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Bucking The Trend: Examining New England’s free agency moves

Defense wins championships. In the last three years, Seattle and Denver have won Super Bowls thanks to historically dominant units, creating


Defense wins championships. In the last three years, Seattle and Denver have won Super Bowls thanks to historically dominant units, creating a new blueprint for hoisting Lombardi trophies. But which team is nearly always in Super Bowl contention, and even won SB XLIX against Seattle’s Legion of Boom, despite not having a top five defense since 2007? Answer; the New England Patriots. Instead of focusing their championship bids around an otherworldly defense and a strong running game, Bill Belichick is bucking the trend by building around an ageing quarterback. While Peyton Manning may have gotten his Super Bowl swansong with the Broncos, he was also benched during the regular season, so chasing a title with an ageing quarterback can be risky. Tom Brady is 38, but is still arguably the top quarterback in the league. Brady almost beat Denver’s title-winning defense in the AFC Championship game despite being hit over 20 times behind a severely injured offensive line. It was a 20-18 defeat, but Brady almost pulled off another clutch playoff win. Just two years ago, Brady produced the finest fourth quarter of his career to beat the Legion of Boom in Super Bowl XLIX. Belichick is notorious for defying league trends. While many teams have spent big on defense this offseason, like the New York Giants, one of New England’s biggest moves was to trade talented pass rusher Chandler Jones to Arizona for guard Jonathan Cooper. Like franchise quarterbacks, dominant pass rushers don’t grow on trees, and Jones finished fifth in the league last season with 12.5 sacks. But after a rotating offensive line caused the Patriots to lose four of their final six regular season games, it was clear that the offensive line would be a priority this offseason. The Patriots had one of the league’s best offenses and were undefeated until injuries derailed their campaign. Brady is still playing at a high level, but won’t be able to play forever no matter how much he wants to. As crazy as it sounds, New England’s Super Bowl window could soon close. Hence the focus this season has shifted onto building around Brady. Drop-prone receiver Brandon LaFell has been replaced by Chris Hogan, whom the Patriots signed away from divisional rivals Buffalo. To fix a run game that struggled when elusive scat-back Dion Lewis went down injured in Week 9, the Patriots signed for Colts first-round pick and former Charger Donald Brown. The Patriots also pursued former Bears running back Matt Forte and former Dolphins receiver Rishard Matthews, but ultimately lost out to the New York Jets and the Tennessee Titans respectively. Bill Belichick is fond of using two tight end sets in New England’s offense, but struggled late last season with injuries to Rob Gronkowski and an unimpressive season from Scott Chandler. Chandler is now a free agent, and Gronk has since signed a six-year, $54 million contract extension that will keep him in New England until the end of 2019. But now Brady has a true playmaker to pair with Gronk after the Patriots acquired tight end Martellus Bennett from Chicago in exchange for a fourth round pick. Bennett saw a diminished role in Chicago’s offense last year, but he is 6-6” and had 90 receptions for 916 yards in 2014. With both Gronk and Bennett, the Patriots easily have the most dominant tight end duo in the league, giving Brady two tall, physical redzone weapons to utilise. New England’s best chance to win Super Bowl LI is through Brady’s play. After a carefully planned free agency strategy that yielded better targets and better protection, Brady and the Patriots should still be a force to be reckoned with in 2016.


Bucking The Trend: Examining New England’s free agency moves

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