Last year the Patriots looked like they were taken by surprise. Deion Branch held out and ended up going to Seattle. They let team leaders Adam Vinatieri and Willie McGinest leave as free agents. David Givens, the #2 receiver, also left for greener pastures.
Well, the Pats have been like Pattons Third Army the last two weeks. In a matter of days they not only brought in some new talent, but also brought in replacements for players who would later leave as free agents themselves, before those players could even get on a plane to talk to other teams. Clearly they came in with a plan and executed with the kind of precision weve come to expect from this organization.
So, lets start with who they lost this year.
Tully Banta-Cain (LB) signed with the 49'ers. Thats a good move for him as the 49'ers are a team on the rise and its a nice place to live. He had his best season for us last year, but even with that he was mainly an edge-rusher. He came up with some big plays, but just wasnt a consistent force.
Daniel Graham (TE) signed with Denver - where hes from originally. This is a good move for Graham who grew frustrated by being more of a blocker than a pass-catcher. He landed a $30M contract, which seems pretty high given that Graham rarely played more than 12 games per season due to injury. They made him a team captain last season, which would make one think they wanted to keep him around. But the way it sounds, it doesnt seem like there was much effort put into that. So I have to wonder if making him a captain wasnt intended to raise his stock.
Corey Dillon (RB) has left the building. This is one went down squirrelly. Dillon first said he wanted to retire. That hed had enough football. Then he and his agent say they want the Patriots to release him instead, so he can look at other offers. Then in a radio interview Scott Pioli says that Dillon was cut. Its hard to say whats really going on here, Dillon looked pretty pissed off a lot of the time last year. But the team granted him the release and the latest rumor is hes talking to Buffalo.
They did re-sign Special Teams captain Larry Izzo (LB), and they franchised Asante Samuel (CB). Rodney Harrison (SS) and Tedy Bruschi (LB) are both coming back for next year. They also signed Heath Evans (FB) to a new contract - this was a great signing as Evans said he didnt care about the money, he just wanted to be a Patriot. With Dillon going, Evans should become the go-to guy on short yardage.
On the plus side of free agency, the Patriots made some really bold moves. And they made them lightning fast.
Adalius Thomas (LB) was one of the prized pick-ups this off-season. Hes a little long on years (29), but hes fast, smart, and very versatile. Hes a LB who can rush the passer and also play Safety if need be. Hes a perfect Belichick kind of player and injects some speed into the LB corps. One really cool thing about his signing was he didnt (mess) around. He came to Boston, liked what he heard, closed the deal - with no media spectacle or spin. Some experts said Thomas wouldnt do well on his next team because no other coach would leverage his flexibility. I dont think these experts counted on Belichick being that coach. This is a great move for the Patriots.
Kyle Brady (TE) was a preemptive strike for Graham leaving. Brady is up there in years (35) but only missed games in 2 of 13 seasons. Hes one of the best blocking TEs in the game - something the Pats make a lot of use of in their offensive scheme. And why shouldnt he be a good blocker at 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds? Its like having an extra lineman. Given the other TEs we have (Thomas, Watson, and Mills) are better at catching than blocking (and damn good at catching), this is a solid move to provide some more beef for the rushing attack, and some more security for Tom Brady.
Sammy Morris (RB) is a good back-up RB who is also strong on Special Teams and has good hands as an outlet receiver. Hes a veteran player who looks to be a bigger Kevin Faulk - not that thats a bad thing. We can use all the Kevin Faulks we can get. Hell be a good backup to Maroney and adds depth to the kick return game. This was a sound tactical move. With Dillon leaving and the new FieldTurf, having more speed in the backfield is almost an upgrade. Morris wont have Dillons brutal running style, but hes a solid player.
Wes Welker (WR) is the most interesting addition. Hes only 5-foot-9 and only had one really memorable season in Miami. But he was nicknamedThe Natural in college for his playmaking. He has a very different running style, Ive read that he played soccer and thats evident from the way he moves and uses his free hand to regain his balance. The net result is a very quick and shifty WR who can gain a lot of yards after the catch. He has a great work ethic and is fearless when catching the ball. He looks to be in the Steve Smith mold of player, so he could end up being the next Troy Brown for us. And hes only 25 years old. Another great thing about having a guy like Welker is the pressure it takes off the offensive line. If Brady has a receiver who will always be open for short yardage, and whos smart about recognizing the Blitz, he can make defenders pay for a strong rush.
Donte Stallworth (WR) was the big time receiver Pats fans have been waiting to see. Stallworth has blinding speed and great play-making ability. But has had injury issues the last few seasons. If hes 100% and can get the hang of the Patriots system before Week #1, Stallworth will probably be the most dangerous WR Brady has had in his career. There was a lot of talk about Stallworth being kind of immature and only looking for the money, but it sounds like hes wised up. He seems to realize he has the potential to be in New England for many years, with one of the best QBs ever, win a couple of Superbowls, and get into the Hall of Fame. He turned down other offers to sign with New England - which many experts predicted the opposite. Yup, its good to be a Patriot.
Kelley Washington (WR) Just when everyone thought Pioli and Belichick were done they went and signed another WR. Washington is big (6-3), fast, and was playing in the shadow of the big names in Cincinnati. He was a teammate of Stallworths in college so there could be some interesting rivalries between these two from Tennessee and our existing Gator wide-outs. But Belichick loves competition, so for all we know that could have been part of the plan. Regardless, Brady may finally have that tall receiver he never had before.
Read the rest of the article here: In Through The Out Door - Pats Free Agent Moves