Patriots Are NFL's Worst in PFF's Offseason Improvement Index
The New England Patriots are never ones to make a big splash during free agency, mainly because Bill Belichick likes to nickel and dime players to get the most out of his money. But this year that strategy seems to have hurt the Patriots, as they lost some of their key veteran players and have replaced them with players that don't project to produce like the players they've lost. Though the blame can't fully be put on the decision makers in New England - as the team had very little salary cap space to work with when free agency began - the moves that have transpired over the last few weeks have the team's outlook for 2020 looking very murky.
To put into perspective where the team stands after the first three weeks of free agency, let's take a look at PFF's improvement index for all 32 teams.
The chart below shows how much a team has improved or regressed (which is determined by WAR) based on the moves they've made this offseason. If you look at the very bottom of the chart, you will find the Patriots, who are 32nd in the league with an improvement index at -12.3% improvement, which means they have regressed significantly based on the roster moves they've made, or haven't made, this offseason.
If you are unsure about what WAR is, PFF explains that metric in this article (click here).
The biggest factors for the Patriots regressing on the improvement index is boiled down to three names: Tom Brady, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins. The six-time Super Bowl champions lost those three players to free agency and replaced them with players that aren't nearly as productive as them. Veteran backup Brian Hoyer was added after Brady left, linebacker Brandon Copeland was added after Collins left, and Shilique Calhoun - who was already on the roster - is seemingly the replacement for Van Noy next season.
The drop off from Brady to Hoyer in terms of production needs no explanation, but detailing the drop off from Van Noy and Collins to Copeland and Calhoun is worth explaining. To put that talent discrepancy into perspective, let's look at each replacement's PFF grade from last season and compare it to the player they are replacing. A player's overall PFF grade is one of the main factors in determining WAR, so comparing grades will give us an idea of why New England ranks so poorly on the improvement index.
Jamie Collins: 72.3
Brandon Copeland: 58.6
Kyle Van Noy: 84.2
Shilique Calhoun: 60.5
The numbers speak for themselves. However, based on Belichick's ability to utilize his player's strengths, we should expect a bit of an improvement from Copeland and Calhoun in 2020 if they are the starters at their respective positions (it's possible the starters at LB and EDGE could be found in the draft). But the numbers nevertheless suggest the adversity the Patriots are about to face next season as they try to sustain a winning culture following an offseason in which they lost several talented playmakers.
If the Patriots can come out of the 2020 season with a winning record, a division title and a playoff berth, it will truly highlight how great a head coach Belichick really is. But before we see how the season goes, Belichick must first engage in one of the most - if not the most - important drafts of his head coaching career later this month. It is only then that we can project to our best ability how New England will perform next season.