Past, present, and future
Thinking back to this time last year, how much of the "cheap" label that was thrown around by so many just a result of BB/SP being cautious with the cap money, knowing what was going to be out there THIS year?
They knew they had needs then, and that they could bandage those needs, still be competitive, and find a way reload in 2007 if they would be 06. They knew there were holes or potential holes at lb, db, and wr among others. They knew that the star rb was aging quickly. They knew that the linebackers and stud safety were getting old. However,they also knew what would/could be out there and after a year to play around with the new CBA, they would be able to exploit it.
Start by knowing that there are some positions that BB holds in higher esteem than others. For example, he thinks LB's have more value than wr's. So what does he do? He lets one high priced wr walk for little more than a compensatory pick. He lets another go for a 1st round pick. He saves cap money, signs a few pedestrian wr's and drafts a wr with a lot of potential. (I know this isn't the order it occured in.)
By not giving in to the delusions of granduer of Branch and Givens, BB/SP saved some money to use this year. The money saved, in part, went to a linebacker this year. A position of need and a more important position in BB's plans. A position that was going to have some depth in it this offseason and in this coming draft. Also, a position that was aging but respectable enough to get the job done one more time. Now, with the renewed cap room, the linebacking corps has an injection of relative youth with Thomas and will likely get more via a draft pick.
Another example is at tight end. The Pats knew that Graham's contract was going to be due. They knew he was known more for his blocking prowess but he is a more than capable receiving TE. What do they do? A year in advance they go get David Thomas (known for his hands and route running) and Garrett Mills (known for his unique h-back skills that he shares with Graham). Fast forward to this weekend and they let Graham walk and replace him with Brady at a cap hit of $2.2 million this year. Now they could have extended Graham at bigger money than Brady. However, they instead have gotten a player in Brady with similar blocking abilities to Graham. Add to that they have two more younger TE's to build around in the future when Brady's contract is up and their with a total cap hit this coming year of about $1. That is around $3.2 million total for three guys instead of whatever amount a single player, Graham, could have cost them (I would assume he'll command much more than the $1.5 cap hit he had last year).
Look at the other completed move to this point, Sammy Morris. Corey Dillon's departure saves the Pats about $2.5 million this year. Add to that Morris' salary and the fact that he not only will fill the role of Dillon AND Pass (his number last year was $.66 million) and you see that the Pats have made another shrewd business move. They are spending more money than usual but still finding ways to keep themselves out of cap hell for future years. In this case, they are signing players who can fill a role that more than one player had been in.
What does it all mean? Well, that even when sitting back and not going out and adding much beyond the draft picks and some (admittedly) lucky signings in free agency (Caldwell being the #1 wr?), even with an aging group of linebackers and a safety who is getting injured more and more, with relatively slow afoot wr's, and with diminutive cb's, they were 1:06 away from going to, and winning, another Super Bowl. That realization makes it all the more disheartening thinking back over a month now. However, it also allowed them time to evaluate the situation fully; to see what would be out there and to see what would be in the best interest of the team. Super Bowls are not won in March, if they were, the Redskins would be the dynasty now. However, the seeds for Super Bowls are planted in March and I, for one, am looking foward to harvesting the results come February in Phoenix.
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