Remember the song “All I do is win” by DJ Khaled? It was a song that dominated the airwaves and had a catchy chorus. The song can also be applied to the New England Patriots because that’s all they have been doing since the 2001 season. If they are not playing in the Super Bowl, they are playing in the AFC Championship.
On February 5, the Patriots won their fifth Super Bowl in dramatic fashion as Tom Brady led them back from a 25-point deficit against the Atlanta Falcons. Even though, New England won, they are not resting on their laurels or on their roster as shown yet in free agency. The three constants of the Patriots during this title era have been Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and roster overhauls.
Before we can even talk about their recent signings this free agency period. We have to take a look at how they just won this Super Bowl from a personnel perspective.
The Patriots made multiple signings and trades parting ways with players and draft picks before the 2016 season. One of their first free agent signings last year was signing wide receiver Chris Hogan from the Buffalo Bills to a three-year, $12 million contract.
Nine days before signing Hogan, the Patriots released veteran wideout Brandon LaFell as he had a disappointing 2015 season. In 2015, LaFell had 37 receptions for 515 yards but no touchdowns. New England felt that Hogan would be a better fit and productive for their system rather than LaFell.
Hogan proved the Patriots right as he had an outstanding season and was one of the reasons why New England was successful on offense. In 2016, Hogan had 38 receptions for 680 yards and four touchdowns. We also cannot forget that the Patriots addressed the wide receiver position in the draft, selecting Malcolm Mitchell out of the University of Georgia. Mitchell also caught four touchdowns last season.
Sticking on the offensive side, the Patriots also acquired an offensive lineman in Jonathan Cooper and a 2016 second round pick from the Arizona Cardinals and traded away star defensive Chandler Jones. While this trade did not work out for New England, they showed that they were willing to move big time players to fill certain needs.
With Jones sent to Arizona, the Patriots did fill his spot on the roster by signing defensive end Chris Long to a one-year deal. The signing of Long paid off as well as he had 35 total tackles and four sacks in 2016.
The numbers that Long put up last season were better than his last two seasons with the Rams. New England got bang for their buck as they routinely do.
Another trade in the 2016 offseason that paid off for New England was the acquisition of tight end Martellus Bennett. The Patriots only had to give up a 2016 fourth round pick and in return received Bennett and a 2016 sixth round pick.
Bennett became a huge playmaker in the Patriots’ offense, especially with Rob Gronkowski suffering a season ending injury. In 2016, Bennett had 55 receptions for 701 yards and seven touchdowns. He gave Brady another weapon in the passing game, which only made life tougher for opposing defenses.
Now, before we talk about how the Patriots replaced both Bennett and Long. They also made one more significant move last offseason and that was re-signing running back LeGarrette Blount.
The Patriots signed Blount to a one-year, $1 million deal and it paid off. Many people may not have paid attention to his stats this past season, but Blount had 1,161 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. Matter of fact, 16 of those 18 touchdowns came in the red zone.
New England got that type of production from a running back, who they signed for the cheap and was an integral part to their running back by committee.
Nevertheless, the Patriots replaced Bennett, Blount, and Long this offseason during free agency. To replace Bennett, who signed with Green Bay, New England acquired Dwayne Allen from the Indianapolis Colts in a trade. Then to replace Long, the Patriots acquired Kony Ealy in a trade with the Carolina Panthers.
The acquisition of Ealy was a typical Patriots’ move as they got a young defensive player, who is in the last year of his rookie deal. Ealy is set to make a base salary of $803,660 this upcoming season and will be a free agent in 2018.
Once again, the ball is in the Patriots’ court because if Ealy performs well, they will bring him back, but if not they can cut their losses.
Finally, the Patriots replaced Blount in the backfield with Rex Burkhead, who they signed to a one-year deal. New England has been financially smart with their personnel moves and have found players over the years either in free agency, trades, or draft to fit their system.
With New England having sustained success for a long time, we’ve seen other teams try to replicate what they do when it comes to personnel decisions.
The Seahawks, for example, they do not make many roster moves at all. Their core has stayed the same with Russell Wilson leading the way on offense and Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas on defense.
While that core has stayed the same, they’ve made some changes along the way like losing Brandon Browner and Byron Maxwell in the secondary but replacing them with DeShawn Shead. Then on the offensive side, Marshawn Lynch retired, but they found a replacement in Thomas Rawls and signed Eddie Lacy to a one-year deal this offseason.
Although, the Seahawks have been successful going to two Super Bowls, so have the Denver Broncos. When the Broncos went to the Super Bowl in 2013, they were led by the group of Peyton Manning, Knowshon Moreno, Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas on offense. Then on the defensive side, they had Danny Trevathan, Terrance Knighton, Rahim Moore, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Fast forward two years later, after losing to the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, the Broncos made changes in 2015.
Even though Manning was still there, Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson were handling duties in the backfield, while Emmanuel Sanders was now paired with Thomas. Then on the defensive side, they added DeMarcus Ware to the linebacking unit and upgraded the secondary with Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, and Darian Stewart.
Those changes, especially on defense helped the Broncos defeat the Panthers in Super Bowl 50.
All in all, we see that teams have tried to model their personnel decisions after New England, but it does not matter as the Patriots are still the gold standard. No other front office can do it like New England and they proved that once again this offseason by signing the top cornerback on the free agent market in Stephon Gilmore and trading for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks.