During my weekly spot on a sports radio program up here in the apparently post-avalanche terrain of Maine, the host, who has a real and perhaps deliberate knack for stumping me with thoughtful questions I hadn’t considered, got me again.
The question this time was a fairly basic one: Which of the big free agents do you think the Patriots should consider or will go after?
Good question. Timely question. And a question I’ve barely pondered at all, and for reasons that I believe are more legitimate than my usual general lack of a clue.
The smaller reason is that two weeks and a day after the Patriots won their fourth Super Bowl, I’m still happily hovering in “holy #*$#)#, that really happened” mode, which included queuing up the DVR for another viewing of the final eight minutes last night.
(There are still little revelations that show up during the rewatching. Malcolm Butler’s presence of mind to shake off the Jermaine Kearse catch — he was visibly upset on the sideline after it happened, though he did everything in his power to bust it up — and do the right thing physically and mentally on his fateful interception makes me appreciate his achievement even more, which I didn’t know was possible.)
The larger reason is this: There’s no urgency to bring in a big name to help the title-defense cause next season. It’s barely even a consideration. I’d be satisfied with seeing the Patriots maintain the status quo.
What exactly does that mean? Something in the range of this:
* Sign Darrelle Revis to a justifiably lucrative long-term deal that greatly reduces the percentage of salary cap space he takes up. When the league year begins March 10, he is due to account for more than 1/6th of the projected cap. His impact on this defense doesn’t need to be detailed beyond an appreciative nod while noting that he changed everything.
Presuming the Patriots pay him the going rate for a player of his magnitude — and I don’t see why they wouldn’t — you have to figure he’ll be back. He is precisely the kind of player a team should pay.
Any affinity he has for Rex Ryan has to be trumped by the knowledge that he’s playing for a coach who, in the final moments of a Super Bowl, turned the coach on the opposing sideline into a heap of jacked-and-pumped mush by knowing the Seahawks’ tendencies and using them against them (the goal-line throw, the crucial baiting of the undisciplined Michael Bennett into an offsides penalty).
Revis likes it here. He appreciates it here. He became a champion here. I expect he will stay here.
* Franchise Devin McCourty and negotiate a long-term deal. Man, for a player in just his fifth season, he’s endured an uncommon share of changing narratives. He’s gone from the Kiper-stumping first-round pick, portrayed as first and foremost a special-teams ace, as if he were the next Matthew Slater … to superb rookie corner who earned some serious hype …
… to a struggling second-year corner … to one of the smarter and rangier safeties in the league. McCourty is one of my favorite players on the Patriots, not just because he’s a bright and thoughtful person, but because he’s endured some professional upheaval and emerged from it as a core player on a championship team. He’s a very easy person to respect, and he’s also a damn good football player. I hope he’s here for years to come. It sounds like he does too.
If the Patriots retain Revis and McCourty, that alone sounds like a plan for a successful offseason.
Of course, there could be more. I’d love to see them keep Stephen Gostkowski, who save for an injury in 2010 that led to a Shayne Graham cameo, has succeeded Adam Vinatieri brilliantly, keeping the Patriots on a 20-year run of excellent placekicking. But it is price-dependent, especially since it is not as difficult to find a quality kicker as it used to be.
Then there’s Shane Vereen, who morphed into peak Kevin Faulk during the Super Bowl and is a versatile back who fits so well here, but the Patriots have had a knack for finding players of his skill-set. If he gets big money elsewhere, remember to send him off with a thank you for playing his best in the biggest game.
Stevan Ridley, Akeem Ayers, Dan Connolly, Jonathan Casillas, Alan Branch … hell, keep ’em all, if possible. I realize, of course, that the full status quo probably is not possible, that some of these guys will move on.
And that’s OK — change is certain, and probably even necessary. Rookies will come aboard, and young players will emerge (don’t give up on Dominique Easley just yet). The cap may even cause a few casualties. It’s uncertain right now whether Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork’s careers here will be spoken of in the past tense by the time September comes around.
But given the accomplished youth on this roster — isn’t it amazing, considering the length of this run, that the Patriots have been remodeled on the fly into the youngest team ever to win a Super Bowl? — there’s really no need to go out and spend on a big-ticket free agent. The Patriots have enhanced championship teams before — most notably by acquiring Corey Dillon and drafting Wilfork after the ’03 season — but they can be deliberate and prudent in choosing their spots now.
I’d love to see what Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia could get out of talented hothead Ndamukong Suh, but a desperate franchise is destined to overpay him. There is no desperation whatsoever to get that long-coveted and wholly unnecessary big-name “downfield threat” receiver such as Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas.
You want to talk Larry Fitzgerald at a reasonable price befitting what he has become rather than what he was? Well sure, sign me up. Sign him up.
Otherwise, there aren’t a lot of outsiders the Patriots should be trying to bring in. Let’s keep this band together. We already know the beautiful music they can make. Their greatest hit has been right there on the DVR for more than two weeks now, waiting for the next encore.