Bill Belichick is well known as the genius, hooded figure that roams the New England Patriots sidelines every Sunday wearing a headset. Maybe after his most recent accomplishments in this particular offseason, Belichick's name will be mentioned among the best general managers in the NFL as well.
"The Hoodie" is killing it in March, and I'm not talking about his bracket.
As is usual for the Pats during the Belichick era, the team is in the envious position of being one of football's best teams with millions remaining in salary cap and multiple picks in each of the first two rounds of the upcoming NFL draft.
To Belichick, it seems, free agency is a simple game of supply and demand. While the start of free agency on March 14 was fast and furious, highlighted by a blockbuster trade involving Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall and lavish contracts for former Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson and former Colts receiver Pierre Garcon, Patriots fans quietly simmered, wondering why the team had yet to make a move.
After all, if we didn't sign a wide receiver, then we were doomed, right?
Fast forward to this week: Brandon Lloyd is on board, signed to a measly three-year, $12 million deal; Anthony Gonzalez and Donte Stallworth are both locked in for one-year "prove it" contracts.
Basically, Belichick let the desperate teams overpay for the top of the crop, while he spent pennies (metaphorically speaking) on some of the sneakier, under-the-radar guys. I mean, $36 million for Pierre Garcon? No thank you.
Not only is Lloyd a better fit for the Josh McDaniels offense, but he's probably a more proven playmaker overall—and for one-third the price.
Belichick did the same thing on the defensive side of the football, signing Jonathan Fanene and Trevor Scott, both proven commodities, for less than $14 million combined. The Pats took a long, hard look at Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Red Bryant, but with a $35 million price tag, they passed.
Once again, Belichick weighed the pros and the cons of the situation and made the move that saved the team millions in cap space and still managed to address the problem. Fanene is a beast, a versatile end/tackle hybrid. He can stuff the middle with his 6'4", 295-pound frame and he can get after the quarterback—he has tallied 12.5 sacks in the last two seasons.
If New England can bring back Andre Carter and convince Mark Anderson to take a bit of a hometown discount [Update: Anderson signed a four year, $27.5 million deal with the Buffalo Bills], the defensive line is going to be stronger than it has in years. If not, then they have four picks in the first two rounds of the draft to fill the void.
As for the gaping hole at safety, Hoodie is going to try his luck with (another) former special teams ace, Steve Gregory. The ex-Charger is a mediocre talent who worked his tail off to earn playing time; he'll fit right in with this defense.
Obviously, Gregory is only a stopgap solution for the Pats' problems in the secondary. With James Ihedigbo hopefully on his way back, however, New England will have a solid three-man team in the backfield of Ihedigbo, Gregory and the human bullet, Patrick Chung.
No All-Star team, but at least we won't be seeing any receivers back there in 2012.
And again, if Belichick isn't satisfied with that group—and I would be shocked if he was—he still has those four picks in the first two rounds of the draft.
Given New England's strengths and weaknesses going into the offseason, Belichick's plan of action has been nearly flawless. The only weakness that has been completely ignored is at the running back position, but maybe Belichick is comfortable letting Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead take over the reins.
Hell, maybe he's waiting for BenJarvus Green-Ellis to return [Update: Green-Ellis has reached an agreement on a three-year deal with the Cincinnati Bengals].
The wheeling and dealing is far from over. There is still a lot of work to be done, and by limiting spending and attacking vulnerable areas, Belichick has given the team tons of flexibility with the NFL draft right around the corner.
Given the addition of Lloyd to what was already the third-highest-scoring offense in the NFL, I think it's safe to say that Tom Brady will be ready to unleash another Hall of Fame season in 2012.
With a few more smart, aggressive moves on defense, this team could turn out to be Belichick's finest.
The AFC is once again New England's for the taking, and Belichick's managerial shrewdness and coaching brilliance is the reason. He has this team in contention every single year.
We all knew the excellence of Belichick the coach, but now I think it's safe to say that excellence has spread to Belichick the general manager. And when the Patriots are back in New Orleans in February for their sixth Super Bowl appearance since 2001, maybe fans across the globe will stop hating and start respecting what is truly one of the greatest football minds of our generation.
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