Patriots top 10 offseason acquisitions under Belichick
Belichick's top 10 offseason acquisitions
By Phil Perry
Remember way back when -- about a week-and-a-half ago -- when the Patriots sat back and watched as the rest of the league dove headlong into free agency? Since then, Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio have been in charge of one of the busiest front offices in football.
It started last Friday when the team announced that it had acquired receiver Chris Hogan and defensive lineman Frank Kearse.
Four days later, they executed a blockbuster trade that sent defensive end Chandler Jones to the Cardinals in exchange for a second-round pick and guard Jonathan Cooper. And they didn't stop there. Later that day, news broke that they came to an agreement with veteran free-agent defensive end Chris Long, and they locked up one of their most important special-teamers Nate Ebner.
Wednesday brought another trade as New England sent Chicago a fourth-round pick in exchange for tight end Martellus Bennett and a sixth-rounder. The team also came to terms on deals with running back Donald Brown and linebacker Shea McClellin.
How any of these moves works out remains to be seen. The Patriots certainly don't have a perfect record when it comes to offseason acquisitions, but they've brought aboard their share of franchise building blocks as well.
After a hectic week of transactions, let's take a quick look at the 10 best offseason additions made during Belichick's tenure with the Patriots.
Note: We're keeping this list to offseason acquisitions, which means guys like Rob Ninkovich and Aqib Talib won't be included. Ninkovich was signed during training camp in 2009, and Talib was picked up in a mid-season trade in 2012.
10. Anthony Pleasant (2001)
Of the many 2001 free-agent acquisitions that changed the face of the Patriots and helped them to their first Super Bowl in franchise history, Pleasant may have been the most influential in terms of implementing the kind of culture that Belichick and his staff were looking for. Pleasant was going into his 12th season and had already found success under Belichick as a member of the Browns from 1993-95. He also played under Belichick and director of player personnel Scott Pioli while both were with the Jets in 1998 and 1999. Pleasant finished with nine sacks and two rings in his three seasons with the Patriots, but what he did for Belichick's program as it found its footing couldn't be measured.
9. David Patten (2001)
One of the foundations of the franchise's dynasty, Patten was among the team's most consistent playmakers during the run to its first Super Bowl. He caught eight passes for 153 yards in the Snow Bowl, he reeled in Drew Bledsoe's last touchdown pass as a member of the Patriots in the AFC title game, and he caught another score from Tom Brady in the Super Bowl to help pad his team's lead against the vaunted Rams. Patten played four seasons under Belichick and finished with three rings. Not bad for a free-agent signee who had played four NFL seasons and never topped 38 catches before making his way to New England in 2001.
8. Antowain Smith (2001)
Smith joined the Patriots as a free agent in 2001 after starting just three games and rushing for 354 yards for the Bills the season prior. In New England, he found another gear, running for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns as the first in a long line of Patriots "big backs" under Belichick. Against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, he churned out 92 yards, and he racked up 86 yards against the Panthers in Super Bowl XXXVIII. For a team that often relied on its stout defense and a ball-control offense, Smith was a perfect fit.
7. Darrelle Revis (2014)
Released after one year with the Buccaneers, Revis filled a void on the Patriots roster left behind by corner Aqib Talib, who unexpectedly opted to sign with the Broncos just days prior. The two sides agreed to a deal that included a $12 million payout in 2014 and would allow Revis to hit unrestricted free agency after he had proven that he was still among the game's best at his position after suffering a torn ACL in 2012. He did just that, fitting in seamlessly in the Patriots locker room and performing as the team's best defensive player in its run to Super Bowl XLIX.
6. Corey Dillon (2004)
A malcontent in Cincinnati, the Patriots sent a second-round pick to the Bengals in order to acquire the bruising back. In need of a fresh start, Dillon thrived in New England. In 2004, he carried 345 times for 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns then continued his torrid pace in the postseason. He ran 65 times for 292 yards and was one of the primary reasons the Patriots hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XXXIX. Dillon stuck around for two more seasons but dealt with injuries and never had quite the same impact he did in his first season under Belichick.
5. Roman Phifer (2001)
When the Patriots signed Phifer, he was 33 years old. He was expected to play a role, but not a game-changing one. As it turned out, he was another standard-bearer of the Patriots culture and a leader during the team's run to three Super Bowl championships. Though the Patriots didn't trademark "Do Your Job" until recently, the phrase applied to Phifer who started every game but one in his first three seasons as a linebacker in Belichick's 3-4 scheme. As one of the most trusted and respected players in the locker room, he was allowed to train on his own in the offseason. During the season, he would often return home to California after games, flying back to Foxboro in time to begin preparations with the rest of the team the following Wednesday. "He's got this program he's on that exceeds what ours would be," Belichick said of Phifer's workout regimen. "We have other players who have trouble keeping up with what he does in the offseason."
4. Randy Moss (2007)
Dealing away a fourth-round pick for a player who was about to set the single-season record for touchdown receptions and be one of the best deep threats in the league for three seasons makes this one of the best moves in franchise history. Though Moss eventually fizzled out in New England in 2010, it wasn't before he established himself as the most dazzling option in one of the greatest offenses in league history. He finished 2007 with 98 catches for 1,493 yards and 23 scores. Then in 2008 he helped get the Patriots to the brink of the postseason with Matt Cassel at quarterback. In 2009, he was very good yet again, catching 83 passes for 1,264 and 13 scores. Though his effort waned in 2010 and he was eventually dealt, few other players in Patriots history shined as brightly over the course of a three-year span.
3. Wes Welker (2007)
It cost the Patriots a second and seventh-round pick in 2007 to acquire the player who had bothered them as a member of the Dolphins from 2004-06. He went on to become one of the most productive receivers in the league over the course of his six seasons with the Patriots. One of Brady's best friends and most trusted teammates, Welker's 5-foot-9 frame took a beating over the middle of the field, but his skill set meshed perfectly with his quarterback's and he made five Pro Bowls and led the league in receptions three times as a result.
2. Rodney Harrison (2003)
After nine years with the Chargers, the Patriots signed Harrison and infused their team with an intensity that lacked in 2002 when it missed the playoffs entirely. One of the best safeties in the league over the course of his first two seasons in New England (First Team All-Pro in 2003, Second Team in 2004), he's one biggest reasons why the Patriots won back-to-back titles. He played in just 31 games in his last four seasons with the Patriots, but without him there is no dynasty.
1. Mike Vrabel (2001)
Signed as a free agent after Belichick's first season as head coach in New England, Vrabel went on to become to far exceed anything he had done during the first four seasons of his career in Pittsburgh. Durable. Versatile. Smart. At his best in big moment. The term "prototypical Patriot" gets thrown around quite a bit, but Vrabel was it. He missed just three regular-season games in eight seasons. He played outside linebacker, inside linebacker, defensive end, and he was one of the team's best red-zone threats as a tight end. On his way to three rings, he authored big Super Bowl moments, like when he pressured Kurt Warner into throwing a pick-six to Ty Law, or when he strip-sacked Jake Delhomme, or when he caught a Brady touchdown pass on the opening drive of the second half against the Eagles. After the Patriots traded Vrabel to the Chiefs in 2009, Belichick said, "When Mike arrived in 2001, we knew we were adding a solid outside linebacker. But where Mike took it from there exceeded our highest hopes. Mike Vrabel epitomizes everything a coach could seek in a professional football player: toughness, intelligence, play-making, leadership, versatility and consistency at the highest level." Not bad for a little-known free-agent acquisition.