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Patriots aren't splashing into the free agency pool

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  March 13, 2013 10:28 AM

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Pierre Garcon.

Perhaps there are more shining beacons of the ludicrous nature that is the annual NFL opening its gates to free agency, but that’s the one that filters through the lobes first and foremost.

Garcon, a nice player with the Colts during his four years in Indianapolis, snookered the Washington Redskins (shocked?) into a five-year, $42 million contract at the outset of last year’s green light and went on to start only 10 games for the resurgent Redskins, catching 44 balls for 633 yards -- both career lows -- and four touchdowns. Not terrible, but…yippee?

It seems a yearly ritual that some teams feel the need to make an immediate splash during the NFL’s free agency period for whatever reason, be it to garner spring interest in a floundering franchise, or to simply give Scott Pioli and Warren Sapp something to do on the flagship network. Enter, the Miami Dolphins, who jumped into the pool by awarding former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace a five-year, $60 million deal, one of a handful of transactions that kept Rich Eisen and the NFL Network crew busy all afternoon as boss Roger Goodell twiddled his fingers in a Mr. Burns style of power and greed.

It’s no secret the NFL loves itself some NFL. The most powerful sports league in the world has turned itself into a 365-day powerhouse determined not to be limited to a September-February popularity, other interests be damned. Naturally, it can be suffocating. The over-the-top NFL has become something of a tiresome nature, rendering it sometimes difficult to embrace the sport we all love. How can we love you if you won't go away?

Really, any team insistent on making news yesterday was little more than a pawn in Goodell’s TV show, a team looking to make national waves in a sea of irrelevance. So, here’s a theory: Maybe Wes Welker, Aqib Talib, and/or Sebastian Vollmer are really already under agreement with New England.

For certain, at least in the case of Welker, there were mixed reports Tuesday with the 4 p.m. free agency period looming. The NFL Network reported that the Patriots hadn’t even given the wide receiver an initial contract offer. Other outlets retorted that the report was wrong, and Mike Giardi stuck to his guns over his report last week that the two sides were close to a three-year deal. Despite all the conflicting news we’ve received about Welker since, oh, 2010 it seems, the fact that his name wasn’t truly mentioned with competing teams for his services last night, other than conjecture (Denver, Indianapolis) has to make you think one of two things: Either the market for Welker is thinner than everybody initially though, or he’s got an agreement in place with the Patriots.

So, why wait on any sort of an announcement? Simple. If you’re Bill Belichick, a coach who prides himself on going against the grain and twisting the knife into conformity whenever you have the chance, why play any part in the NFL’s dog and pony show?

Yes, the Patriots could have trumped the likes of the Dolphins by announcing that a deal was in place with Welker, but what’s the point? Why contribute to a network’s agenda that apparently includes the “[expletive] Bill Belichick [expletive] angle?" Let’s face it, yesterday was a TV show, an afternoon Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino would salivate over if baseball were in the same boat. Business got done, but it wasn’t as usual, and if there’s one thing we are certain about when it comes to the New England Patriots, it’s that procedure is rarely fickle. There is a means and a way. The Mickey Mouse Club can wait.

And so, the Patriots went through the first day of free agency without any big moves, losing offensive lineman Donald Thomas (Colts) and Patrick Chung (Eagles) in the process. (The best line about Chung undoubtedly came from @UnrulyNeighbor: “Chung brought the Family Circus cartoons showing Billy's route home back into the rotation.”) Josh Cribbs rumors aside – and frankly, I don’t mind if he stays there – the Patriots were wallflowers at the NFL’s manufactured dance.

So, it’s just a hunch that one or more of the big three free agents are already committed to New England, the biggest reason why you didn’t hear their names mentioned ad nauseum as we headed into the Bruins’ breakdown in Pittsburgh Tuesday night. But now that the needy newsmakers have done their duty for the league, let the dust settle and wait for real business to take place. Free agency should be a discussion, not a ratings grab.

Mike Wallace got paid. Good for him. Have fun with Ryan Tannehill throwing you the ball and being cut within three years. Ask Ryan Fitzpatrick.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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