Patience is a virtue, but in the NFL it can oftentimes lead to unsatisfactory results. The first day of the 2022 legal tampering period saw just that, with the New England Patriots losing two starters without bringing any outside reinforcements on board.
It was a 180-degree turn from last year, when the team agreed to several big-money contracts within hours of the negotiation window opening. No two offseason are alike, however, and 2021 was an outlier from the Patriots’ perspective — a team with massive resources taking advantage of a depressed market.
This year’s patient approach, on the other hand, was a return to New England’s familiar ways.
The team basically sat out the scramble for the top-tier free agents that occurred on Monday, instead focusing on re-signing in-house talent and strengthening the breadth of the roster. Special teams captain Matthew Slater, quarterback Brian Hoyer and kicker Nick Folk were all retained; the team had previously already taken care of safety Devin McCourty and wide receiver Jakobi Meyers.
Along the way, the Patriots also saw themselves get out-bid for the services of cornerback J.C. Jackson and guard Ted Karras. Jackson signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers, while Karras left for the Cincinnati Bengals and their three-year, $18 million offer.
New England had tried to keep both, but with the price moving beyond the team’s financial capabilities, or willingness, they will wear different uniforms moving forward. While the Patriots’ depth at cornerback and along the interior offensive line will be tested as a result, seeing both depart was not necessarily a surprise.
It all goes back to a familiar concept at the heart of New England’s business decisions: maximizing value.
In their own eyes, the Patriots would have been unable to do that had they retained Jackson and Karras at their current rates. Before free agency, New England had offered Karras a three-year, $13 million deal — down from a previous three-year, $15 million offer. He ended up taking $18 million in Cincinnati.
New England was, again, either unable or, more likely, unwilling to match that offer. The same is true with J.C. Jackson’s deal, even though the structure of the Chargers’ contract would have put pressure on the Patriots’ current salary cap situation.
Last year, for comparison, the club would have been able to out-bid every competitor. Entering free agency week among the league leaders in cap space, New England was able to hand out top-of-the-market rates to lure players to a team in transition.
The result was an immense influx of veteran talent within a 24-hour span: tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, linebacker Matthew Judon and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux were just a few of the players either added or re-signed in the first few days of legal tampering last year.
It was an unprecedented spending spree because the circumstances allowed for it. This year, however, shows that 2021 was not a new normal for the organization.
The Patriots took a patient approach after the opening of the legal tampering window. They did not do nothing — only a fraction of the work actually results in a news report — but instead let the market set before making their moves outside of their own group of free agents.
This is not unlike what the team had been doing regularly in years past: instead of diving into free agency head-first, New England more often than not waited for the second and third wave of signings. Making the most out of available value always remained the goal.
Don’t be surprised, therefore, if the Patriots start adding to their roster on Tuesday. Any big swings like last year’s, however, do not appear to be on the menu in 2022.