One of the most famous mic’d up moments in league history features then-Atlanta Falcons head coach Jerry Glanville tell a referee that the acronym NFL stands for “not for long”. While Glanville referred to his long-term outlook as a coach if bad calls frequently get made against his team, the general concept behind his statement fits today’s league pretty well: Organizations turn their rosters and even their staff over frequently.
A look at the 90 men currently on New England Patriots’ payroll illustrates just that and shows how often positions see new faces be brought in to replace older ones.
Quarterback: Tom Brady (2000)
Running back: Brandon Bolden (2012)
Wide receiver: Julian Edelman (2009)
Tight end: Rob Gronkowski (2010)
Offensive tackle: Marcus Cannon (2011)
Interior offensive line: Shaq Mason (2015)
Interior defensive line: Malcom Brown (2015)
Defensive edge: Geneo Grissom (2015)
Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower (2012)
Cornerback: Cyrus Jones (2016)
Safety: Devin McCourty (2010)
Specialists: Stephen Gostkowski (2006)
Special teams: Matthew Slater (2008)
The list above tells us a few things about the Patriots’ roster construction. We can see, for example, that once the team identifies a player as a core piece, it will hold onto him if the value remains in place. In the case of players like Brady, Gronkowski or Hightower – all team captains – this is obviously the case. However, a lot of positions do not have the same stability on the top of their depth charts.
As can be seen, New England drastically turned over some of its positions over the last few years, most prominently on defense: The Patriots have no defensive linemen under contract that have been with the team before the 2015 draft. Once experienced options like Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones on the edge, and Vince Wilfork and Alan Branch on the interior left the team, the young guard was handed the keys.
The same is the case at cornerback, a position that historically sees regular turnover in New England. With Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler moving on via free agency, the team’s next generation had to step up – most prominently outside hires like Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe. The two longest-tenured Patriots cornerbacks, however, are fighting for their roster lives this year: 2016 rookies Cyrus Jones and Jonathan Jones.
But while cornerback is arguably the most extreme example for recent roster turnover, it is far from the only one: New England is not afraid from altering its roster to improve the team. And it’s success over the past two decades justifies this rather aggressive approach.