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Analysis: Time for patience, not panic

Putting the Patriots' moves thus far in their proper context as we enter the second week of the 2022 team-building period.


"There's a million things I haven't done, but just you wait … just you wait!"

Lin-Manuel Miranda's iconic "Hamilton" lyrics are performed on stage by A-dot-Ham, but they could just as easily apply to B-dot-Bel this Monday morning.

Believe me, I get it. You're a Patriots fan, as passionate as they come, and you're seething today because you're seeing teams across the league making high-profile headline signings – Davante Adams to the Raiders, Allen Robinson to the Rams, JuJu Smith-Schuster to Kansas City, just to name a handful of top-flight wide receivers who've changed teams over the weekend. You're probably grinding your teeth thinking, "Why aren't my Patriots doing anything?!?!?" It's an understandable reaction, but an ill-advised one.

First, Bill Belichick and the Patriots are doing things in free agency, even if those moves aren't leading the 24-hour news cycle. They're just going about their business the way they normally do this time of year, inking deals they can afford with players they value.

You can count on one hand the times New England has gone into free agency like a spoiled Beverly Hills teenager on Rodeo Drive. When the kinds of players the Patriots covet are available and New England has the money to offer them, they aren't shy about making deals – 2007 and 2021 being the most notable examples of this approach. Few and far between, to be sure. The stars almost never align for the Patriots to make these kinds of splashy moves two or more seasons in a row. There are always marquee players on the market, but New England doesn't always have the financial flexibility to court them. It would have been unrealistic to expect them to do so out of the gates this offseason.

However, as NFL history has shown us, the teams that throw free agent money around in record numbers don't usually see an immediate return on their investments. The Patriots were an outlier in 2021 by making the playoffs the same season they set a league record for guaranteed money given to free agents. The other teams who previously held the record didn't get to the postseason that same year they spent like crazy.

Yes, it's fun to watch the free agency carousel go 'round, but that's not a guaranteed formula for fixing everything that ails a team's roster. A more sure-fire way is through good drafting. Here again, the Patriots seem to have succeeded in '21. Three of the top New England rookies drafted last year – QB Mac Jones, DL Christian Barmore, and RB Rhamondre Stevenson – played significant roles from the get-go and appear to be part of a strong foundation for the future of this franchise.

Next month, the Patriots need to repeat this success by selecting several more youngsters who might be able to play right away, as the aforementioned trio did. New England currently has seven draft choices, one in each of the first five rounds, plus a pair in the sixth (none in the seventh and final round, as of this posting). Good teams generally build through the draft, not free agency. Just look at New England's Super Bowl-winning rosters over the past 20-plus years and you'll see that they were populated in large part by homegrown talent.

This isn't to diminish the impact that quality free agents can have on a club, as evidenced by the likes of TE Hunter Henry and edge rusher Matthew Judon last season, for example. Here again, there's reason for optimism. A year from now, the Patriots are projected to have even more space beneath the salary cap than they did in 2021, meaning you could see them being the popular team that gets all the attention once again.

For the time being, though, they're doing what they can with what they have. So, take heart in knowing that teams that "win the offseason," as Rex Ryan once famously remarked about his 2016 Buffalo Bills, generally don't win the Super Bowl, or even come close to competing for it.

For better or worse, we find ourselves living in an instant-gratification world, one in which the Patriots and their fans might be realizing what life was like for the rest of the league during the past two decades of almost continuous winning in New England. The 2020 season was a band-aid remover for the Patriots, what with Tom Brady's exit and the pandemic seeing a record number of players opt-out. With their losing record, Belichick's squad failed to qualify for the postseason. Last year, hopes were revived with Jones under center and big-name players arriving, all of whom helped get the Patriots back in the playoffs, albeit briefly.

New England is clearly a franchise in transition, and the rest of the league – the AFC in particular – is making things even more competitive. Yet, progress is being made here in Foxborough, even if it's incremental and an outsider looking in might not notice it. Teambuilding and rebuilding take time. In the NFL, it's never clear exactly how long those processes will take. Therefore, now is the time for patience, not panic, because better times might not be so far off. Like Hamilton's antagonist, A-dot-Burr, you just need to be "willing to wait for it."

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