It was apparent throughout this offseason that the Patriots made an effort to sign players with strong character. On the heels of a season in which the Patriots publicly acknowledged a lack in leadership, will their emphasis on acquiring good character guys pay off on the field?
In theory, yes, it will. After quarterback Tom Brady, wide receiver Wes Welker and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork publicly called out the team's lack of leadership in 2009, the organization responded by adding quality people to the locker room. It's a sign of good faith that the front office is listening to the locker room, and that in turn helps team morale.
At this point, it's fruitless to determine the tangibility of character in an upcoming season. However, we do know that the 2001 Patriots genuinely enjoyed each other's company, worked hard together every day of the week and greatly overachieved on their way to winning the Super Bowl. That locker room was filled with quality guys who were dedicated to carrying out the message of the coaching staff and pulling their weight in any area necessary. (The same could be said for the Patriots in 2003 and 2004, but those teams were far superior in talent to the 2001 squad.)
After going a fifth consecutive season without a Super Bowl — and two years removed from the roster that went 16-0 in the regular season — it seemed like head coach Bill Belichick wanted to delve into the strategy that originally made him successful in New England. Obviously, the roster turnover in 2010 was a fraction of the overhaul the Patriots experienced a decade ago, but the goal appeared to be the same.
The Patriots added wide receivers David Patten (who was with the team from 2001-04) and Torry Holt, tight end Alge Crumpler and defensive lineman Damione Lewis — each of whom brings an upstanding reputation in the locker room — and they dropped cranky linebacker Adalius Thomas. New England also drafted a number of guys who were deemed as solid leaders in college, such as cornerback Devin McCourty, linebacker Brandon Spikes and wide receiver Taylor Price.
Among the free agents, it's unclear how much each of them will contribute on the field when it comes to wins and losses. Crumpler will likely make the team, but his value comes in blocking, not statistics. Holt and Lewis will have an edge in terms of roster cuts, with Holt projecting as a potential starter and Lewis figuring in during sub packages. And, while Patten is a nice story and has predictably fit in seamlessly with Brady, it would still be surprising if the soon-to-be 36-year-old makes the team.
The Patriots can look back upon 2009, and they'll see a few things really stick out. They blew four double-digit leads, and they held the lead in all six of their regular-season losses. They were 1-6 on the road (not including their "road" victory against the Buccaneers in London). And they got spanked at home in the playoffs. All three of those issues are signs of a team with flawed character, particularly for a team that was good enough to win a fairly tough division.
Therefore, Belichick broke it down and got back to basics for 2010. If that strategy holds and the rededication to leadership is genuine, that can only be a positive next season for the Patriots.
NESN.com will be answering one Patriots question every day until July 24.
Friday, July 2: Can Darius Butler emerge as a talented starter?
Sunday, July 4: How do the Patriots match up against the Dolphins?