3 Decisions That Have New England In AFC’s Driver’s Seat
1) Signing Darrelle Revis (instead of Aqib Talib)
Aqib Talib possesses talent, sometimes even displaying brilliance. Meanwhile, Darrelle Revis is undoubtedly exceptional.
A sleek Mustang often captures everyone’s admiration. However, wise, seasoned individuals recognize that a Mustang can’t be equated with a Ferrari.
Talib entered free agency during a period when substantial contracts were being awarded.
The Patriots chose not to retain Talib, preferring to obtain the genuine article, along with the privilege of internally assessing the potential for a long-term contract in one of the most lucrative positions in the sport.
Remarkably, they achieved greatness while Denver accrued substantial 2014 dead cap expenses of 11.5 million dollars.
That is a display of astute decision-making squared.
Revis’ so-called “poor” performances translate to just a handful of receptions, often sparking excessive concern.
When compared to other choices, they, too, occasionally find themselves outperformed in a game, although these instances are rare. Such occurrences, however, are virtually unheard of when it comes to Revis.
In 2014, he consistently served as the unflappable barrier confronting the league’s elite wide receivers, a characteristic that has been his trademark ever since I first witnessed him as a teammate in New York.
Revis is easily [the Patriots’] best move this season, and amongst the best they’ve ever made.
Those deeply entrenched in the football world, shielded from the relentless media frenzy, comprehended that Revis belonged to a league of his own, transcending all 2014 free-agent cornerbacks and, indeed, the entire spectrum of NFL cornerbacks.
However, considering his somewhat advanced age and his stint in NFL obscurity in Tampa, it was only fitting that a colossal commitment should necessitate a thorough examination, not a hasty investment.
The Patriots found their solution within their own ranks, securing a dual-purpose asset in the form of an elite cornerback and an internal assessment of free agency potential.
This arrangement afforded them the opportunity to witness not just his on-field performance but also his conduct, influence on teammates, behind-the-scenes health, and the desires that naturally emerge after experiencing the taste of victory.
It was the epitome of an ideal situation for the Patriots, a masterstroke. Undoubtedly, it stood as their most commendable move that season and perhaps one of their all-time best.
2) Signing WR Brandon LaFell (instead of Emmanuel Sanders)
The debate between LaFell and Sanders proved to be one of the more vexing offseason discussions for Patriots fans.
If you needed to consult a stat sheet to form an opinion, you might have missed the essence of the decision-making process, so let’s jump right to #3…
Leaving aside the debate on who had been the preferred choice first, the Patriots ultimately made the correct decision.
They acquired an offensive asset comparable to Sanders but with a physique more aligned with the team’s requirements. Moreover, LaFell brought greater positional versatility, all at a more budget-friendly cost. This, my friends, was precisely what the Patriots wished for on their Christmas list.
For years, the Patriots and their fans had yearned for a productive, large-bodied wide receiver in New England.
The team had a history of undersized wideouts who excelled, such as Troy Brown, Deion Branch, Wes Welker, and Julian Edelman. However, the quest for that substantial complementary piece had proven challenging.
While Brandon Lloyd had a productive stint in New England, his physical attributes didn’t align with LaFell’s. In the absence of an injured player like Aaron Hernandez, Lloyd couldn’t seamlessly step in and fill a similar role, unlike LaFell.
LaFell’s physique closely resembled the team’s current pass-catching tight end, Tim Wright.
This is a catch-and-run offense, with players like Vereen and Edelman excelling once they get the ball in their hands.
LaFell’s physical blocking, coupled with his high productivity and versatility, make him a slam-dunk better option for this team than the otherwise enticing Sanders would’ve been.
Another reason LaFell made so much more sense for this team is a giant nail in the coffin in this debate.
Aaron Dobson was a promising big-bodied wide receiver the team had invested in the previous season with a 2nd-round pick. Still, he had a serious foot injury on which the group had eyes all off-season.
LaFell was a lowish-dollar veteran free agent with a similar physical makeup that could provide insurance if Aaron Dobson was nagged by injuries, which is precisely what happened.
Sanders’ final stat tally is spiked by the absence of Denver’s usual 2nd-option, Julius Thomas, for 1/4 of the regular season.
If numbers on a piece of paper move you, LaFell’s numbers would’ve likely spiked at a similar rate if Gronk had missed the same amount of time. There’s no doubt of that. Most importantly, it’s not the numbers on the stat sheet that define the final value of the move.
It’s the production, terms, flexibility, fit, and insurance. LaFell has given the Patriots all those things for HALF the cap commitment.
For one, Emmanuel Sanders got the cap knock of Brandon LaFell and Brandon Browner. Case closed.
3) Retaining Veteran O-Linemen Dan Connolly & Ryan Wendell
In the 2014 offseason, one of the less well-thought-out discussion points was that the Patriots needed to “go all in and acquire more weapons for Brady!” While there were numerous issues with this line of thinking, let’s focus on the most frequently advocated method of procuring these costly pass catchers:
The Pats should just cut Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell and draft their replacements, using the savings on a high-priced “weapon.”
By parting ways with the two veterans, the team would free up slightly over $5.5 million, which could be allocated elsewhere to enhance the team’s performance.
However, the fundamental flaw in this argument is relatively straightforward: OFFENSIVE LINEMEN ARE WEAPONS FOR A QUARTERBACK! I apologize for the emphasis (well, not really).
If the first four weeks of the Patriots’ season didn’t deliver a resounding lesson on this blatantly obvious but often overlooked football fact, it isn’t particular anything ever will.
You cannot deplete the offensive line’s resources to bolster your pass-catching options and expect your offense to improve miraculously. It simply doesn’t function that way.
Both Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell have played a pivotal role in holding together the Patriots’ offense during the upheaval and adjustments that accompanied the decision to trade away the esteemed veteran Logan Mankins for cap-related reasons.
Their adaptability has proven invaluable throughout the season. Wendell, a lifelong center in his professional career until this year, has been pleasantly surprised as a dependable starter at right guard.
Meanwhile, Connolly emerged as the stabilizing force when the various experiments at left guard failed to yield results.
The Patriots wisely invested in two fourth-round picks for future offensive linemen, and Bryan Stork’s readiness to contribute this season was a welcome development.
On the other hand, Cameron Fleming, while showing promise, still has some way to go in matching the reliability of Connolly or Wendell.
If the advice to release Connolly and Wendell in favor of acquiring a “weapon” for TB12 had been heeded, the state of the offensive line would likely be in shambles right now, and the team wouldn’t have enjoyed the success they currently do.
Retaining both of these experienced offensive linemen is the kind of decision that might not have been endorsed by those outside the Patriots’ football circle. For fans, it’s an extra reason to be pleased that such individuals aren’t the ones making decisions for your team.