Belichick, Patriots Winning Free Agency Without Making Headlines
BOSTON (CBS) — We’re in Day 4 of free agency. Teams around the league are making splashy signings and throwing around $50 million at a time as if the world is going to end in December. Meanwhile, the Patriots continue to make some quieter deals with non-superstars, and the natives are getting restless.
Related: NFL Free Agency Tracker
But if you look across the league, and you see Mario Williams and the Bills, Vincent Jackson and the Buccaneers, DeSean Jackson and the Eagles, Cortland Finnegan and the Rams, and so on, you see a common theme: The teams making these signings all stunk last year, some with a capital “S.”
Let’s first look at the Bills. They’ve spent $100 million on Williams and $36 million on Stevie Johnson. They also went 6-10 last year and haven’t made the playoffs since Y2K was a national concern. Re-signing a guy who was benched midgame for a publicity stunt in Week 17 and adding one of the best available defensive player will certainly help, but if you think it will cure all their woes, then perhaps you weren’t paying attention to the Philadelphia Eagles last year.
And speaking of those Eagles, they made headlines of their own for giving DeSean Jackson $51 million over five years. Jackson has all the talent in the world and probably has a great Madden rating, but he’s made so many boneheaded mistakes over the years that we don’t have time to list them all. We’ll just point to the fact that in a contract year, when he needed to prove he had his head on straight in order to cash in with a big payday, Jackson skipped meetings and was inactive for Week 10. And yet, the Eagles threw a whole lot of cash at him, just like they did last offseason to Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cullen Jenkins and Michael Vick.
The wild spending helped the Eagles go 8-8 last season.
One team that wishes it could have gone 8-8 last season is Tampa Bay, which went a miserable 4-12. The Bucs remedied that so far this week by giving Vincent Jackson $55.5 million over five years and Carl Nicks $47.5 million over four years. Will they help? Sure. Will that $100 million add nine wins to that season total? No.
Likewise, the Cowboys (8-8) won’t become a contender solely because they threw $50 million at cornerback Brandon Carr, nor will the Rams (2-14) make the playoffs due to the $50 million they’ll give to the overrated Cortland Finnegan.
The Redskins — the same Redskins who signed Albert Haynesworth for $100 million — threw $42.5 million over four years at Pierre Garcon, an unproven receiver who might be a solid No. 2 receiver, and another $12 million at Josh Morgan, who’s maybe a No. 3 guy. And everyone knows the best way to improve a 4-11, last-place team is to sign two wide receivers, right?
Patriots fans still unhappy with Bill Belichick’s inactivity in the free-agent market may wish he went after Laurent Robinson, who signed a five-year, $32.5 million contract with the Jaguars. Robinson has had just one productive season (albeit a well-timed one) in his five years in the NFL. He’s not going to cure the Jaguars’ 32nd-ranked passing offense (136.2 yards per game!) and he’s not going to make the Jaguars a good team. He is, however, going to be overpaid for whatever it is that he does in Jacksonville.
Meanwhile, Belichick and the Pats are signing guys like Jonathan Fanene and Steve Gregory, and re-signing important pieces like Dan Connolly. Nobody was jumping for joy last season when the Patriots signed smaller names like Brian Waters, Andre Carter and Mark Anderson. Waters made the Pro Bowl and was an absolute rock at right guard from the very second Dan Koppen got injured in Week 1 until the end of the Super Bowl. Carter was an absolute monster, the likes of which we haven’t seen around here since Willie McGinest roamed the field, as he too made the Pro Bowl. Anderson was not a star by any means, but his 10 sacks speak for themselves.
It comes down to this: The Patriots went 13-3 last season. They made it to the Super Bowl. They, like every other team in the NFL, want to improve. The difference is, their margin for improvement is a whole lot smaller than the teams throwing around dollars like Pacman Jones in a Las Vegas nightclub. They have cap room, they have draft picks, and they have a roster that is 90 percent set with players that range from competent to outstanding.
You’ll notice that the Super Bowl-champion Giants, Packers (15-1), 49ers (13-3), Steelers (12-4) and Ravens (12-4) have been relatively quiet as well. That’s because they can.
This is not a “Belichick trying to be too smart” development, and it’s not a “Patriots being cheap” problem, either. It’s a well-built team not needing to break the bank on players outside the system, most of which are as far from a sure thing as can be.
It doesn’t take a $50 million contract to see that.
Follow Michael on Twitter @michaelFhurley