Here is a perfectly sane take on the Patriots’ free-agency splurge that I am willingly allowing to pass over my head: Yes, Bill Belichick is spending money, but it is largely in accordance with the way he has always operated. This offseason, because of the depressed cap market, has allowed him to find incredible veteran values below the going market rate, both at traditionally expensive positions (edge rusher) and increasingly expensive positions (tight end). Via the trade market, he has also been able to procure high-end talent in a uniquely Belichickian way, reacquiring a player who has only traditionally performed well under his watch.
Most of these signings (Nelson Agholor aside) are ones that any clearheaded general manager would make if they had the same amount of cap space and roster needs.
Here is the Patriots' take I will load onto my iPod, connect to the aux cord and blare out of speakers that I’ve faced toward the quad like an arrogant college sophomore with no concept of personal space (or musical taste): The Evil Empire is back. Belichick saw Tom Brady win a Super Bowl and got so mad he whipped a Sam Adams at an old oak tree, then called up Drew Rosenhaus and said, “I’ll take one of everything on the menu because Billy’s back, baby.”
Regardless of what is actually true, Monday's free-agency splurge made it feel like the Patriots are not dead yet, which is a wonderful thing for the NFL. The NFL needs a team like New England, a continuous, dubious presence sapping up talent and deploying it in creative, mind-bending or painfully sensible ways to jam up the rest of the league and prevent the kind of haughty stagnation that permeated throughout the NFL in the decade before the arrival of a Patriots Dynasty.
Admit it, last year didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel like the NFL because the Patriots were clearly hobbling along, dinged by a slew of high-profile opt-outs and the dried-up foundation of a roster that had been consistently churned for the better part of 20 years. The Cam Newton offense was fine but fundamentally flawed. Even at their most broken and punchless, they still went 7–9, better than a handful of teams that had far fewer roster issues and turnover.
And we don’t know whether or not it will actually change. So often, teams that need to spend this much money in the offseason are doing so to cover up serious cracks on their roster, which the Patriots have even when some of their best players return. New England may go into next season with Agholor as its most explosive wide receiver, paying him a little less than the Packers are paying Davante Adams. That doesn’t feel completely sustainable.
But New England roaring back into relevance does feel … right. It feels like the way things normally go, with Belichick making calculated moves and the rest of the NFL nervously looking over its collective shoulder to make sure it doesn't miss anything.
This would have happened whether or not the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl a few months ago. It would be surprising to ever see Belichick, with the kind of leeway and competitive ecosystem he has set up, ever sit on his hands and allow the rest of the NFL to zip on by. However, there will always be a part of us that likes to think otherwise.
Back in February, our Albert Breer asked a handful of former Patriots whether they thought Brady’s success without Belichick bothered him, or whether Brady might have felt especially validated after winning a Super Bowl outside of New England. The consensus was that these are two highly motivated people, so how could it not?
That’s the world I’ll choose to live in today. The one where a counter-revenge tour is only just beginning.