Making hard choices to an NFL roster is a reality of life for a General Manager and one that is a constant ongoing job year round. It’s even more so now than it’s ever been given that you have to be a masterful sailor of not just the tumultuous seas of modern Free Agency and capology, but also in an area where there are no secrets in a sport historically reliant on it.
In this era of technology and social media one can find the full scouting report and biography of a place kicker from some community college in the Congo if he existed. However, there is a blueprint out there in how you can overcome these disadvantages and it comes from the most successful organization in the history of the NFL. None other than the New England Patriots.
The most secretive of them all, the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick somehow still continue to win regardless of the parity in the league with rules set up for quick rises in standings and against sustained dominance by one team. So, given the success of the way they do business why would one not emulate it?
How do they do it? How can they constantly remain relevant year after year in spite of the deck being stacked against them doing so? When you take a closer look at how the Patriots stay on top year after year after year, the answer is simple. Don’t run your team based on sentiment and loyalty to individual players at the detriment of the entire organization.
You can’t fall in love with your players. As cold blooded as it sounds you have to treat them as assets. Otherwise, there’s no way you can be dominant for nearly two decades as the Patriots have been and with no end of their dominance in sight.
Now, I’m not saying be as ruthless and cold blooded as Belichick is, but if you want to have sustained success in this league there are some things that the Patriots do that can’t be ignored and should be mirrored.
First thing you have to do is identify your core players at premium positions. Those are the players that you identify and pay long term deals on. You also rarely give any player a third contract. If you do extend one of your own they’d better be pretty special and hard to replace. There are few players you give a third contract to other than a Hall Of Fame Quarterback. In the Patriots case, only, if it’s a Hall Of Fame Quarterback.
There has been a great deal of consternation regarding the retention of their own free agents. Both fans and media seem to think the Bears must do whatever they must to work the cap and sink that money in paying Bryce Callahan, Adrian Amos and even Bobbie Massie.
All three had solid seasons and in Callahan’s case a Pro Bowl quality type of season before getting hurt and not being able to finish the last quarter of the season and being a non participant in the playoffs. It’s the getting hurt part that makes him expendable the most. Even if not, it’s not standard procedure to pay nickle corners premium money with long term guarantees.
This is where the Bears need to rely on their development. You let Callahan walk. You let Amos walk. You let Massie walk. Not only do you get the benefit of freed up cap space but those players may just turn into compensatory picks. Sure, these are good players, and there’s something to be said for continuity, but that is where development comes into play.
For example, you let Callahan walk and you than replace him with Kevin Tolliver a young payer you found in college free agency and had on the active roster gaining valuable experience and even logging snaps in the post season. He should be ready to go and seasoned enough to handle the role.
Tolliver doesn’t exactly fit the nickle profile being a bigger corner with length and projecting more as a boundery corner on the outside. So, perhaps you insert Jonathan Mincy who had professional experience in the CFL, fits the physical profile of a nickel corner and had been with the team and should be familiar with the system. Perhaps even a payer like Richard Fant a college free agent out of Indiana who the Bears stashed on IR and totally fits the profiles as smaller quicker player who played tough physical ball in the Big Ten. You than draft a player &/or sign one in college or veteran free agency and groom them to replace your replacements.
Finishing my thought on the current Bears free agents you find inside options on all your players and than refurbish your reserves to develop to replace your replacements and continue the process. Massie gets replaced with Rashaad Coward and Amos with Deon Bush. Two players with system familiarity and on cheap controllable contracts.
There are a lot of fans out there hoping the Bears sign Landon Collins to replace Amos which in my opinion is counter productive. Why would you sign a more expensive option who isn’t all that much better of a player? Most will point to the stats and say Collins has more picks, 8 to Amos’ 3, and more sacks 4 to 2, but most of those came in one season where he pilled up 4 sacks and 5 interceptions in 2016. He’s also a bigger focal point in the Giants scheme to what Amos is asked to do with the Bears. If you bring in Collins to play Amos’ role will you still get over 100 tackles and multiple picks and sacks on a team stacked with defensive pro bowlers and all pros? I tend to think likely not.
I’d also extend the bloodletting to two even more popular players in Chase Daniels and yes, Kyle Long. In Daniels, you stand to lose 6 million in cap space for a backup Quarterback. Given the result of the Giants game this past season not all that special of one. Cutting him saves you 3 million on the cap. A very easy decision to make in my opinion. You than sign Tyler Bray as your backup Quarterback who you can get for significantly less and knows the system. You no longer need Daniels as a mentor to Mitch Trubisky as he’ll be in year two of the system and surrounded by plenty of mentors.
Ah, now to address the blasphemy I uttered suggesting the cutting of Kyle Long. Long has been an amazing player and team leader and is definitely one of the faces of the franchise but he is a Right Guard. A position that is arguably one of the easiest to replace in football. He also saves you a whopping 5.5 million in cap space if cut. He’s also an aging player with a ton of injuries and surgeries who will likely be placed on injured reserve at some point in the season going by his recent history. More a question of how long and when it happens than if. This to me is an easy business decision to make.
In my opinion the Bears won’t make this decision as they value the family atmosphere in the locker room and what family kicks out one of their most valued senior members? However, it’s decisions like these that a team like the Patriots wouldn’t even blink an eye at. They let their pro bowl and former first round pick Left Tackle Nate Solder who protected their most valued assett Tom Brady‘s blind side and confidently replace him with the massive Trent Brown. Meanwhile they haven’t missed a beat while paying Brown just 1.9 million while Solder received 10 million this season from the Giants.
It’s decisions like these that keep the Patriots ahead of the curve. They replace starters with players they develop regardless of status. They’ve replaced top of the line premium players such as Chandler Jones, Brandin Cooks and Malcolm Butler. They replace Solder with Brown, Jones with Trey Flowers, Cooks with Phillip Dorsett and Butler with Jason McCourtey and in essence save roughly around 38.5 million in cap space this season alone and even more significant savings long term projecting ahead.
This allows them to sign and keep stud players like Stephen Gilmore, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Dont’a Hightower not to mention the face of the franchise and perhaps the NFL Tom Brady. This concept is not exclusive to the Patriots or even new. Probably the most associated team to this concept being the Oakland A’s with their now famous money ball way of doing business. However, the Patriots do it better than anyone else and in a sport that makes it more difficult to do so than a sport like baseball with a cap rather than a luxury tax.
Aside from the logistics of the business such as talent acquisition, development and cap navigation the Patriots do it with adaptability. That should not be discounted. I would like to declare I am a Matt Nagy fan. I was actually declaring him as a legit candidate for the Bears job before he even took over as play caller for Andy Reid in Kansas City. I was also in Ryan Pace‘s corner when many wanted him on the first train out along with John Fox.
That being the case, I do have concerns over their ability to sustain their success over the long haul without having to do a rebuild from the ground up once their initial window of opportunity has passed. The reason being they may be too system reliant. The thing that triggers me to my concern is the way Jordan Howard has been used or not used.
While I agree it would be nice to have a back like Kareem Hunt you still should be able to adapt to your players strengths. For the most part I feel they have so perhaps my concern is overstated. Also, if the Bears have the same run as Andy Reid has had, they will be contenders for a sustained period. However, no Championships. That, is not the blueprint the Bears should desire to follow. Let’s stick with the one in beantown shall we?