By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots have long been a team that relies on undrafted free agents. While Malcolm Butler’s Super Bowl-winning interception was the crowning achievement of that reality, Sunday was a rather perfect picture of how Bill Belichick builds his roster.READ MORE: Las Vegas Raiders Reportedly Preparing To 'Make A Run' At Josh McDaniels
J.C. Jackson, on the cusp of a huge payday, made yet another interception, bringing his season total to eight. Myles Bryant, a 2020 UDFA, also picked off the No. 1 overall pick, Trevor Lawrence. Kristian Wilkerson wasn’t the Patriots’ UDFA, but he was cut by the Titans after his rookie training camp in 2020, and he’s been on the Patriots ever since. He caught the first pass of his career, then caught his first two touchdowns. Jakobi Meyers, now in his third year after joining the team as a UDFA, caught the second touchdown of his career while leapfrogging Kendrick Bourne as the team’s leading receiver this season.
This is not particularly new for the Patriots under Belichick. The team has had at least one UDFA make the roster for 18 straight years. Some have become stars and Super Bowl champions — like the aforementioned Butler and Jackson, as well as center David Andrews. Many others have become reliable, long-term NFL players — like Meyers, Jonathan Jones, Brandon Bolden, Adam Butler, Brian Hoyer, Gunner Olszewski, Jacob Hollister, Justin Coleman, and Randall Gay.READ MORE: Patriots Reportedly Sign Special Teamer Harvey Langi To One-Year Extension
Considering the success that the Patriots have had in discovering reliable players in the UDFA market, Belichick was asked Monday morning what he and the front office look for when trying to sign such players. His answer was rather expansive.
“Well, first of all, you know, the guys that are available, it’s a pretty picked over group. You know, 256 players have been drafted,” Belichick said. “So you look at the players that are left and try to identify the players that you think would fit the best for you based on each individual’s situation, and circumstances why they’re available, and what opportunity you would have for them, and how well you think they would do with that opportunity. So obviously, I think character traits are an important part of it — work ethic, competitiveness. Somebody that comes in in that position like a Jon Jones, J.C. Jackson, Jakobi Meyers, guys like that. They know that they’ve got a lot of guys in front of them and are going to have to really perform well to be able to beat people out.”
Belichick continued, explaining that the team’s history with giving UDFAs a chance to succeed should help the team continue to make such additions each year.MORE NEWS: Devin McCourty Will Take Some Time Before Making A Decision About His Future
“But we give players that opportunity, and hopefully players that are in that situation and agents that are in that situation recognize that if their player comes in and performs well, that we’re gonna give that player a chance and aren’t afraid to put them on the roster based on the way he performs — not based on the draft status or, you know, hype or something else,” Belichick said, “But certainly that willingness for those guys that come in and grind every day, start at the bottom, do the dirty jobs, work their way up, earn the trust — which everybody has to do, it doesn’t matter whether they’re a draft choice or not a draft choice, a veteran, or whatever. Everybody has to do that but I think those guys know they’ve got a little further to go. So having that mentality is a big part of it.”