Patriots fans may be frustrated.
They may be antsy, teased by their team's offseason tactics a year ago and hoping deep down for something similar again headed into the 2022 season.
But the approach the Patriots have taken to the offseason thus far -- to coaches and executives in different corners of the NFL -- is a familiar one.
"Back to normal this year," said one AFC exec. "Last year made everyone forget how business usually operates there."
Instead of handing out gobs of guaranteed money to new faces, Bill Belichick and the Patriots have brought back familiar ones like Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater, Nick Folk, Brian Hoyer, James Ferentz, Jakobi Meyers and James White.
The new faces imported have been done at cost-effective prices with players like corner Terrance Mitchell and versatile offensive weapon Ty Montgomery headed to New England on inexpensive deals. Linebacker Mack Wilson landed in Foxboro when the Patriots dealt away seldomly-deployed outside linebacker Chase Winovich.
Those are the Patriots the NFL knows.
Looking for value. Splashes not to be expected.
But does "back to normal" make sense when "normal" for so long included having the greatest quarterback in league history on the roster?
Yes, according to one rival AFC coach.
"There's still nobody better at managing rosters, players, personalities than Bill," he said. "It's an older group, but they're going to get younger. I bet in two to three years, they're going to be very good. I'd say they're in pretty good shape."
We wrote earlier this week about how commitments to the veteran middle class were greater in Foxboro than anywhere else in football. That was an approach the Patriots have taken going back several seasons, one NFL evaluator pointed out to NBC Sports Boston.
While last year's offseason spending gets plenty of attention, as it should, "win-now" moves made by the Patriots at the tail end of Tom Brady's time in New England helped the Patriots make four Super Bowls in five years from 2014-2018 with talented veterans on the roster. But that strategy also gave the Patriots one of the oldest rosters in football even during the short-lived Cam Newton Era and into Mac Jones' rookie season.
Back in 2020, Belichick was open about the fact that his team had a financial reset year. But the league sees that reset as ongoing, even after record spending last offseason. In pockets of the NFL, the Patriots are viewed as a team that needs to get younger around its young quarterback. When it does, thereby lowering its average salary, the Patriots will have more flexibility to pay pieces around Jones the way other teams with talented young quarterbacks have.
That won't excite Patriots fans who are hoping to see the Patriots go for broke in each of the five years their team has a quarterback on a rookie contract. But that's how the league views New England's back-to-basics approach this offseason. They're not going to rush through Belichick's build in order to keep up with the arms race in the AFC.