In a few short blinks, New England Patriots fans watched a spectacular array of free agents evaporate into thin air. One by one, some of the most coveted movers and shakers on the open market disappeared in a cloud of smoke, each accompanied by a loud "cha-ching."
It's been a peculiar time for Patriots fans. One minute we're fantasizing about Robert Meachem in a Patriots jersey, the next minute we're wondering what the Chargers have that we don't.
We're a few days deep into the frenzy and the Patriots have remained quiet. As Patriots fans, are you happy or unhappy about this? I've been wrestling with that very question myself.
On one hand, our team needs an infusion of power and speed. The Patriots didn't accomplish their ultimate goal last season, which means we simply must get better to compete in a league that's growing more competitive every day. The free-agency market is a great place to instantly improve our team, yet many great players have already been claimed. So in that sense, our lack of "splash" has been concerning.
On the other hand, despite not achieving the ultimate goal last season, we came damn close. Granted, the slight miss is theoretically as good as a mile, but we still almost won the Lombardi trophy with one of our best players essentially rendered useless with an injury. Therefore, the need for a marquee free agent may not be so drastic. With a healthy team, we may already have a terrific shot for the ultimate success.
Am I disappointed we didn't get Vincent Jackson? No. His price was always too high and I never viewed him as the missing piece of our puzzle. Our team is already quite fantastic, so the most high-profile receiver on the market was never really something we needed to concern ourselves with. We don't need a loud explosion, we need a confident whisper.
Am I disappointed we didn't get Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston or Robert Meachem? Slightly, yeah. Those guys seemed attainable. Any one of them probably would've formed a great relationship with Tom Brady. It's a little disappointing that they vanished from our sights so soon.
Do I want Mario Williams? Slightly, yeah. As of this moment, he's still flirting with the Bills. If they strike a deal, it would exacerbate the task of keeping Brady healthy throughout the season. However, the Bills have handcuffed themselves to a quarterback who's guaranteed to lose, so their potential partnership with Williams wouldn't put the Bills on top of our division. Only a partnership between Peyton Manning and the Dolphins could drastically alter the dynamic of the AFC East.
Do I want Mike Wallace? Yes, absolutely. When a marvelous 25-year-old receiver with brains, wit and attitude shows up on the free-agency market, you have to make a solid attempt to get him. We lost our last two Super Bowls by only a handful of points; if we get Wallace, we get those elusive points. He doesn't have to be Victor Cruz or Calvin Johnson, he just has to be Mike Wallace. We have more than enough weapons to take care of the rest.
Those are my immediate thoughts on the meat and potatoes of the frenzy thus far. Yet, in taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture, I wonder how much this frenzy has truly affected the Patriots. Despite the furious momentum of the storm, the short list of teams that will realistically compete for a title in 2012 will not have changed that much from last season. Has any team knocked New England off the list? The answer is no.
The Patriots, Giants, Texans, Packers, 49ers and Saints will still be the league's dominant forces in 2012. After that, you have the Steelers, Ravens and whichever team lands Peyton Manning. Then you have your dark horses like the Eagles, Redskins, Lions, Cowboys, Bears and possibly the Panthers. Aside from the addition of the Redskins, that list is pretty similar to 2011.
Of course, the frenzy has made its fair share of alterations. In just the last few days, the NFC East has become far more brutal than it already was. The NFC North will now probably be the most enjoyable division to keep our eyes on. The NFC South is becoming rather unpredictable and the AFC South is becoming more fascinating by the day. So, in that sense, the free-agency tornado has moved some things around.
Those changes greatly affect the Giants and Texans, who are the two most dangerous threats to the Patriots in 2012. The recent frenzy has increased the competition within the NFC East and the AFC South, which could complicate the road to success for our two biggest obstacles. That's potentially very good news.
The changes to the NFC East have been profound. The Redskins grabbed Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan and will most likely bring in Robert Griffin III. The Eagles kept DeSean Jackson and paid him well, which will almost certainly turn around his attitude and get his game back on track. The Cowboys made incredibly wise pickups in Brandon Carr and Kyle Orton.
The AFC South is getting ravaged by this storm. The Jaguars picked up Laurent Robinson. The Colts got Cory Redding, they kept Reggie Wayne and they'll most likely bring in Andrew Luck. And, of course, the Titans are chasing Peyton Manning with a vengeance.
If these divisions continue getting tougher with the remainder of the free-agency period and the upcoming draft, the Giants and Texans may have a tough time meeting the high expectations that have been placed upon them. In fact, they may have some serious turbulence ahead.
This has a direct impact on New England. The Texans and Giants are the two teams most capable of preventing the Patriots from winning a Super Bowl in 2012. If those teams fall into the quicksand of their increasingly erratic and cutthroat divisions, that could potentially eliminate the most severe threats in our near future.
The Patriots have had good fortune lately. They dodged another threat when the Jets dropped the Peyton Manning chase (or rumors of a chase) and inked Mark Sanchez to an extension. This was a rather massive development to Patriot nation. The rivalry between Brady and Manning is epic, and the rivalry between the Patriots and Jets has become increasingly complex and fanatic.
Had Manning gone to the Jets, the entire 2012 season would've been about the Patriots and Jets rivalry. That is, essentially, the last thing we want the season to be about. We dismantled the Jets in 2011 and stripped away the shine of any "rivalry," reducing the team to rubble. We have the upper hand in a very big way. Had Manning and the Jets joined forces, that upper hand would suddenly fall into neutral territory and we'd have to fight over it from scratch.
But in keeping Sanchez, the Jets averted that entire situation. Bad for the Jets, good for the Patriots. We will now retain the upper hand when we meet next season, and I trust our dominance over Gang Green will continue as scheduled.
In stubbornly keeping their faith in Sanchez, the Jets helped us out. If the Texans and Giants keep getting surrounded with strong and powerful divisional adversaries, we may not have to do much at all during this offseason. It appears our enemies are either destroying themselves or being destroyed by forces beyond their control. Either way, it's excellent.
Aside from that, all is relatively calm right now.
The usual sights and sounds of the AFC are showing bright for 2012. The Ravens will still be the team we hate most. The Jets will still be the team we love to punish. And once again, Peyton Manning's movements will be on our radar. Just like old times.