Patriots

Patriots

With one more day of legal tampering remaining before the new league year begins on Wednesday, it's worth asking, will the Patriots pounce on a chosen free-agent target or two as soon as they can? Or will they hang back, see what the market dictates, and pluck from what remains to help fill out their roster?

Of course we won't know until we know. The Patriots are generally thought of as one of the league's teams that likes to take a wait-and-see approach, but they've also been aggressive at the outset of free agency at different points under coach Bill Belichick. 

Last year, the player who eventually proved himself to be their most impactful free-agent signing, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, was locked up by Mar. 12 -- the second day of free agency.

In 2014, also on the second day of free agency, corner Darrelle Revis fell into their laps after being released by the Buccaneers. Two days later, free-agent corner Brandon Browner was brought to New England, and soon thereafter free-agent receiver Brandon LaFell signed on to play with quarterback Tom Brady. In the span of about 72 hours, the Patriots had acquired three pieces who would be key to their Super Bowl title run 11 months later.

Did they "go for it" that year by mobilizing quickly and signing the players they wanted? In retrospect, it may appear that way. But each free-agency period has played out uniquely for the Patriots based on who's available, their salary-cap situation, and the construction of their roster.

 

The spring-to-action approach has worked, to be sure. In 2007, they worked fast and scooped up linebacker Adalius Thomas on the third day deals could be made official. Tight end Kyle Brady and running back Sammy Morris had already been signed at that point. Later came receivers Wes Welker (via trade with the Dolphins) and Donte Stallworth.

No, not all of those deals ended up as long-term successes, but the team did go 16-0 that season and landed in the Super Bowl. 

(Perry and Curran’s conversation about potential free agent targets starts at 42:30 on Quick Slants the podcast.)

Acting quickly, however, has also resulted in some forgettable contracts with players like running back Fred Taylor and tight end Chris Baker -- both of whom signed up on the first day of free agency in 2009. After Taylor and Baker's agreements were in place, receiver Joey Galloway and corner Shawn Springs both came to deals with the Patriots. 

Galloway didn't make it to November. Baker was gone before the start of 2010, and by the start of 2011, both Taylor and Springs had been released. 

At times, patience has been the play. In 2001, linebacker Mike Vrabel wasn't signed until mid-March. In 2003, the Patriots waited almost two weeks and still ended up with two of the best players available in linebacker Rosevelt Colvin and safety Rodney Harrison.

Veteran pick-ups like linebacker Junior Seau (August, 2006), defensive end Andre Carter (August, 2011) and guard Brian Waters (September, 2011) all were signed late in the team-building process and ended up contributing to teams that made Super Bowls. 

Talent seems relatively sparse at a few of the spots that might be considered Patriots positions of need, like receiver, tackle and tight end. Supply could force their hand in order to ensure that they get the guys they want. Or they could sit back and be spectators for the first few days, looking for bargains to avail themselves after prices surge initially.

Both methods have worked to varying degrees under Belichick. Which route he chooses this time around will go a long way in determining the shape of the Patriots roster in 2016.