Take Tom Brady away from the Patriots and would the team’s frugal, don’t-break the-bank-approach to free agency and the trade market these past 15 years be as impressive?
The answer is no.
For all we know, Bill Belichick might have burned himself out of Foxboro the way he did in Cleveland after three or four years had No. 12 not emerged as the greatest quarterback this game has ever seen. But because Brady is here, bad deals like “Logan Mankins for Tim Wright” and odd signings (Reggie Wayne, Tim Tebow) never hurt the Patriots’ chances of being in the mix for a Super Bowl berth.
That “go-for-it-all-now!” approach is actually laughed at in these parts, because the Patriots won a Super Bowl just last year doing things their way, and because they always manage to win 11-13 games each and every season. But there are different ways to go about going deep in the postseason, year-after-year.
Which team has had the better run these last three seasons? The Broncos or the Patriots? Which team’s philosophy at building a title contender is better?
Denver signed T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib in 2014. And that was coming off a season in which they beat the Patriots in a conference title game.
Broncos boss John Elway saw that the only way his team was going to contend, with an aging quarterback, was to build a phenomenal defense. So he opened Pat Bowlen’s checkbook and got his men.
Yes, it’s true that the Patriots have gotten this far by always thinking five years down the road. The goal has always been for sustained success and there already seems to be a contingency plan in place for when Belichick and Brady are gone (it’s no coincidence that Josh McDaniels is avoiding job interviews like the plague).
But the Broncos are right there with the Patriots in the past 10 years in terms of success. Their only clunker of a season in the past decade came in 2010, when the aforementioned McDaniels was the head coach at the beginning of the season and they went 4-12. And in the past three seasons, the Broncos have been to two Super Bowls to the Patriots’ one.
Elway decided to go all in with a quarterback who is on the Back-9 and his gamble is paying off.
Despite the running narrative that Tom Brady is going to play until he’s 50, all the spirulina and kale in the world cannot halt the aging process completely. Odds are, Brady is not going to win an MVP again. He was great this past season, but he wasn’t the best - that would be Cam Newton. And in 2017, he might be fourth best. In 2018, he might be sixth-best, and so on.
So the Patriots are going to have to do things a little bit differently in the next few years. Maybe it’s time to finally go after that big-time, outside receiver in free agency or a trade (Alshon Jeffery, anyone?). Maybe it’s time to land a legit offensive lineman (Buffalo’s Cordy Glenn is available).
The Patriots had been linked to Larry Fitzgerald the past few offseasons, but seemingly never made a real push for him. Fitzgerald, who had a monster year with the Cardinals, certainly would have helped on Sunday when Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski were blanketed by Denver defenders.
The current Patriots defense? It’s like Brady. It’s outstanding. It’s just not the absolute best. It could use an upgrade here or there. It could use some tweaking.
In fact, the entire Patriots philosophy could use some tweaking this offseason. Because this year, it just wasn’t good enough.