It was the other Bill who coached for Patriots owner Robert Kraft who famously said, “You are what your record says you are.” The Patriots’ record in team-building and contract dealings says they’re a club that clings to a value system.
They put a specific value on a player, his position, or both and are always ready to say, “We’re on to the next guy.”
No matter how much you criticize or impugn their team-building strategy they’re not going to change, not for cornerback Darrelle Revis and not for safety Devin McCourty. Why would they with all the success they’ve had doing it their way?
So, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that on Monday, the final day to use the franchise tag designation, the Patriots didn’t place a $9.6 million tag on McCourty to prevent him from reaching free agency. That amount of money for a safety is a little rich for the Patriots’ taste. Instead the Patriots gently placed — not slapped — the franchise tag on venerable kicker Stephen Gostkowski, giving him a base salary of more than $4.5 million next season.
Here is the real kicker Patriots fans: Brace yourself for the possibility that neither Revis, who has a team option that puts him on the books for $20 million in 2015 with a $25 million cap hit, nor McCourty is a Patriot next year.
If the two players stick to their guns to get what they’re worth, and the Patriots stick to their tried-and-true football philosophy, it could be an ideological divide that can’t be bridged, like Vladimir Putin and anyone who disagrees with him.
Someone is going to have to blink, and in Foxborough it’s usually the guys wearing the helmets who cave and count their blessings to be a Patriot or end up counting their cash elsewhere.
You can implore the Patriots to maximize Tom Brady’s remaining years all you want. They’re unmoved. It’s like screaming into the turbofans of an airplane. No one can hear you.
Even last season, Revis turned down more lucrative offers to sign what was a one-year, $12 million deal dressed up as a two-year, $32 million deal.
The Patriots have reason to be more immutable in their stance given how they won their fourth Super Bowl.
The Patriots reached pro football’s summit with the winning touchdown pass being caught by a converted quarterback drafted in the seventh round (Julian Edelman) and the game-sealing, legacy-burnishing interception coming on a brilliant play by an undrafted rookie cornerback (Malcolm Butler) from a Division 2 school.
Without the pressure of a 10-year title drought and with the championship unfolding right out of the Bill Belichick Wesleyan economics degree-inspired team-building manual, why would the Patriots be the least bit motivated to change their standard operating procedure and pay Revis or McCourty max value contracts?
Be prepared for Butler and Brandon Browner at cornerback and Logan Ryan or Duron Harmon occupying McCourty’s province.
Sure, both Logan Mankins and Vince Wilfork got top-of-the-market deals after being franchised by the Patriots. In both cases they were locked in acrimonious contract disputes and went public with their displeasure.
The Revis situation is reminiscent of Randy Moss. The Patriots let Moss hit free agency after his tour de force 2007 season. He ended up returning to the Patriots on a three-year, $27 million deal, but not before he turned down more money from the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kraft once referred to this contract canon as brand equity — the idea players would accept less money for the opportunity to be part of the NFL’s premiere franchise.
It can be infuriating and maddening for fans, players, and media, but the Patriots have an excellent track record of letting players go and not skipping a beat. They’ve enjoyed 14 consecutive winning seasons and double-digit wins in 12 straight seasons.
The team is not above sacrificing some talent in the short term to preserve the system.
The Patriots let another No. 24 shutdown cornerback, Ty Law, go after the 2004 season. He led the league in interceptions in 2005, while his replacement, Duane Starks, performed the NFL equivalent of immolation on a weekly basis.
Deion Branch (trade) and Asante Samuel (free agency) had to find their fortunes elsewhere, even though the Patriots had inferior replacements.
The Patriots let Wes Welker depart in free agency following the 2012 season. They replaced him with Danny Amendola and fortunately watched Edelman blossom into Welker’s doppelganger. But they lost an AFC Championship game to Denver in which Brady was throwing to Matthew Mulligan and Austin Collie.
This season, the Patriots jettisoned Mankins with no viable replacement plan and struggled through the first four games of the season. They ended up lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
The point is, the Patriots don’t believe in irreplaceable players. That even goes for Brady, which is why the Patriots drafted Jimmy Garoppolo.
You can argue about the Patriots’ approach and whether it maximizes hardware until you’re blue in the face, but you can’t argue with institutionalized success.
Of course, some folks believe (hand going up) that the system works because of Brady, both his brilliance and his willingness to sign at a discount, believing the money will be redistributed to make the team better.
That allowed the Patriots to keep Branch in 2006 and sign Welker to a long-term deal in 2012. Oh, wait . . .
We’ve seen this movie before. Brady agreed to take away the full guarantees (and convert them to guarantees for injury only) on the $24 million he was slated to make the next three seasons in exchange for an extra $3 million.
That $24 million removed from NFL escrow was supposed to help re-sign players such as Revis and McCourty.
It still might, but don’t be surprised if they’re in somebody else’s secondary come September.
The Patriots have their way of operating, and the track record to back it up.