When NFL free agency started, there were rumors swirling that the New England Patriots might actually make some noise. During this time of year, they usually sit back quietly and mock other teams for throwing loads of cash at players that over achieve during their walk years.
This year was different.
There were two players that had proven track records, were young and were exactly what the Patriots needed—Mario Williams and Mike Wallace could have been the final pieces to Bill Belichick’s puzzle.
The defense desperately needs an elite pass-rusher, someone that can get to the quarterback on a consistent basis and would take some pressure off Vince Wilfork and the much maligned secondary.
Brady and the offense needed someone that could run more than 15 yards downfield—someone who could catch the ball outside the numbers. They needed the player they thought they were getting in Chad Johnson.
Wallace is a burner, and he has hurt the Patriots in the past. The offense, as great as it is during the regular season, couldn’t convert during key situations in the Super Bowl. They had their opportunities and receivers dropped several passes.
But it was evident against the Giants that the offense clogs up at times because Brady’s best weapons all work in the same spot—5-10 yards past the line and in between the tackles.
This offense doesn’t need a superstar receiver in the mold of a Larry Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson (or even Randy Moss from ’07). All it lacks is someone that can spread the field and make the safeties guess. Wallace, who ran a 4.33 second, 40 yard dash at the 2009 combine, is exactly what the Patriots need.
Super Mario could have been the missing piece to New England’s defense. He even showed in 2011, before he got injured, that he was versatile enough to play in both the 4-3 and the 3-4—something Belichick values more than anything.
Since entering the league as the first overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, Williams has proven to be a top-level pass-rusher. With his versatility, he could play a similar version of the “elephant” role that Willie McGinest played during his time with Belichick.
Both players were young and available. But the Patriots decided to make a slew of low-level signings rather than take the financial risk and sign two top-level players.
In both cases, the players were perfect, but Belichick and management may have made the right decision in not making the splash that most fans wanted.
Mike Wallace not only required the Patriots to give up a first round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but most likely would have required a contract similar to what Vincent Jackson got from Tampa Bay—in order to make sure the Steelers couldn’t match.
Whether or not Wallace is worth the money is one thing, but what kind of message would it send to Welker—who deserves a multi-year deal—and the rest of the locker room if they were to give Wallace a load of guaranteed money.
There is a similar situation with the defense. While they have already received new contracts from the team, how would Wilfork and Jerod Mayo react to signing Williams to a contract that would almost certainly have made him the highest paid player on the defensive side of the ball?
The one thing that Belichick has done well recently is realize how important locker room chemistry is to winning and getting through the grind of an NFL season.
The Patriots, while they may have one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, are not loaded with talent at the skill positions. Yet, they manage to come together at crucial points during games and win as a team.
So as much as we like to dream about Wallace racing down the sidelines or Williams being a menace on the edge, big splashes in free agency aren’t part of Belichick’s playbook. Let’s leave that for the Daniel Snyder’s of the world.