April 08, 2006
The Patriot's Offseason's Vacations: Is this Year Different? And What about Last Year?
By:  Stan Jaksina
PatsFans.com Fan Columnist

Is this year any different?? Are they not doing the same as in other years? Was last year a total failure compared to others??

With the media and fans starting to wonder and in a sort of amnesia about the past, I thought a look back might help.

This is the Patriots isn't it?? The team that won 3 of 5 Superbowls isn't it?? And it is 2006, not early 1990s or early 1980s?? I ask that because I do think the perspective has changed a great deal and that most fans and media have a very warped sense of history and time. Unless one lived through the really horrendous Patriot years, trashing the team now is almost laughable and more need to understand that.

I did wish to take a look at the Patriot offseasons of the past, although I only think this will scratch the surface of these issues. There are many other factors involved; from salaries of all players, to amounts the team has been able to spend to a wider picture including Practice Squad players etc etc. Clearly, some years the team had more money available for free agency than others and I am sure there are other factors that we have no idea about.

There are a few questions that need to be asked about these 4 years. One is to whether the team addressed the needs going into that season and whether the needs were met or not. What happened last year and what about this one?? Are they different?

This will look at the four previous seasons. The four largest needs will be followed by other positions of lesser need (with a listing of comings and goings). There will be a look at the draft (with scorecard), undrafted rookie free agent impact, the offseason free agency (with scorecard), signing the teams own UFAs and other additions during camp and through the season. There will be an overview of the team, needs and what was done, words on the season and hits and misses of the impact players.

2002-----[Tied for first in Division; Out of Playoffs]

-----(Tight Ends--OUT>Cut Rutledge, Cut Wiggins Trde Glenn, Cut CJohnson,CJackson Cut CB Shaw, CB Buckley, Picked in Expansion S Stevens, Cut frm IR CB Hill, Cut frm IR S Akbar ++++Draft 6 picks 4 Hits 2 Misses

++++Undrafted Free Agents No Impact

++++Free Agency/Trades 13 signed 1 Hit 2 Middling 10 Misses (5 Did not make the team;1 Retired)

++++Own UFA 4 Returned 1 Franchised 5 Departed

+++++Camp Additions 1 High Impact, 3 Low Impact

+++++Season Additions 10 (4 Re-sign, 2 FA, 1 PUP, 3 PSq) 6 0 Hits 5 Middling 1 Miss

One might think after a Super Bowl win that keeping players might be a goal, but in this case, personnel could easily be upgraded. The front office cut 9 and there were 3 trades including franchise QB, now backup, Bledsoe and suspended WR Glenn. Brady needed to have better targets than he had. At wideout, the likes of Charles Johnson and Curtis Jackson (who were cut early) and Jimmy and Fred Coleman were way below average as backups. The tight end position was very poor. Wiggins, who made a Herculean effort in the Snow Bowl, was cut and backup Rutledge departed quickly.

It was at these positions that there was some focus. Early in free agency, tall wideout Donald Hayes and tight ends Christian Fauria and Cam Cleeland were signed. In the draft, they moved up to take TE Daniel Graham and in the 2nd round it was WR Deion Branch. They also took WR David Givens in the 7th.

Brandon Mitchell was the only starter to be signed away, but backups DE Sullivan and DT Parker were also gone. DLinemen Seymour, Hamilton and Pleasant were in need of some bulk and the Pats brought in DT Steve Martin and DE Rick Lyle and just before camp, DL Bernard Holsey. They also drafted Jarvis Green in round 4.

The defensive backfield backup situation also had problems. CBs Shaw and Buckley were gone and 3rd S Stevens was plucked in the expansion draft. The Pats signed CB Tom Knight and later brought in big safety Victor Green.

Bledsoe was traded but they did have vet Damon Huard for backup. Nonetheless, the drafted QB Rohann Davey in Round 4. Backup LB Bryan Cox was not re-signed, so vet Ryan Phillips was brought in to help fill that hole.

Things looked pretty good in camp and they even traded a starter, OT Grant Williams, having adequate Olinemen. The problem was that many of the free agents did not make it through camp. OT Rich Tylski retired and LBs Phillips and RThomas were cut late in the preseason. DB Tommy Knight's leg prevented him from advancing but CB Terrell Buckley returned to the fold quickly before the season opened.

There was optimism, and three big wins, including an OT win against KC, but then it was downward turn as the run defense was terrible, the offense was far from effective and penalties and mistakes were everywhere. There were four straight losses before the team regrouped and got closer to being on track. The epitome was in Game 6 against the Packers when a pass to Faulk was deflected and ruled a lateral. NE players stood about and watched as a Packer grabbed the ball and ran the sideline. The team sputtered but had a miracle comeback in Game 9 against the Bears. After a review of a fumble was overturned, a 4th down pass in the corner to Patten in endzone with seconds remaining, gave the team the W. The play was reviewed, his feet were in bounds and the Pats won the game.

For the most part, injuries had really been at a minimum, with the only big IR being with young OLineman Steven Neal. Phifer (leg), Andruzzi (knee), Graham (shoulder) and TJones (leg) all missed multiple games, but in Detroit, (Game12), on Thanksgiving, they won the game, but lost LB Bruschi with a knee injury.

The team was in good shape for the playoffs, but a Monday Night debacle (Game 14) against the Titans and a pounding a few days later by the Jets (Game 15), left it up to the Fins at Gillette (Game 16). It was another great comeback by the team for the W, but it went for naught as a three way tie for first (Jets & Fins) and a Browns win eliminated them from the playoffs.

Hits: Fauria, Branch, Buckley, Graham---Misses: Martin, Hayes, Holsey, Cleeland

2003-----[Won Division; Won Superbowl]

-----(Defensive Backs--OUT> CB Buckley, Franchised & Trde S TJones, S VGreen, S/ST CHayes, Cut frm IR DB RKelley) DT Holsey FB Edwards Trde T Randall, OL Ruegamer, Trde RFA OL Knutson TE Cleeland, Cut WR DHayes, RFA Coleman ++++Draft 10 picks 4 Hits 3 Misses 3 Undecided (1 Did not make team)

++++Undrafted Free Agents 2 Made the team

++++Free Agency/Trades 10 signed 3 Hits 3 Middling 4 Miss (2 Did not make the team;2 on IR)

++++Own UFA 3 Returned 1 Franchised/Traded 8 Departed

+++++Camp Additions 5 2 High Impact 3 Low Impact

+++++Season Additions 10 (4 Re-sign, 2 FA, 1 PUP, 3 PSq) 8 1 Hit 6 Middling 1 Miss

After the disaster of the previous off season and with a bit more in spending money, the team went into free agency with fire. CB Tyrone Pole, LB Roosevelt Colvin and S Rodney Harrison were all signed within the first ten days. It seemed like they were signing some bigger names and addressing certain needs as well as bringing in some vets with experience.

With aging CB Otis Smith and S TJones franchised and traded, a recharging of the defensive backfield was in order. Harrison and Poole were the first steps, but drafting Eugene Wilson and Asante Samuel on the 3nd and 4th rounds in the draft were the next.

With Martin and Holsey not fitting the bill, the D Line was again a focus. 3 were added from the draft, 1st rounder Ty Warren, 4th rounder Dan Klecko and 7th rounder NT Ethan Kelly.

Special teams were also a concern and S Aric Morris, S Chris Akins and LB Don Davis were signed. In the 2nd round, they drafted WR Bethel Johnson who had much speed and would be a good returner.

FB Edwards had departed and starting OT Randall was traded. The Patriots signed FB Fred McCrary and RB Mike Cloud for some running back depth.

They also drafted C Dan Koppen in the 5th round, added QB Kliff Kingsbury and LB Tully Banta-Cain in the 7th. It did seem that not only were they looking to plug holes for the current year, but looking ahead and planning more for the future.

Almost all the FAs got through camp, but the Patriots made big moves in bringing in NT Ted Washington via a trade and vet FB Larry Centers. If there were missing pieces, those were it.

But then, a few days before the start of the season vet S Lawyer Milloy was cut and the team was in chaos and a 31-0 loss in Buffalo (Game 1). By game 4, the team was 2-2, but had suffered some alarming injuries. Rosie Colvin, the OLB who was going to make an impact was IRed with a broken hip and Ted Johnson and Ted Washington were both out for an extended period with a broken foot and leg respectively. Mike Vrabel had a broken arm and the team was playing the tough Tennessee Titans (Game 5) who had run over the team late in the last year.

Despite injuries and the doubts of many fans, the team gutted it out physically for the W. The image from that game would be Ty Law's interception and run back as he limped down the field to insure the win. The injuries did not stop as Klemm and Centers were hurt and then RB Antoine Smith missed a few games. There was an incredible OT win with a Brady to Troy 76 yarder in Miami (Game 7) as well as a come from behind chess match win in Denver (Game 9), with a deliberate safety and a late Brady to Givens TD pass.

The team kept winning and as the injured TJohnson and Washington returned, the WRs were hit by the injury bug. Patten went to IR,and TBrown and Givens were out and vets JJ Stokes and Dedric Ward were brought in. The Patriots had a punt and a field goal blocked and played terrible, but survived with an OT win in Houston (Game 11) and won a wild one in Indianapolis (Game 12). A last minute goal line stand won the game as a high stepping Willie McG stopped James on a 4th down run and the Colts lost.

The team clinched early in a snow game iin Gillette against Miami (Game 13), but lost longsnapper Lonie Paxton to a knee injury. The team headed into the playoffs having not lost in many games.

They played in the extreme cold against the Titans foe one win then took the Colts in a rematch in the snow. They beat the Panthers in the Superbowl with another Vinatieri kick; the team's second Lombardi.

Hits: Harrison, Washington, Koppen, Poole, Wilson, Samuel---Misses: None

2004-----[Won Division; Won Superbowl]

-----(Punter--OUT> Walter Cut RB ASmith, Ret FB Centers Ret DE Pleasant, NT Washington, DE Hamilton, DE Lyle S Harris, S/ST Akins QB Huard, Ret LS Kinchen, Cut frm IR LS McDermott, C Woody, OL Compton, Did Not Rep WBrown, TE Baxter, WR Ward ++++Draft 8 picks 2 Hits 4 Misses 2 Undecided (1 Did not make team)

++++Undrafted Free Agents 2 Made the team

++++Free Agency/Trades 12 signed 3 Hits 1 Middling 8 Misses (5 Did not make the team;2 on IR;1 Retired)

++++Own UFA 5 Returned 11 Departed

+++++Camp Additions 2 Low Impact

+++++Season Additions 14 (1 Re-sign, 6 FA, 2 PUP, 5 PSq) 7 1 Hits 4 Middling 2 Miss

With another Superbowl win, the nucleus of the team was pretty much set, but there were holes to fill and improvements to be made.

The Achilles heel of the team had been the punting of Ken Walter and strangely enough, the first FA signed was punter Josh Miller.

RB Smith who had been the main stay of the rushing game was cut, Ted Washington and Bobby Hamilton, vets of the D Line, departed as had starting C Damion Woody. Four starters with prominent roles made the offseason as much about filling holes as it was looking at the future.

As for the D Line, they signed vet NT Keith Traylor and tendered an offer to DE Rodney Bailey. They also drafted NT Vince Wilfork in the 1st round and young DE Marquise Hill in the 2nd.

They shocked fans by trading for Cinci's controversial RB Corey Dillon a few weeks before the draft and added RB Cedric Cobbs in the 4th. The offensive line even with departures was in good shape from within as Dante had been working magic with the younger players.

The defensive backfield also needed help and the signings of CBs Burris and Buckley (for the 3rd time) would give depth. The special team play of Morris and Akin were gone, replaced by draftrees Gus s Scott and Dexter Reid.

QB Huard, TE Baxter and WR Ward were all gone and replaced by QBs Kurt Kittner and Jim Miller, surprise late 1st round draft pick, Ben Watson and 4th rounder PK Sam.

Training camp began on a down note with CB Jeff Burriss retiring and both DE Rodney Bailey and TE Zeron Flemister injuring themselves and on IR for the year. Vet DT Dana Stubblefield and OT Big Cat Williams were brought in, but both were far from helpful. A few late cuts of note were vet CB Terrell Buckley who was quickly signed by the Jets and vet OL Bob Hallen.

The team continued their winning ways, but in lackluster fashion. Kevin Faulk missed the first few games because of his mother's death and then a few more with a knee injury. Both TE Ben Watson and OL Adrian Klemm went on IR and WR Deion Branch injured a knee and was shelved for two months. WR Troy Brown missed a few games with with shoulder injury and CB Tyrone Poole was out with a knee injury.

The injury bug continued as the team went into Pittsburgh (Game 7) and it was here that the incredible winning streak came to an end. To add to those injuries, OT Tom Ashworth was out with a back injury (soon to IR) and RBs Corey Dillon and Patrick Pass were out with shoulder injuries. By half time, both CB Law and OT Light were both out and the team was getting beaten up on the field. Light would be back quick, but Law's ankle injury put him out for the year.

Going into St Louis (Game 8) with the starting corners out was difficult, but UDFA Gay stepped in and the Patriots had another W; a fake field goal Vinatieri to Brown TD pass sparked it. The situation was so dire that Troy Brown played some DB the rest of the way.

The New England team, despite injuries managed only one loss the rest of the season, playing tough in KC (Game 10) and at home in the rain against the Ravens (Game 11). Branch made his return and was in fine form and Corey Dillon was solid at RB. In Game 14, against the Jets, Richard Seymour went down with a knee injury.

The first playoff game was the Colts, Manning and company and a QB that had set a record for passing TDs. Without the likes of Law and Seymour, it seemed like an impossible task, but the Patriots came out ahead. The next game was in Pittsburgh against Roethlisberger and Bettis and the tough Steeler D, and again, the Patriots were victors. The Patriots took on McNabb and TO and the tough Eagle team and took their 2nd Superbowl in a row.

Hits:Dillon, Wilfork, Gay, Traylor---Misses: None

2005-----[Won Division; Lost in Conference Semi Final]

-----(Linebacker--OUT> Medical ILB Bruschi, Cut LB Phifer, Ret ILB TJohnson OG Andruzzi, OT Klemm Cut CB Law, Cut CB Moreland, S/ST Cherry Patton, Cut TBrown, RFA Kasper QB JMiller, Cut NT Trayler, Cut frm IR TE Flemister, RB/ST Abdallah ++++Draft 7 picks 3 Hits 1 Miss 3 Undecided (1 Did not make team; 1 on IR)

++++Undrafted Free Agents 2 Made the team; 1 Undecided

++++Free Agency/Trades 12 signed 1 Hit 2 Middling 9 Misses (5 Did not make the team;1 on IR)

++++Own UFA 3 Returned 1 Franchised 6 Departed

+++++Camp Additions 4 1 Impact 3 Low Impact

+++++Season Additions 14 (2 Re-sign, 7 FA, 1 PUP, 4 PSq) 9 3 Hits 3 Middling 3 Miss

With Crennel and Weiss gone, there were going to be changes for a run at 3, unfortunately, the offseason started with a medical scare as Tedy Bruschi had a minor stroke.

Because of his large cap number, Ty Law was cut and they traded for CB Duane Starks, drafted Ellis Hobbs on the 3rd round and brought in physical CB/D Chad Scott to give them numbers at the position. They also beefed rest of the backfield with S James Sanders drafted in the 4th round and later in the offseason signed S Antuan Edwards.

The team early on cut ILB Phifer, but they drafted LB Ryan Claridge in the 5th round and signed LBs Monty Biesel, Chad Brown and Wesley Mallard.

With the departures of starting OG Andruzzi and backup Klemm, the drafted Logan Mankins in the 1st round and Nic Kaczur in the 4th. They also brought in OL vets Victor Levay and Bryan Anderson.

WR Patton departed and they also cut vet Troy Brown, only to re-sign him later in the offseason. To bolster the position they signed WR/PR Tim Dwight and WR David Terrell.

Backup QB Jim Miller departed and the Patriots drafted in the 6th Round QB Matt Cassel who was a backup at USC and hadn't played all that much and also home town favorite aging Doug Flutie. It was hoped that the former would in time be a backup, while the latter, a QB with 20 years of experience might help in case of injury. They also drafted in the 7th Round, TE Andy Stokes and brought in RB Chad Morton for help with returns.

The big shock came a day before camp opened when LB Ted Johnson retired. This changed the picture of the linebackers as the few that were brought in were to replace TedyB and now had to replace both inside LBs. To make this even more tougher, Mike Vrabel was injured in the first Preseason game.

Some of the FAs did not make it through camp; Edwards, Levay, Anderson and Terrell all fell short of the 53. There was a shortage of WRs and WR Andre Davis was traded for.

The team started with the hardest schedule of any NFL team; 4 games on the road against 5 tough opponents. Unfortunately, the Patriots only split these 6, but worse than that, were beaten up physically as well. Both Light and Harrison had season ending injuries from that game and RB Faulk was shelved with a broken foot. There were already multiple games missed by OL Gorin, DE Seymour and S James Sanders.

The defense was shredded for large yardage in a few of the games, unusual for the D and the ILB positions were understandably weak. There were 3 other DBs put on IR, Chad Scott, Guss Scott and Tyrone Poole, as the injury bug hit hard, but as that was the downside, the upside was the miraculous return of ILB Tedy Bruschi.

The team pulled LB Mike Vrabel inside and threw patchworks into the RB positions, offensive line and the defensive backfield. RBs Dillon and Pass were down and out and Zereoue was in and gone in a few games. FB Heath Evans was signed and called upon to start a few games. Light was on IR but Koppen joined him with a broken shoulder and Ashworth and Kaczur both had injuries that forced them out a few games. DBs Gay and Starks were added to IR, the 5th and 6th DB, S Arturo Freeman was brought ina dn cut and CBs Hank Poteat and Artrell Hawkins and S Michael Stone were brought in.

The team was in shambles and yet, got back on track with a strong team and managed to win 6 of their last 8, losing the last game with many subs in early.

The team played Jacksonville and came up with a easy win. Unfortunately, on their trip to Denver, they pulled up short, making many mistakes, even by some of the most reliable players; a sad way to end a season.

Hits: Mankins, Hobbs, Hawkins, Kaczur---Misses: CBrown, Starks, Beisel, AFreeman,

(Note in hits and misses for a season, the hits are basically players that were added that contributed in a positive way, starters etc. The misses were those that had been acquired and counted on to help during the season and did not.)

The first question is about whether the needs of the team were addressed in the offseasons, and that is an emphatic yes!! In many cases, there were multiple solutions for a positional concern. In 02, they Wiggins and Rutledge departed and they brought in FAs Fauria and Cleeland and drafted Graham in the 1st round. In 03, with an aging OTIS at CB, the trade of starting S TJones and the departures of CB Buckley, and SS VGreen, RKelly and CHayes, they brought in 7, Included in that were vets Harrison, Poole, Morris and Akins, Draftees Wilson and Samuel as well as UDFA S Mayer. Last year, after Andruzzi and Klemm departed, they drafted Mankins and Kaczur, brought in vets Levay and BAndersen as well as UDFA Krug. It seemed when there was a problem, it was the draft, free agents and other players on the team already that might be competing for a spot. Many ways, not just one.

The draft has been pretty solid in all years and only 3 players in those 4 years did not make the 53, practice squad or IR and all 3 were 6th or 7th rounders. 02 was 4-2, 03 4-3 3 undecided, 04 3-4 2 undecided and 05 3-1 with 3 undecided. It was really good considering where the team drafted.

The off season free agents and trades though were a bit less consistent. In 02, there was only 1 hit out of 13, a really atrocious offseason. But in 03, not only did they go after some bigger names, but had 3 big hits out of 10. Two were on IR and another returned during the season In 04, there were another 3 hits out of 12, and in 05, only 1 hit in 12. A good year and a terrible year. Now while it may seem that 3 hits is a number that seems low, some acquisitions can be basically training camp fodder and to also have competition in all positions. To have all succeed and make the team is totally unrealistic, especially when the number of roster spots available is small. There has always been a great deal of competition in BB's camp, many options, many players and the real players survive and make it. Obviously, free agency and trades has been successful some years more than others.

As far as the undrafted free agents are concerned, with the expansion of the practice squad, the team has seen more impact in the last few years, with players like Gay and Wright making the starting 53 the last two years.

As for adjustments in camp, on year they brought in two big winners to help the team. They traded for NT Ted Washington and signed FB Larry Centers. They were big moves that helped bring in a 2nd Lombardi. In 04, the vet moves were quite the opposite as both DL Dana Stubblefield and OL Big Cat Williams were far from helpful. Last year in 04, the one trade that was helped albeit later in the season, was WR Andre Davis. Only the 03 season camp additions made a big difference.

And then there are the so called "phantom squad" players who join the team as the season progresses, both those who were in camp, PUP, Practice Squad or new additions. In 02, it was barely helpful, not bad, but the team didn't get any kind of real lift, while in 03, it was mostly to fill holes for injured players (OL, WR LS) and bring in PUPers. In 04, it was very similar, a TE, RB, DBs, OL to shore up injuries and those on PUP. It was the same in 05, but with Bruschi's return and the play of Ss Stone and Hawkins, it boosted the team a bit more than in other years.

The simple conclusion is when the Patriots brought in players that made the team and did not perform up to par, the team did poorly. Obviously, if players were starting or in an important role and did poorly, the team would suffer. In 02, Donald Hayes was suppose to be the large possession receiver for the team. Instead, he barely knew the plays and was a big bust. The same for DTs Steve Martin and Bernard Holsey. They executed poorly when in a position to make a difference. The same could be said of Duane Starks, Chad Brown and Monte Beisel in 05, although there were other new players that had upsides. Basically, if there were FAs that were brought in to start and were total misses on the field in games, the team would do poorly.

But last year was different than in 02. Firstly, the team did not know that they needed 2 ILBs. They were bringing in players for one ILB spot, when in fact, there were going to be two openings. And trying to replace a "Bruschi-type" player was not the same as needing a "TJ" type run stopper. I have to think that if they knew months in advance about Ted Johnson's retirement, they would have taken different actions to remedy the inside linebacker problem. Retiring a day before camp made it impossible for a real solution and not a haphazard one. Another large negative factor had to be the injuries. Not only were there 11 on IR, but 6 on those were defensive backs. Two starting linemen were on IR as well and there were many players who missed multiple games during the season. At one point, all 3 RBs, Dillon, Faulk and Pass were out and the team had to bring in 2 new players for the game. (in this case, Game 9 against Miami). Despite the injuries, which were devastating, the Patriots got on track and was only 3 wins shy of another Lombardi. Given all situations the team was faced with, they did what many teams could not getting to that point.

But what about this year and what is happening; what IS different?? There is no doubt the CBA extension not being in place hampered the Patriots from signing extensions and long term deals. We may never know how much that changed the plans of the front office and who may have either stayed or signed because of that.

Given that the CBA is in place and that they may be putting aside some salary cap money to get Seymour and Branch signed for the future, what else is different? The first noticeable difference is that they signed 8 of their own free agents. That is as many as two consecutive years together. (The most in consecutive years was 8, 03/04 and 04/05 8)That does stick out, but the fact that they hadn't signed many players in March?? The last 2 years, they added only 2 new players to the team in Match. In 04, it was P Josh Miller and NT Keith Traylor and last year it was CB Duane Starks and WR Tim Dwight, Starks arriving via a trade. So what is different?? OK, Caldwell and Miller do not have the impact of a Miller and Trayler or a Starks and Dwight, but other than that, I really don't see it as being that different.

Might they be depending more on the draft this year? Possibly the case. Might they also be hoping to pick up some vets later in the offseason? Possibly as well, but the bottom line is that the Patriots will have over 80 players heading into camp.

It seems like an abundance of Patriot fans are seeing incredible large holes to fill this year, but look at what happened after the 03 season. A punter, a starting running back, a starting nose tackle and a starting defensive end were needed. There wasn't this much panic when it came to finding replacements. This year, it is a kicker, a linebacker and a 2nd wide out; hardly ,reasons to even think to throw in the towel and give up on this Patriot football team.

They have brought in 5 free agents so far. Caldwell; a wide receiver with and upside as he plays more. Mitchell and Jones; special teams demons. Warfield; another S/CB combo with experience. Gramatica; he's part of the solution as BB will have at least 3 kickers in camp.

Do see what happens over the next months. All holes will be taken care of and more. If by training camp time, this roster of 80+ players stacks up against last years TC roster, then we may in fact be on a solid path to Miami. I think without a doubt the team is headed in that direction.

 Stan Jaksina
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