What caused the Patriots to win the offseason?
One of Bill Belichick’s greatest attributes as a coach is his need for constant improvement. When coaching, he will always look at the things that his team needs to improve upon and will continuously harp on those things.
This is one of the main reasons why the Patriots have been remarkably consistent over the last 16 years. They look at themselves critically and are well prepared every single week.
This mindset carries over to his position as the Patriots’ General Manager. Nothing captured that mindset better than the quote he had a day after the Super Bowl victory over the Atlanta Falcons. ”As of today, and as great as today feels and as great as today is, in all honesty we’re five weeks behind in the 2017 season to most teams in the league.”
This unemotional and critical way of thinking helped the Patriots have a phenomenal offseason.
It would have been easy for Belichick to not be aggressive in the offseason after winning his fifth Super Bowl title as a head coach. However, he recognized that the 2016 version of the Patriots was a flawed team, on top of the fact that many of their key defensive players were becoming free agents.
In their Super Bowl victory, the Patriots’ lack of speed on offense was exposed early in the game. They didn’t have any receivers with elite speed, which made it easier for the extremely athletic Falcons’ defense to close up passing lanes. Only when the snap count reached an astronomical number, and the Falcons’ defense began to tire, were the Patriots’ receivers able to consistently get separation. This showed up in the running game as well with the plodding LeGarrette Blount only able to gain 31 yards on 11 carries.
To account for the lack of speed, the Patriots made the splashiest move of the offseason: trading their first round pick for Brandin Cooks. The 23-year-old Cooks has averaged 81 catches, 1,156 yards, and nine touchdowns per season over the last two years.
With a 4.3 40-yard dash time, Cooks tied for the league lead in catches of over 40 yards with six, and gives the Patriots a weapon they haven’t had in their offense since Randy Moss: A guy with blazing speed who will become an elite deep threat receiver.
Last season, Tom Brady found the ability to throw the ball down the field again. Chris Hogan was typically the beneficiary of the beautiful deep balls thrown by Brady. Now with Cooks on the roster, Brady should be even more efficient as a deep passer. Imagine Brandin Cooks running these deep routes for Tom Brady:
Adding this dimension to the Patriots makes them almost unstoppable. Along with Cooks, they still have Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola, Hogan, James White, Dion Lewis, newly acquired Dwayne Allen, and Rob Gronkowski who is already 100% recovered from his injury. This is just an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions. The best part of having a group like this is any one player could get injured and they would hardly miss a beat.
The Patriots are adding Cooks and Gronkowski to an offense that was good enough to win the Super Bowl without them. The only player not returning from the offense that won Super Bowl LI is Martellus Bennett. Belichick even compensated for this loss by trading for former Colts tight end Dwayne Allen, who projects to be a comparable player to Bennett.
When you thought it couldn’t have gotten any better for the Patriots’ offense, Belichick went out and signed former Bills running back Mike Gillislee. Gillislee didn’t get a lot of carries in Buffalo being LeSean McCoy‘s backup, but when he got the opportunities he took advantage of them.
Last season, in only 101 carries, he rushed for 577 yards and eight touchdowns. He displayed a good combination of speed and power, which is the type of runner the Patriots need to replace the plodding Blount.
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Defensively, the 2016 Patriots had no clear weaknesses. They were solid on each part of their defense. However, with Dont’a Hightower
, Malcolm Butler (restricted), Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, Alan Branch, and Jabaal Sheard set to become free agents, they seemed destined to have holes. As it turned out, Belichick was able to re-sign unrestricted free agents Hightower, Harmon, and Branch. The Patriots lost Ryan and Sheard, but Belichick made bold moves to replace both. He traded for former Panthers defensive end Kony Ealy to replace Sheard, and then he shockingly gave former Bills corner Stephon Gilmore a five-year, $65 million contract.
Gilmore had an up and down career with the Bills, but has shown many flashes of brilliance as a former first round pick. He is a big and physical corner with very good ball skills, but he tends to get lackadaisical sometimes and that can result in big plays. With some coaching from Belichick, there should be confidence that Gilmore produces at his best in New England. What made the move controversial was that it opened the door for Malcolm Butler to receive a deal from another team in restricted free agency.
However, Belichick used his leverage perfectly in those negotiations as Butler was not able to find a team willing to sign him to an offer sheet while giving their first round pick to the Patriots. Butler ended up signing the first round tender, which amounts to a one-year, $4 million contract, a tremendous value for a corner of Butler’s caliber. Now the Patriots have two potential No. 1 corners with all of their important free agents returning.
When you think things for Patriots couldn’t get any better, this offseason happened. After winning their fifth Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick era, Belichick went out in the trade market and free agency and dramatically improved his roster, something that is nearly impossible to do in this day and age after winning a Super Bowl.
This offseason has made it official: this is Bill Belichick’s world and we are all just living in it.
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