All the way back in mid-March, we learned the Patriots would be bolstering their defense with the pricey addition of all-world cornerback Darrelle Revis. As many would say, the veteran is a “planet player,” someone who is one of the best in the game and, in turn, can immediately positively impact his team simply by stepping on the field and just, well, being there. The Pats saw it first-hand during his days with the Jets before an ACL tear and subsequent trade to the Buccaneers.
With Revis along with Super Bowl XLVIII champion Brandon Browner in the fold, the message appeared clear: New England was all in.
However, as several decisions and transactions since have proven, that was a mirage. The 2014 season, while expectations are rightfully high, will be no different than most any other over the last decade or so.
It started, to a small degree, when the Pats were seemingly willing to let captain, leader, and impactful nose tackle Vince Wilfork walk away in March had he not agreed to restructure his contract a couple of weeks later. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed on both sides.
Later in free agency, the Patriots did nothing on the offensive side of the ball to firmly address the fact Matt Mulligan and Matthew Slater were receiving targets last January. Brandon Lafell is a complementary piece and every other pass-catcher Tom Brady will be relying on this season was on last year’s roster, though often unhealthy. Another tight end to serve as a backup plan in the event Rob Gronkowski goes down again may have helped. Remember, Tim Wright’s acquisition isn’t viewed as “the Tim Wright trade” just yet.
A couple of months later came the NFL Draft and when the Patriots could have used some instant help at tight end, on the defensive line, at safety, or a few other positions, they elected to use their first two picks on a defensive lineman (Dominique Easley) recovering from a ruptured right ACL – his second torn ACL since 2011 – and a quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo) who hopefully won’t play one snap in 2014. At this point, Easley may not be ready to start the season and Garoppolo looks to have a bright future – years from now and not necessarily in Foxborough.
Then, of course, was last week’s perceived salary dump of All-Pro guard Logan Mankins after he reportedly twice refused to restructure like Wilfork.
Yes, Mankins has declined ever so slightly in recent years and, yes, he is overpaid for his position (his cap hit was $10.5 million). But the guard’s trade also wasn’t necessary, given the Patriots added yet another question mark to a mess of an offensive line loaded with them and the fact the club didn’t require the salary relief this season. Had they, there were other places they could have started before trickling down to a six-time Pro Bowl workhorse physically capable of gutting his way through injuries that would make babies out of most men. Will this one really work out via the plug-and-play rule? Is Sebastian Vollmer a reasonable answer?
Creating extra difficulty where it needn’t be isn’t going “all in”, it’s merely business as usual when balancing one year’s roster and financial flexibility with that of future seasons.
Prior to New England’s preseason finale in the Meadowlands, Pats president Jonathan Kraft joined the pregame show on 98.5 The Sports Hub, where he was asked if his team is in fact “all in”.
“I think we’re all in every year,” he said. “If you don’t consider yourself ‘all in,’ it’s a very hard business to be in. Maybe people’s definition of what ‘all in’ means is different but, for us, what ‘all in’ means is constantly looking at your personnel situation, all 53 roster spots, the 10 spots on the practice squad, how much cap space you have, how many guys are in the first, second, third year of their deals, who’s about to come up in free agency. ‘All in’ to us as an organization means managing that entire picture to maximize your competitiveness on a rolling basis.
“The people who say load up this year and go for broke,” Kraft continued, “that’s like the guy sitting at the blackjack table who’s down $5,000 and says, ‘Well, I’ve played for four hours, I’m down five grand, I’m gonna put five grand down now on one hand and try to go.’ For some people, they may view that as a good strategy. From our perspective as an organization, we believe that you try to be a little bit more thoughtful and never put yourself in the position where you’re down the five grand to begin with. There are some teams in the league who approach it differently and sometimes they have success but it’s not what works right for us.”
There you have it. You may not like the answer to the question, but it’s an answer. As Kraft alluded to, many of us simply have a different definition of “all in”.
Mine, perhaps like yours, means doing whatever you can to give your team the best possible chance to win a Super Bowl this year, even in the unlikely event of sacrificing 12 wins for, say, eight the following season, particularly with a franchise-altering 37-year-old quarterback nearing the end of the line.
The Krafts, though, are thinking about maintaining the emotionless business model that has helped the Patriots average 12 victories, win three Super Bowls, reach two others, and claim 11 AFC East titles in a terrible division since Brady began his Hall of Fame assault in 2001. Since the Pats last won a championship in the 2004 season, capping a stretch of three titles in four years, they’ve advanced to two others, lost only one division crown, and averaged a steady 12 wins.
That’s what it’s all about; consistency, not a championship-or-bust mentality.
Patriots fans are fortunate. Damn lucky, really. It’s a unique thing with the parity that exists in the NFL to know your team is going to the playoffs and has an annual shot at a first-round playoff bye and a trip to the AFC championship game. To demand more is admittedly greedy, but being content borders on apathy when graced with a top-tier coach and QB and no Duck Boat parades in a decade.
Adding Revis and Browner (who will be suspended the first quarter of the year) to a defense that last year was a shell of itself by the midway point of the season on account of injuries proved a great start to building a champion, but it wasn’t enough. Addressing one need by upgrading on the departed Aqib Talib doesn’t suddenly negate others.
If the Pats win a Super Bowl in Arizona in February, fantastic. Belichick and Brady will have another notch on their respective belts in the pursuit of being considered the best to enter Canton in their roles.
If not, the Krafts tell us that’s still a successful run. Another 12-4 record is nothing to scoff at and the Patriots will be positioned well to put up a similar mark next season. You might say the future is now, always. Like it or not.
There’s value in consistency, just not as much as there is in superiority. Only time will tell if Belichick the GM did enough for Belichick the coach, but you don’t need any more time to determine whether his club is “all in for this season.
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