At 36, and soon to be 37 years old, who knows exactly how much longer Tom Brady and the Patriots' window will be open, but signing All Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis is proof that the Patriots are serious about opening that window as wide as possible for the 2014 season.
And they're doing things the old-fashioned way.
It took less than 24 hours after the AFC championship for writers and analysts to pour out from across the Northeast with one thesis: Brady needs weapons if the Patriots are going to get over the hump. They had just watched Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos' juggernaut offense march up and down the field with their bevy of weapons. Their 23 points were a misrepresentation of their dominant performance.
The "weapons" narrative never existed in New England in the early 2000s, when the Patriots won Super Bowls on the strength of their stifling defense. Signing Revis is one step toward that end goal of getting back to their roots.
|Patriots top pass-catchers, 2001-2004|
|Source: Pro Football Reference|
In those days, they were winning with Brady throwing to Troy Brown, David Patten, Deion Branch, David Givens, Daniel Graham, Christian Fauria and other miscellaneous receivers. He was handing off to running backs Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk and being protected by offensive linemen like Russ Hochstein and Tom Ashworth.
Many of those players had good careers for the Patriots, but none of them are headed to the Hall of Fame.
The offense should improve after a less-than-perfect 2013 campaign in which Brady struggled, at times, to get on the same page with rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, and in which the Patriots were without All Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski for nine games and without star free-agent signee Danny Amendola for four games and parts of two others.
If they can keep free-agent wide receiver Julian Edelman, that could leave them with five respectable pass-catchers—assuming health from Gronkowski and Amendola and progress from Thompkins and Dobson. In fact, Thompkins and Dobson may be the ones who benefit the most from the Revis signing. They will gain valuable experience by practicing against one of the league's best cornerbacks.
The Patriots are already off to a good start, but they should be trying to add a tight end to back up Gronkowski in the event of injury.
Finding a fifth receiving option and a second tight end should be considered well behind a No. 1 cornerback on the list of things that could help get the Patriots over the hump.
Revis is only one player, but he is the kind of player that can dramatically alter a team's entire defense.
Revis' deal pays him less in 2014 than the deal he had with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it is still unprecedented for the Patriots. Consider this: The Patriots had never spent more than $10 million on a cornerback in any given season. That should tell you everything you need to know about how much of an impact Bill Belichick thinks Revis can have on his defense.
The plan to ratchet up the voltage on defense shorted out and had a wrench thrown in it when Vince Wilfork asked for his release, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, but the money they would save from such a move ($8 million) would give them freedom to sign some other players. The Patriots brought in linebacker Wesley Woodyard for a workout on Wednesday, and he would be a good signing to provide some depth with Brandon Spikes on his way out.
There are other free agents the Patriots could target if they want a quick fix, including defensive tackles B.J. Raji, Henry Melton and Jason Hatcher. Thus far, the Patriots have not shown interest in adding a free-agent defensive tackle, but that could change if a move is made with Wilfork soon.
They could also use a pass-rushing defensive end to take some of the pressure off of Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, who each played over 96 percent of the Patriots' defensive snaps in 2013.
Players like Jared Allen and Julius Peppers are available to fill that void, but thus far, the Patriots aren't in on the market for either one, according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora. Jones and Ninkovich should not have to shoulder the entire load for a second year in a row.
Revis' impact on the defense is similar to former Patriots cornerback Ty Law, who locked down opposing teams' No. 1 receivers during the Super Bowl years. Adding that kind of player immediately gets the Patriots closer to the old blueprint, but there's still work to be done.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.