After Sunday's shocking debacle at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens, it's
clear that the Patriots need to do some rebuilding. You've probably already
read about 7,523 columns to this point telling you what the Patriots needs to
do to get back to championship form.
I wouldn't take stock in any of them. Bill Belichick and the Patriots don't
need the help of the media in rebuilding their franchise. Sorry, Ron Borges.
Maybe you should make a pitch to become the Raiders GM.
The truth is, the Patriots have been rebuilt four times this decade. When
Belichick arrived in 2000, he inherited a team on the decline. They went 5-11
that first season, before rebuilding the following offseason with draft picks
(Richard Seymour, Matt Light) and free agents (Mike Vrabel, Roman Phifer, Bryan
Cox, Larry Izzo, David Patten, etc.). That team surprised all by going 11-5 and
winning the Super Bowl the following season. Interestingly that was probably
ahead of even what Belichick and Scott Pioli had planned or hoped for.
There was a drop off the next season, as the team lost four games in a row in
the middle of the season, and finished at 9-7 and out of the playoffs. Prior to
that season, the Patriots have pretty much stood pat in free agency. Donald
Hayes and Victor Green were the only signings of note, but neither made much of
an impact. With that dip, the Patriots needed to retool prior to 2003. They
did, adding free agents Rosevelt Colvin and Rodney Harrison, and drafting Ty
Warren, Eugene Wilson, Dan Koppen, and Asante Samuel.
The Patriots proceeded to win the next two Super Bowl titles, before slipping
back a bit in 2005. Stalwarts like Ted Johnson, Ty Law and Phifer were gone, as
well as coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis. That year they finished
10-6 - same as this season, and beat Jacksonville in the Wild Card round before
falling to the Broncos in the divisional round. Not all that dissimilar to this
season. They had drafted Logan Mankins, Ellis Hobbs, Nick Kaczur and James Sanders
that year, replacing 2/5 of their offensive line. Going into 2006, they added
Junior Seau and not much else. They still finished 12-4, and surprised many by
nearly making it back to the Super Bowl before falling to the Colts.
At that point, it was clear that more rebuilding was necessary. That offseason
saw the acquisitions of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Adalius Thomas, (Who was pretty
good that first year.) and Donte Stallworth. The only draft pick of note was
Brandon Meriweather. This of course put the Patriots back to contender status,
as they went 16-0 in the regular season before losing in the Super Bowl to the
Giants. The last two years have been another bit of a downswing, in part to Tom
Brady's injury last season, and a number of veteran losses this season.
It would seem that the Patriots were due to reload again this offseason. The
caveat is of course the labor situation. No one knows exactly how things are
going to play out, but it appears there will be an uncapped league year, and a
number of unusual rules regarding free agency and player movement. For example,
the final eight teams in the playoffs (the teams playing this weekend) will not
be allowed to sign any free agents unless they lose a free agent. There are
even more restrictions for the final four teams. Fortunately (I guess) the
Patriots won't be under those last two rules. They also likely get to keep
Mankins and Stephen Gostkowski for another year because of the restricted free
agency rules changes for this one offseason. These are good things, because
there are a lot of changes likely to be coming this offseason.
So as this offseason unfolds, have a little faith, will ya?
Bruce Allen is the creator of Boston Sports Media Watch,
which has recently been recognized by SI.com as one of the best non-corporate
sports web site's on the Internet