Hannable: Patriots’ approach to free agency so far shouldn’t come as a surprise

Ryan Hannable
March 13, 2018 - 10:46 pm

Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports

This has been one of the craziest opens to free agency in recent memory with tons of big names already agreeing to contracts before the official start of free agency Wednesday at 4 p.m.

One of the few teams who haven’t been involved in any of the madness is the Patriots. (Sorry, Nate Ebner doesn’t exactly move the needle.)

While it’s easy to get frustrated, especially when the rest of the AFC East is busy making big moves and the Patriots are losing some of their own free agents to top competitors, this is par for the course of how Bill Belichick and the Patriots typically approach the start of free agency.

On Tuesday, the Patriots lost three players to other teams — Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler to the Titans and Danny Amendola to the Dolphins. Yes, they lost three good players, but going into free agency hardly anyone expected Butler or Lewis to return. 

Amendola was a bit of a surprise, but the Patriots weren’t going to give him a two-year deal with over $8 million guaranteed. Also, it’s not as big of a loss as many are saying. No question he’s one of the most clutch players ever to wear a Patriots uniform, but he was hardly ever a major factor in the regular season and the team still has a ton of depth at the receiver position.

Tuesday wasn't as big of a disaster as many are claiming it to be. It was more of the expected outcome.

The lack of activity shouldn’t surprise anyone, as with the exception of last year, Belichick usually sits out the first wave of signings and watches all the other teams over spend on players. He then reevaluates who is available and plans his course of action.

New England also couldn’t be very active given the number of needs it has and its current cap space situation.

Belichick has just over $21 million in cap space to work with and it isn’t like the team only has one big need and he can spend whatever it takes to address it. The Patriots have several positions of need and it may take several players on low contracts to fill them (ie. Jabaal Sheard in 2015).

While the Patriots lost three players Tuesday, their most important free agent, offensive tackle Nate Solder, is still out there.

Solder is getting significant interest from teams across the league, including the Texans, Giants and Browns, all of which have plenty of cap space to use, but it would seem like Solder will come back to the Patriots with all the offers he receives to give them the opportunity to match. It likely won’t be cheap given he’s the best tackle on the market, and by a big margin, but he’s the top priority for the Patriots and it would appear they will do whatever it takes to get him back, even if it takes a good chunk of the $21 million in cap space.

The other top positions of need are in the front-seven and not many of those players were grabbed by teams on Tuesday. That’s a positive.

One potential target of the Patriots, linebacker Avery Williamson, agreed to sign with the Jets, but other than that there are still plenty of good linebackers and edge rushers available. Nigel Bradham, Julius Peppers, Connor Barwin, Adrian Clayborn and Preston Brown are all still on the market, and all therefore still potential members of the Patriots. 

Belichick rarely makes a splash at the outset of free agency, but every year it’s the same complaints from Patriots fans questioning the lack of moves and big signings. 

The reality is the majority of the time the Patriots simply don’t have the cap space to pull off such moves, or even want to sign players to massive contracts, so then make up for it with good under-the-radar signings in the second and third wave, have a solid draft and even make trades up until the trade deadline.

It’s important to note there are still plenty of good players available and also teams across the league will look a lot different at the start of training camp than they do on March 13.  

So while it’s easy to get frustrated with the lack of action by the Patriots, just remember Super Bowls are not won after the first two days of free agency.

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