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Join Date: Mar 2006
Re: A "weakest link" team-building theory?
This meshes with some of the old chestnuts spoken about the Patriots, some spoken at one time or another by Belichick or Pioli.
"Interchangeable parts" comes to mind.
"Building a team, not collecting talent"
The philosophy of big paychecks for "game changing" talent (Brady, Seymour thus far; arguably Adalius Thomas, although there is a retrodollar effect in evaluating the Thomas deal against the model. He's definitely close.)
But Belichick does understand that all the teamwork in the world depends on players with certain capabilities. If you have bad players, you do not win, simple as that. He does not expect to win with bad players, but understands you can not sign a bunch of superstars and expect to win, a la Washington/fantasy football.
So, the value of the "weakest link" theory is quite high, but probably pretty well-known (especially after Eric Alexander became the linebacker on the spot in the real super bowl this year against Indy.) I've made the point as well, that the league has undergone some "Patriotization" since 2001... the combination of the Cap/Free Agency ethos, and the latent (now proven) value of a team approach, has put to rest the dominance of the self-important head case, just as surely as Grunge killed the Hair Bands in the early 90s.
What that means in practical terms is just what you see on the Pats' roster -- a large middle class, and few super-rich.
The fun part is seeing how this evolves now. I predicted (as did many others) that a prime outlet for new cash reflecting last years inflationary push, would be franchising, since franchising works on a "trailing effect" basis anyway (top 5 contracts cut in prior years, are the basis for one-year valuation.)
In historical terms, if X is the rate of cap increase prior to the CBA extension of 2006, 3-4 * X is last season's rate of inflation. Some new deals came down, but there was not a flurry of "overpriced" signings. This may have been a mistake, on the part of any who did not "go for it" then, since the value of a capdollar changed 20% in a single season. Similarly, the inflation rate now is still at the high end of the historical range prior to last year, and is projected to steadily remain at that high end for the next few years.
The increase in rate of inflation will likely test some of the "good guys" who sign contracts, stick with them, and don't obsess about cashing in.
Nate Clements got an $80M/10MAPY contract, $29M in the first 3 years, in case you don't believe he'll "really" get the money. A fullback got a $3M/APY deal, over 6 years. Granted, there may be mythical money on the back end, but there's bonus money up front too.
But the point isn't solely what happens to the high-level talent. The point here is that increased and sustained inflation, militates for a "spend now" approach. Assuming NFL revenues continue to trend upward at projected rates, every time you lock a guy down to a long-term deal, unless you really gave away the farm, you're now saving money (moreseo than in previous years.) One telling side note: this is also true, just even moreso, for the time period just on the cusp of the new money influx. We locked down Seymour to a big fat 4 year deal at that time... let's see where his deal ranks after this year's "adjustment", when guards are getting $7M APY (and not pro bowl guards either.)
I think it's possible that the Pats' initial flurry was in reaction, at least in part, to the way this market might unfold. Getting in with a good bid, with a guy who likes you as the company, before the bidding war, might be the strategy here. I think its also possible that the Pats' flurry is in recognition that not much really got done last offseason, in terms of blockbuster signings, so we've yet to see the real impact of the huge inflationary year, 2006. Pats front office behavior could well adjust back toward the quiet side in 2008. Finally, it's possible that the "Patriotization" of the league is steadily lessening the gap between the starter and the star... we will see over time.
So anyhoo - you're right that the Pats' approach (with the exception of a certain leeway for development projects,) puts a floor on the talent level, since every individual must be able to step up if called upon. Therefore the "weakest link" must at least be "okay." This in turn carves up the total number of dollars, and militates against a star-studded starting roster, since money is not unlimited. The standard line about the Pats' approach is that they are willing to pay game-changing money for a game-changing player. Pundits say BB learned that lesson with Lawrence Taylor, and applied it w/Tom Brady and Richard Seymour. Otherwise, players are valued at what they are worth to this team -- that means there's a 31/32 chance that, come free agency, you're gone, unless you're drinking the kool-aid and signing up to a decent but not fantastic contract.
Amazingly, the players have not overwhelmingly self-valuated too differently from how the Pats estimated their value.
Edit: The positions you chose to comment on, LB and WR, have explanations beyond BB's defensive roots. Basically, in paying well for Brady, you are paying for the league's foremost "receiver maker." The Pats turn out good receivers like Denver turns out good running backs. Brady, in last year's WR drought, still ended up with only a slight dip in production. The point is, you can use the expensive Brady as the "force multiplier" in your passing game, to an extent. #2 money is enough to give you a passing game threat.
At linebacker/D-Line, there's no equivalent to Tom Brady making them all better. What the Pats are able to do, is make a 4 man responsibility (the gaps along the D front) the responsibility of 3 very effective individuals -- which they have been able to draft and develop. That has allowed for some big money expenditures in FA, on linebacker. For whatever reason, BB has not looked to develop that talent in-house, to date. That could always change.
Last edited by PatsFanInVa; 03-04-2007 at 12:47 PM..