The Patriot way is really the NFL Way — in some ways
Ah, which has caused more angst: The mounds of snow we suddenly see outside and the threat of more next week, or the seemingly mass free agent exodus out of Foxborough?
Maybe focusing attention on the NCAA college basketball tournament will help some Patriot fans cope. Suddenly, in their minds, there’s a whole new meaning to March Madness.
It certainly is different than a year ago, when the Patriots seemed to have loaded up on talent and basically only two players worked out kinda sorta, the one they gave up a first round pick for (receiver Brandin Cooks) and the corner they way overpaid (Stephon Gilmore).
But you know what? The Patriot Way at some point has to merge with the NFL Way. And losing free agents is a way of life in the National Football League.
Look, we’re not going to tell you the Patriots won’t miss the likes of left tackle Nate Solder, cornerback Malcolm Butler, wide receiver Danny Amendola, or running back Dion Lewis.
But it happens. Of them all, Solder’s loss is the toughest. He was steady, not spectacular, but if you don’t get at least steady at left tackle, you’re in trouble. Reports on whether the Patriots made an offer to Solder (probably in the $10-12 million range) vary. But there was no way they were going to pay him what the desperate Giants, who have been woeful on the offensive line for the last three years, did. The guess is the Patriots move Marcus Cannon into that spot, or try one of the two rookie linemen they drafted a year ago, Anthony Garcia or Conor McDermott
Amendola is the most painful loss as far as the fans go. But if Edelman returns, what then? Amendola wasn’t going to get big money here. You don’t sign 32-year-old receivers who are third or fourth on your depth chart to $6 million per deals.
Nor do you sign running backs to huge money. Dion Lewis deserved to get paid, but by a team who really, really needed him. With the Patriots, who re-signed Rex Burkhead, he was a luxury. James White, under contract last we looked, could do many of the same things. The best way to treat a running back is this: Draft him in the third to sixth round, milk his talent for five years, and then let him make more dollars elsewhere. Sorry, but their shelf life isn’t long.
Ah, and now we get to Butler. The ultimate Mystery Man. The Patriots loved him after the Super Bowl interception. But you have to think that love, despite how he worked his way into a starting role, started to fade when he didn’t report in time for “voluntary” (wink-wink) OTAs three years ago.
It was curious why the Patriots chose to go after Gilmore and give Butler the cold shoulder a year ago. Even more curious why the Saints never signed him as part of the deal for Cooks. And, of course, the height of mystery came with the Super Bowl benching. From the 2017 off-season treatment to the benching, it was obvious the HC of the NEP had a problem with Malcom Butler. He was gone the moment money was tossed at Gilmore. End of story.
These guys all got paid. They just weren’t going to get paid as Patriots. Free agency in the NFL isn’t like other sports, especially baseball. The contracts aren’t guaranteed, but you build through the draft, not free agency. You fill holes here and there with the money signings. Today’s big signing becomes tomorrow’s contract restructure or release.
The Patriots have other receivers. They have other running backs. They seem to like Eric Rowe at cornerback (and didn’t like Butler). They loved Solder, but not for all that money. Keep an eye on Garcia, who was taken in the third round, but missed all of last year with a serious blood clot issue. If he’s healthy, who knows.
Right decisions? Only time will tell. It’s March, and it’s painful to see popular players march out of Gillette.
But that’s the real Patriot Way, because it’s been the NFL Way.
Tom King can be reached at 594-1251, firstname.lastname@example.org., or @Telegraph_TomK.