If the NFL gave out trophies for free-agent signings in the spring, the Patriots would be making room in their crowded case for one more prize.
The wheelin' and dealin' high rollers from Foxborough have utterly dominated the off-season market by signing the most while losing among the least.
Of the 14 Patriots signings, six are new players and eight were Patriots last year. In contrast, they only lost three players, which is only one more than Jacksonville with two, and one of those was tight end Kyle Brady to New England.
Additionally, the team's signing success was as much about quality as it was about quantity. The Pats landed the biggest name of all by signing linebacker Adalius Thomas from the Ravens. They also reeled in a couple of other fine fish from Miami, wide receiver Wes Welker and running back Sammy Morris. Oh, and they addressed their glaring need by adding home-run hitting receiver Donte Stallworth, as well as pass-catcher Kelley Washington.
The three departures were all addressed with the new signings as well. Morris replaces Corey Dillon as a power runner, and Laurence Maroney was taking over at running back anyway. Brady fills the blocking role provided by Daniel Graham. Thomas is obviously a dramatic upgrade over pass-rushing specialist Tully Banta-Cain.
So how did the Patriots do against the iron of the AFC, many of whom they play this season?
|Daniel Graham will add firepower and upgrade blocking for the Broncos' offense (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)|
Only the Denver Broncos came even close, and they are one of the only top AFC team from last year that the Patriots do not play this season.
Mike Shanahan added both quality and quantity, signing nine new players including Graham, cornerback Dre Bly, running back Travis Henry, wide receiver Brandon Stokley, and just the other day, old friend David Terrell.
However, the Broncos' dropped the ball when they re-signed only two players, while losing seven. Big names exiting the Mile High City are runner Tatum Bell, defensive end Courtney Brown, and quarterback Jake Plummer, whom some might call addition by subtraction, but it now means Jay Cutler or bust. Denver also lost cornerback Darrent Williams in a senseless shooting.
The only other rival active in the off-season was the Jets, who brought in six new players headlined by running back Thomas Jones from the NFC Champion Bears, signaling the official end of the Curtis Martin era. However, Coach Eric Mangini watched seven existing players escape from New York.
New England's nemesis from Indy was clearly resting on its Super Bowl laurels, and who can blame them after waiting so long through so many disappointments. They only signed one new player, and kept one existing Colt, and neither is a household name. Meanwhile, walking out of Indy were Dominick Rhodes, Nick Harper, Mike Doss, Montae Reagor, and Stokley. Clearly, the core of the champs is still there, but no help whatsoever is on the way.
Another absolute non-participant in free agency, who napped on their Vince Lombardi trophy last year, was the Pittsburgh Steelers. Emotional defensive leader Joey Porter flew south to Miami, and two other lesser lights found new homes. They only signed one new player, offensive lineman Sean Mahan from Tampa Bay, and re-signed two of their own. Of course, they made the biggest change of all when they hired Mike Tomlin to be only their third head coach in the last 38 years, and he is scheduled to bring his new team into Foxboro on December 9 to renew old acquaintances.
|Willis McGahee's move to Baltimore upgrades the Ravens' rushing attack while weakening Buffalo's (AP Photo/David Duprey)|
That brings us to New England's newest rival, the San Diego Chargers, who also sat on the sidelines this off-season. With new coach Wade Phillips, they did not even show a pulse in free agency with zero signings of new players, although they retained five Chargers. They also watched six players leave the fold, led by linebacker Donnie Edwards leaving for Kansas City, who will not be in Foxboro for the home opener.
Down in Baltimore, the Ravens said goodbye to running back Jamal Lewis, and lost three others. They only added one new player, but a potentially big one, in running back Willis McGahee. Former Raven Thomas will lead the Pats into Maryland for a big Monday night game on December 3.
Teams worth watching that made a little off-season noise were:- The Chiefs signing six new players, led by the addition of Edwards, and re-signing three others, while losing only four.
- The Jaguars adding four fresh faces to go with keeping four others, while parting ways with only Brady and safety Deon Grant.
- Tennessee retaining six Titans and signing three new ones, including Harper, but losing seven that included receiver Drew Bennett and runner Henry.
Finally, only one other NFL team besides the Patriots had 14 transactions on either side of the ledger - the Dolphins letting 14 players walk off into the Miami Beach sunset.
- Sticking with the Dolphins, new Coach Cam Cameron may face his defining personnel decision in just a few weeks. The former Chargers OC, last seen by Patriots fans in the playoff loss to New England, can potentially address the Ricky Williams reinstatement request when he becomes eligible on April 27.
- The Patriots 2007 schedule with five night games validates their off-season hyper-activity that the networks rightfully still consider them a national draw with another solid season in store.
- Look for one or more of the Patriots three straight December home games versus the Steelers, Jets and Dolphins respectively to end up at a different time than their scheduled 1 p.m. kickoff
- New NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is putting his personal stamp on the league in showing he is not afraid to make tough decisions, having imposed stiff suspensions on bad boys PacMan Jones and Chris Henry and pulling the plug on the China Bowl this August.
- Think what you will about Drew Bledsoe as he walks away from the game this week, but I met this former fellow Medfield resident twice around town during his Patriot days and he was a perfect gentleman. I met he and his wife the first time at a local store on Good Friday, which coincidentally was the week the NFL schedule was released, and when I told him I was a season-ticket holder, we chatted for 20 minutes about that season's opponents. I next saw him eight months later at the Thanksgiving day football game between Medfield and Dover, where he remembered me from our first meeting, and although both of us were supervising our young children, we managed to talk football and family for about 10 minutes.
John Ingoldsby is a free-lance sports writer based in Medfield, Massachusetts, who has written articles about the Patriots for various publications during the past five years. You can find John on the Patriots Insider boards under the handle Rudiee.
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