By: Brady Gardner
NFL Free Agency is well underway, with big names signing league-altering deals left and right. Everyone seems to be finding new recruits that will boost their team for 2019 – that is, except for the reigning Super Bowl champions.
Let’s sum it up like this: the biggest splash made by the New England Patriots was trading for Michael Bennett, a defensive end well on the back nine of his career. Other additions included Brandon Bolden and Bruce Ellington for special teams, and unheralded position players such as Terrence Brooks, Maurice Harris, Mike Pennel, and Matt LaCosse (Who? Exactly).
More notably, the Patriots have seen numerous names sign elsewhere, from Trey Flowers, Eric Rowe, and Malcolm Brown on the defense to Trent Brown and Cordarrelle Patterson on the offense. While likely overvalued in the market, these were players who made an impact in New England. Of course, the loss of Rob Gronkowski to retirement is the greatest of them all.
Normally, several departures and few major additions would be no surprise down in Foxborough. But there is something different about the kinds of small changes being made to New England’s roster – something this team hasn’t seen since the turn of the century.
The Patriots are becoming a run-first, defensive-minded team.
In an offseason chock-full of elite wide receivers on the move, the Patriots have done absolutely nothing to bolster their weapons around soon-to-be 42-year old quarterback Tom Brady. Instead, the Pats have opted to solidify their run game, and reinforce their defense.
Cries to bring in pass-catchers are coming from every corner of New England, begging coach Bill Belichick to aid his aging QB. You don’t have enough talent, they say. You can’t deprive Brady of targets, they say. You shouldn’t treat Brady like any other aging quarterback, they say.
You know what I say?
The Patriots are doing it exactly right.
Now before you condemn me for suggesting “In Bill We Trust,” let me explain myself. Because when you consider this tactic from a big-picture perspective, it starts to make a lot more sense.
Tom Brady is not going to be around forever. Sorry folks, I said it. The 19-year veteran is only a few years away from the finish line drawn when he stated his desire to play to age 45. The last two decades have been a dream, but it’s time to start looking towards a reality without Brady.
Throughout his accomplished career, Brady has been relied on heavily to take any given group of receivers, and lead the team to game-winning drives, divisional championships, and Super Bowl rings. No other quarterback in the history of the NFL can make something out of nothing as well as Brady can.
Okay, so the Patriots have built a dynasty on the back of the greatest quarterback of all time, and have won that way for almost twenty years. But what happens when Brady’s gone?
This is where Bill Belichick’s team-transforming decision comes into play.
Tom Brady 2.0 is not walking in that door at 1 Patriot Place as soon as TB12 heads off into the sunset. There will likely be a young, unproven quarterback attempting to fill the enormous shoes his predecessor will leave behind. Belichick knows this, and is planning accordingly.
There will be growing pains with an inexperienced play-caller under center. By putting the focus on running the ball and playing solid defense, Belichick will give his team a chance to win without relying on their quarterback, and give the new QB time to develop without the pressure of taking over Brady’s high-flying, pass-happy offense.
And let’s not forget, winning beyond Brady certainly means something to Bill Belichick. To most fans, Brady has secured his title as the greatest quarterback of all time, but there is still debate regarding the NFL’s greatest coach. By keeping his team on top after the loss of Tom Brady, Belichick will prove his own greatness once and for all.
As for the short-term, I can see the benefits of moving towards a run-centered offense even while Tom Brady is still around. Yes, Brady is a special quarterback, and in unprecedented health relative to his age. However, I’m sure even the future first-ballot hall-of-famer wouldn’t mind getting a little weight off his 42-year old shoulders.
Believe it or not, there may even be good reason to empower the defense in the coming years as well. Belichick has long loved to go right when everyone else goes left, and it often works out for him. With this in mind, developing a top defense to counter an increasingly offense-friendly league could be just what helps the Patriots stay one step ahead of everyone else.
Bill Belichick’s Patriots have always demonstrated an uncanny ability to mold and morph as the game requires. This situation is no different.
When Tom Brady leaves, New England will have to adapt, and by moving the team in this direction, Bill Belichick is getting a head start on this change.