Patriots' owner Robert Kraft (second from the left, and to be confused with Jay-Z) would be wise to invest his money in this year's deep free-agent class and save the bottle-popping for if and when his team wins another Super Bowl.
The best part about the NFL off season is all the talking heads and pseudo experts playing general manager with other people’s money despite never having spent a day in office.
It’s an annual rite of passage in early March, right before NCAA basketball fever grips the sports’ world, and with the New England Patriots coming off an inspiring regular season followed by a deflating loss to Denver in the conference championship game, speculation will run rampant these next few weeks before draft day.
Spending Bob Kraft’s hypothetical money on boats and models is a lot more fun than divvying up the funds on the open market, but Kraft’s chief business investment is floundering in its own playoff futility, and it’s time one of the league’s most influential owners gets aggressive with his dollars in what is shaping up to be a strong free agent class.
With so many players missing time last year due to injuries, it’d be easy to preset the dial to the excuse channel and wallow in everyone’s sympathy, but there are two fundamental problems with that ideology. Not only does no one feel sorry for the Patriots, who still have the best quarterback-coach tandem in the league and play in one of the NFL’s worst divisions, there’s also an alarming lack of talent toward the bottom of the depth chart.
The Patriots used to pride themselves on being deep 1 through 53. The company line during the dynasty years was that the last player on the roster wasn’t much worse than the top dog in the clubhouse. It was hyperbole at its best, but it illustrated the larger point that the Patriots not only got the most out of everyone on their roster, they seemingly always had someone ready to take the baton when a key starter got hurt.
The acquisition of safety Rodney Harrison prior to the ’03 season brought a much-needed change in attitude to New England, and it was evident the day Harrison laid out Kevin Faulk during team drills in training camp. The hit incited a minor dust-up, which is practically an annual tradition at every campsite in the NFL, and gave Harrison a forum with which to deliver the following message: “We’re not going to be pushed around this year.”
Instead of trying to find the next Randy Moss, the Patriots need to get their hands on the next Harrison. With Steven Gregory gone, they’re thin in the secondary, and the lack the kind of hard-hitting intimidator capable of setting the tone on a weekly basis. There will be options on the market. The 49ers didn’t use their franchise tag on 28-year-old safety Donte Whitner, which means there’s a strong chance he’ll hit the market. The same goes for three-time Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, who was not franchised by Buffalo. There’s also T.J. Ward, a former second-round pick by Cleveland who will also be an attractive commodity on the free-agent market.
The Patriots need to strike while the iron’s hot, because there are already rumors floating around about which teams would be a perfect fit for all three players. They need to start thinking about the future of their cornerback position, too. They declined to use their franchise tag on oft-injured veteran Aqib Talib, which was smart given Talib’s penchant for pulling up lame in big games. The money they saved on not using the tag could be spent on players such as Chicago’s Charles Tillman, Alterraun Verner of the Titans, or Denver cornerback Dominique Rodger-Cromartie.
This is a great year to have disposable income and a need for help on defense. One thing Brady has shown through the years, regardless of age, is he’ll find a way to move the ball with what he’s got, but it’d be much easier to breathe offensively if the team had a hard-hitting, play-making defense on the other side of the ball capable of forcing turnovers and setting up its franchise quarterback with excellent field position.
There won’t be any logical excuse for failure next year if the Patriots don’t act in the next few weeks.
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