butlers of the world and turning them into key players during Super Bowl runs, so it will be interesting to see who the next set of unheralded players that Belichick finds and develops into key cogs on the team will be.
The Patriots did bring back one free agent with RB Rex Burkhead agreeing to a 3-year deal that was reportedly heavy in guarantees. The terms of the deal will be released shortly, but in terms of on-field fit Burkhead projects to be a big factor in the offense in 2018. James White is on a 3-year, $12M contract he signed in March 2017, so I have to imagine Burkhead’s deal is at or below that number. If the number is higher than what White got, I expect Burkhead to be RB1 in the committee with Burkhead and White being the main contributors. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots handle their RB situation with Mike Gillislee being a healthy scratch at the end of the season over Burkhead and Lewis, who were better fits for what the Patriots wanted to do.
Bill Belichick probably has contingency plans at the ready for the event that he lost any, if not all of his key free agents. The Patriots have in-house options to replace the production of most of those guys although a lot of those in-house options have more questions than answers it seems. Some of those answers will come in the second wave of free agency and more will come through the draft. The Patriots are one of the best teams at identifying talent and how it fits their scheme while also being able to figure out the right price for that level of talent. They also do a solid job in developing younger talent to fit the pieces needed to build that team.
What plans does Bill Belichick have for patching up holes on his roster? We’ll see what he has in store with the dust settling from the first wave of free agency. Obviously re-signing the players the Patriots lost was Plan A for filling those holes, so now it’s onto Plan B, C, D, etc. So get the popcorn ready because to quote Anakin Skywalker, “This is where the fun begins.”