Bill Belichick has put the NFL on notice that the Patriots are back in business.
On Monday, New England (unofficially) signed seven free agents, awarding deals worth close to $200 million, half of that guaranteed. It was a signing spree that George Steinbrenner or Al Davis would have loved. Very unBelichick-like.
Our region was still reeling Tuesday morning when news broke that the Patriots had signed Chargers tight end Hunter Henry for $37.5 million, $25 million guaranteed.
Belichick was nowhere near any of it, of course — he probably was standing up as godfather while church bells rang at the Navy chapel — but he certainly settled a lot of Patriot family business in the first two days of NFL free agency. After two decades of fiscal responsibility, and unprecedented success on the field, Belichick is suddenly doling out wads of cash like an NCAA basketball coach at an AAU tournament.
We’ve never seen Bill behave like this. It’s like watching Larry Bird pop his head into a random bar and holler, “All drinks on me for the rest of the night.”
In less than 24 hours, while most of the league stood still, the Patriots locked up the best two tight ends on the market (Henry and Jonnu Smith), a Super Bowl wideout (Kendrick Bourne), a receiver from the Raiders (Nelson Agholor), a Pro Bowl linebacker (Matt Judon), a defensive back with green hair (Jalen Mills), a nose tackle from Miami (Davon Godchaux), and a lineman cut by the Jets (Henry Anderson).
“I’ve never seen a spending spree like this,” said former Patriots general manager Upton Bell. “Are the Patriots checking the borders to see who might be coming across?
“They have to do this because they drafted poorly for a number of years. That used to be deadly, but now you can make up for it with free agents. Luckily, they have the money and the cap space.
“Belichick is good at picking up people. The difference is that, in the past, he picked them up to complement what he had. Now he’s signing people to fill positions that were never filled properly.
“Look at their roster. It’s almost like they are the Red Sox, starting all over again.”
There is a Sox-like overreaction to the Patriots’ supermarket sweep.
The critics are being mean. Let’s shut everybody up by overpaying free agents.
How the sports world has turned around here. The Patriots and their fans used to laugh at bad teams that went out and opened their wallets for free agents. Now the Patriots are one of those teams. Je suis Tomato Can.
The formidable Patriots Media Cartel doesn’t seem to know quite how to spin Bill’s buying binge. Is Belichick reluctantly carrying out orders given by Bob and Jon Kraft? Is this an admission that Bill knows he failed in the draft and was unprepared for the departure of Brady? Or . . . is this Bill playing chess again while the rest of the dopes play checkers?
The influx of pricey new talent can only help a 7-9 team that failed to make the playoffs, but it still leaves one wondering how the Patriots are supposed to contend with Cam Newton at quarterback.
Is Cam still going to be the man behind center? Is it possible that stubborn Bill is making all these new moves to prove that the quarterback position does not matter? That Tom Brady was overrated? That it was the system all along?
Or is there another quarterback on the horizon?
I fear not. This looks to me like a three-year rebuild, and Belichick has one year behind him. He wants to get back to what won here in the first place: a strong defense and a game-managing quarterback (which is what Brady was in 2001).
The Patriots will be better this year. They have better players. But Bill is not going to mortgage the future and swap a raft of picks for Deshaun Watson. I fear we’ll see Cam Newton behind center, trying to throw passes to these nimble new receivers.
Swell. But we all know the Patriots won’t be fully back in business until they find the Next Guy at quarterback.