Patriots a model of making free agency work

The Vikings haven't made a big splash in free agency, but the Patriots have proved once again that a big-name signing isn't needed to fill holes. New England has been one of the most active teams in free agency without breaking the bank.

Vikings fans have been frustrated by the lack of activity by the team in the free-agent market, especially as it relates to the wide receiver position – where several significant talents were available on the open market and have already signed elsewhere.

The available players when free agency began more than a week ago were intriguing – Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Pierre Garcon, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Laurent Robinson, Brandon Lloyd, Robert Meachem, Early Doucet, Josh Morgan, Harry Douglas and Donte Stallworth.

The Vikings are doing their due diligence, but fans are becoming increasingly frustrated that the only outside free agents that have been brought in are tight end John Carlson, offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, a pair of fullbacks and a former point guard hoping to latch on as a cornerback. The belief is that somehow Mike Tice is calling the shots for the Vikings signings, not Rick Spielman in his debut season as the final voice in the Vikings war room.

Perhaps the bigger problem is that the Vikings don't have to break the bank to bring in bodies to help. Perhaps the Vikings should employ the blueprint the New England Patriots have executed in free agency.

The Patriots have become the franchise model that other teams look to replicate. Over the last decade no team has been as dominant, yet, for the most part, been devoid of star power talent. At a time when NFL stars are created relatively easily, the Patriots have been the gold standard of the league without many big-name stars. People remember the great teams of yesteryear because so many of them eventually made their way to Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Lynn Swann never had a 1,000-yard receiving season, but he's in the Hall. The Cowboys, Steelers, 49ers and Dolphins have all placed multiple players into the Hall of Fame, yet the Patriots have been the league's dominant franchise for a decade and the only lock to be a Hall of Famer of the core group is Tom Brady.

They can be a cold organization, letting star players get away when their contract demands get too high. They infuriated their fans when they traded away guys like Richard Seymour and Randy Moss, but they continue to find ways to get the job done. They always seem to have extra picks in the draft and, when it comes to free agency, they find ways to sign a lot of players without spending a lot of money.

Division rival Buffalo backed up the Brink's truck to get one player – defensive end Mario Williams. The Patriots have refused to get into bidding wars for the top free-agent talent, instead using a scatter-gun approach that targets lesser free agents that can fill valuable roles.

Can you think of any big-name free agents the Patriots have signed this offseason? Probably not, because they haven't been involved in any of the megabuck signings. But that doesn't mean that they haven't been active. In fact, they've signed just about as many players as any team in free agency, just not the big names that require big bucks.

The Patriots refused to get in bidding wars for RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis or DE Mark Anderson, both of whom signed elsewhere, but they addressed multiple needs in the first week of free agency by making numerous moves.

In need of wide receivers, the only major commitment made was franchising Wes Welker, opting to give him a one-year deal instead of a long-term contract. But, they stocked their shelves by signing free agents Brandon Lloyd, Donte Stallworth and Anthony Gonzalez.

They have two of the top tight ends in the league in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, but still found a roster spot for Denver TE Daniel Fells and brought him in.

The offensive line suffered numerous injuries in 2011, so the team re-signed center Dan Connolly and brought in former first-round pick Robert Gallery on the cheap to compete for a guard spot.

On the defensive line, the team lost Anderson, but signed three players to compete to replace him – Oakland's Trevor Scott, Cincinnati's Jonathan Fanene and Tampa Bay's Michael Bennett.

Needing help in the secondary, the Patriots made their annual raid of the Jets roster by plucking cornerback Marquice Cole and taking away San Diego safety Steve Gregory.

The Patriots have lost just two free agents 10 days into free agency, yet have found a way to bring in 10 free agents – none of them bona fide stars, but all of them players in which they see potential. Perhaps even more ironic is that the 10 players that were brought in were signed away from 10 different teams – Cincinnati, Denver, Indianapolis, New York, Oakland, St. Louis, San Diego, Seattle, Tampa Bay and Washington. They're equal-opportunity pilferers.

The Patriots have found a way to add players at many positions of need – whether as starters or role players – without breaking the financial bottom line of the franchise. The Vikings and other teams can learn something from this tactic. Not every free agent has to be an enormous investment. If they can provide a specific role to the team, they have value – and combine to cost about the same amount as Buffalo spent to land one superstar talent.

THURSDAY NOTES

  • Free agent signee Geoff Schwartz is expected to get a chance to start at right guard this season after agreeing to a one-year deal with the Vikings. The current plan is to have competition at the right guard position and, if the Vikings draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil, move Charlie Johnson inside to left guard.

  • Punter Chris Kluwe went on a expletive-laced rant on Twitter Wednesday following the announcement of the penalties handed down to the New Orleans Saints for Bountygate. In a rapid-fire series of two tweets, Kluwe dropped the Big Kahuna of curse words five times. He was quite direct in his accusatory tone to those who believe the source that opened the inquiry into the Bountygate scandal was a "snitch." Kluwe asserted that those who believe the source was a snitch glorify criminality, have degraded ethics and morals and are short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrite idiots.

  • Some scoffed at our suggestion in the wake of the announcement of the Saints Bountygate scandal that that current (sort of) Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the flashpoint of the controversy, should receive a lifetime or indefinite suspension from the NFL for his recidivist practice of trying to injure players or knock them out of games with a cash incentive. Not only did head coach Sean Payton get a one-year suspension without pay ($7.5 million), Williams received the indefinite suspension we called for. While Payton will be reinstated following the 2012 season, Williams can only request consideration to be reinstated – which is far from guaranteed. If the NFL is looking for a Shoeless Joe Jackson/Pete Rose type of permanent scapegoat, Williams is that poster boy and there won't be many tears shed from offensive players around the league if the NFL locks him out and throws away the key.

  • In the NFL's ruling on the dispensation of punishment, four quarterbacks were listed as bounty targets – Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers and rookie Cam Newton. Warner's last NFL game ended when he got drilled following an interception and Favre's career for all intents ended on the floor of the Superdome in the 2009 NFC Championship Game. He came back in 2010, but was never 100 percent because his severe ankle injury never fully healed.

  • Some may notice that no players were part of the suspension/fine list. That doesn't mean they won't be coming. Commissioner Roger Goodell said he and his investigators are working with the NFLPA and DeMaurice Smith to set the parameters for players deemed guilty of taking part in the bounty program. Since several of them are still with the Saints, the hits may just keep on coming.

  • Tebowmania took over Denver, but will it play on Broadway? As if Mark Sanchez didn't have enough problems with the love-hate relationship of the fans, the Tim Tebow circus is coming to New York. Two years after the Broncos used a first-round draft pick to get Tebow, he was traded along with a seventh-round pick Wednesday to the Jets for fourth- and sixth-round picks. The feel-good story of 2011 is now locked and loaded in the Big Apple, where the media is sure to be a tad more intrusive.

  • King Wilson, the executive director of Allied Charities of Minnesota, said through a spokesman that a counterproposal for the language in the Vikings stadium bill is expected in the next few days. The Vikings ownership group has had to fight legislators, a charter commission, county boards of commissioners, city councils and business moguls to get a stadium bill to this point. Now they have to appease a King.

  • Don't read too much into the Vikings releasing Remi Ayodele at the same time that the hammer came down on the Saints – Ayodele was a member of the hit squad sent out to cripple Favre in the 2009 NFC title game. It was more a matter of production vs. $2.2 million owed him this year that led to his release, not his inclusion in the unholy tontine entered into by him and as many as two dozen of his teammates. It wasn't retribution. It was inevitable. Ayodele was a round peg in a square hole in the Vikings defense.


    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.


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