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Draft vs. Free Agency by position, part 1

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  1. Ice_Ice_Brady

    Ice_Ice_Brady In the Starting Line-Up

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    A breakdown of positions, in terms of drafting the players vs. signing free agents. Although it does depend on the players available at the time, there are some trends.

    Linebackers: Very strong free agency tendency

    The Patriots have shown a strong tendency to sign linebackers, rather than draft them. This is against the grain of the NFL, where the first round often produces more linebackers than any other position. It is clear that linebackers are a key element of Belichick's system, and therefore imperative that these players are established as physically and mentally ready for the position. The Patriots have passed in recent years on players such as David Harris and Manny Lawson, electing to trade their picks or draft from other positions. It is likely that Belichick thinks these players will require years of development, at which point he would need to resign them at a high price. Belichick would prefer to gamble on linebackers in late rounds, perhaps envisioning a special teams players. In fact the highest he has ever selected a linebacker was Ryan Claridge, in the fifth round. The evidence is overwhelming that unless a Lawrence Taylor-like player is available, the Patriots clearly don't value this position in the draft.

    Meanwhile in free agency the Patriots have signed their two highest priced players in Adalius Thomas and Roosevelt Colvin. They also got Mike Vrabel as a free agent from Pittsburgh and Junior Seau from San Diego. These players had all been developed in other systems, whereby they were plucked by the Patriots with their proven success and NFL experience.

    Offensive Line/ Tight End: Very strong draft tendency

    Including tight ends, the Patriots are clearly using the draft to build their offensive line. This is probably because it takes less coaching and complexity to learn the technique of blocking, it is harder to bust at this position, and it's easier to sign players to longer contracts, as they usually won't hold out for their contract year.

    The Patriots have drafted numerous high-pick players from this position. For tight ends, Ben Watson and Daniel Graham were both first rounders. Their offensive line consists of Logan Mankins (first round), Nick Kaczur (third round), Dan Koppen (fifth round), and Matt Light (second round.) In addition, Ryan O'Callaghan (fifth round) is a fill-in starter. The Patriots draft here most because they know what they are getting.

    Defensive Line: Very strong draft tendency

    The trenches on the other side of the ball are also put together in the draft rather than free agency. Free agent defensive linemen are often expensive and often on the decline of their career. In addition there aren't many 3-4 linemen available on the market, as most teams have ingrained these players for the 4-3. The Patriots look for players that will fit their system, and not other systems, which is why players like Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, and Ty Warren are perfect fits and worthy of first round draft picks.

    This is arguably the best position they have drafted, although they have also signed players as free agents, such as Ted Washington.

    Secondary: Mixed bag (whichever is cheaper- draft or free agency)

    Again the Patriots go against the grain of the NFL by bucking the trend of drafting cornerbacks in the first round. The reason for this is unclear, although it may be that Belichick sees this as a tertiary position, whose success is dependent upon the line and the linebackers, and therefore not as important. The Patriots are not among the long list of teams that drafts a speedy, shutdown corner early on (most of those teams lose out.) Rather, it is likely they see the difference between a top cornerback and a middle round cornerback to be relatively similar.

    With the exception of Brandon Merriweather this year, who was drafted for his versatility, the Patriots' highest cornerback or safety was Ellis Hobbs, with the 84th overall pick. However, the Patriots have found some gems in the late rounds. In addition to Hobbs, Asante Samuel was a huge steal in the 4th round. Again this is an indication that a lot of these cornerbacks in later rounds have similar potential to first rounders. Looking at all of the corners drafted in the last two years, few teams can confidently say they have better corners than Hobbs and Samuel.

    However, while the Patriots do not spend high picks on their secondary, they also do not seek prized free agents, like at linebacker. They are prone to get good bargains from tossed-out players, undrafted players, and even Earthwind Moreland. They did sign Rodney Harrison to a lucrative contract in 2003, although they got good market value. They also cut Lawyer Milloy and could not justify his contract for his role. In addition, players such as Ty Law (gone) and Samuel (going) could not come to terms with smaller contracts. Of all the positions, it is clear that the Patriots are willing to spend the least money and draft picks on their secondary.

    Wide Receivers: Mixed bag (but nothing high-risk)

    The most up-in-the-air position is wide receiver. The Patriots have been unafraid to aggressively draft wide receivers, spending second round picks on Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, and Deion Branch. Of those picks, only Branch has proven to be a solid NFL player thus far. Meanwhile the Patriots have only recently begun a free agent frenzy on wide receivers, adding Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth, and Randy Moss. Moss and Welker cost them a 2nd and 4th round pick. The Patriots also courted Derrick Mason pretty heavily, but lost out to Baltimore for his services.

    It's difficult to say how highly this team values this position through the draft or free agency. Clearly it is a position they have not neglected, but they appear reluctant to shell out big money to a receiver (Javon Walker, Branch.) This is a position that, like the secondary, they have not spent a lot of money on.

    Quarterbacks: Unknown. Let's hope we never have to find out.

    Part 2 will be a breakdown using the NFL Draft Points formula (points spent at each position)
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2007
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