New England Patriots Make Big Moves in Their Own Backyard

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IMarch 7, 2010

SEATTLE - DECEMBER 07:  Vince Wilfork #75 of the New England Patriots warms-up on the field before the game against the Seattle Seahawks on December 7, 2008 at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 24-21. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

To all the Chicken Littles who said the sky was falling on New England, it looks as if the Patriots won't stand idly by and await their dynasty's doomsday.

No, they have different plans that involve the same players.

Free agency has been a whirlwind for the many teams that are taking part in the spending spree heading into an uncapped season. New England has partaken in the festivities with a different modus operandi: rather than snatch up another team's MVP, they're staying in-house to keep their brethren in the camp.

The Pats got a jump start on things by franchise-tagging Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Shortly after the start of free agency on Mar. 5, they signed him to a five-year extension worth $40 million, including $18 million in guaranteed money.

They went two steps further by giving out restricted free agent tenders to two Pro Bowl players: left guard Logan Mankins and kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

They then locked up the lone potent pass-rusher on the defense, Tully Banta-Cain, with a three-year deal worth over $13 million.

Finally, signing right guard Stephen Neal to a two-year deal solidified the offensive line.

There are a few glaring holes in New England's roster that need to be addressed by offseason's end, through draft, trade, or free agency. Those needs will be filled in a reactive manner.

The Patriots were proactive, however, in the re-signing of several key players. The return of their stars saves them from having far more questions than answers.

None of the moves (except Wilfork and Mankins) generated huge headlines, but all did something far more important: solidified the chemistry of the team. Even with concerns that the sky is falling, the Patriots weren't shy or averse from making it rain on their big-name players.

It's one thing to maintain a car; it's another thing entirely to soup it up.

No new players have joined the fold yet, but gone are the concerns that the middle of the defense will fall apart without Wilfork.

Away with the fears that New England would release Banta-Cain and would then need two starting outside linebackers.

No longer should we worry that Tom Brady will have massive defensive linemen flying at him from the interior blind-side.

With all those fears put to rest, it's anyone's guess whether the Patriots will wait until the draft to make any further additions, or if they'll choose to scour the remaining free agent pool for further talent.

They still need an elite pass-rusher; my guess is Banta-Cain wasn't their solution to that problem.

And there is, of course, the remaining uncertainty of Leigh Bodden, who figures to demand a high price tag behind the hefty contract Dunta Robinson just received. Concerns of his contract uncertainty are compounded by New England's need for depth in the secondary.

With talent becoming more and more scarce on the free agent market, it appears increasingly likely that the Patriots will turn to the draft to address those needs, and rightfully so; both the linebacker and cornerback class of 2010 are heralded as deep pools of talent.

They haven't gone out and picked up any big-name players, but the Patriots have done what they've been known for, and that's keeping a steady hand while everyone else is going crazy over their own falling sky.

There's much left to be done, but if the sky is indeed falling on New England, it's not falling as quickly as some may think, or hope, it is.


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