FOXBORO, Mass. — Despite a Super Bowl championship drought that is approaching six seasons, New England is still a destination spot for veteran free agents whose main goal is to win.
Obviously, the Patriots are eight full decades short of creating some Red Sox-esque hysteria, but they've fallen back to the pack since earlier in the decade, when they established themselves as the model franchise in professional sports.
Yet wide receiver Torry Holt, tight end Alge Crumpler and defensive linemen Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren have all said it was a one-team race this offseason.
"It?s really not hard to make the decision to sign here," said Lewis. "The program has been very successful. To have [Patriots head coach] Bill [Belichick] call and want you to come into his program, it?s an honor. [Belichick] is a guy who pays attention to detail. You can tell that through his players. They do the little things right. I really appreciate that at this time in my career, and I think it gives me an opportunity to actually play for a Super Bowl."
Holt (Jaguars), Crumpler (Titans), Lewis (Panthers) and Warren (Raiders) are coming from four teams that all missed the playoffs last season, and outside of Tennessee's late-season turnaround, the four of them achieved very little team success. Their four teams were a combined 28-36 last season, with a winning percentage of .438.
Crumpler said the Patriots have always been a team he's been interested in joining, and that?s why they won out in a tough decision to leave Tennessee, which is another sturdy franchise with an excellent head coach in Jeff Fisher.
"The perception around the league has always been that it's a winning organization, and Coach Belichick demands a lot from his players," Crumpler said. "That?s nothing more than what I've accepted, the expectations I've put on myself my whole career."
Holt's interest was multifaceted. He loved the organization, but the 11-year veteran knows he'll have an opportunity to spark his career while catching passes from Tom Brady. The chance to line up in the same offense as Randy Moss and Wes Welker will only add to those chances, and Holt is hoping Brady can bring him to his second Super Bowl title — nine years after Brady stole one away.
"[New England's offensive system] is receiver-friendly, which is good," Holt said. "If you're a receiver and you want to catch some balls, this is a great place to come — a lot of creativity in the offense, a lot of different concepts.
"It's detail this, detail that. That?s what separates good passing teams. That?s what separates good football teams, is who pays close attention to the details. That?s something they really stress here, so it's right up my alley."
The Patriots have basically been the AFC East favorites since every year since 2002, but — for whatever it's worth — that perch has taken a hit over the last five months. New England was blown out in the playoffs, and the Jets and Dolphins each added some big-name players in the offseason. (Whether those acquisitions will be beneficial or not is another story for another day.)
So while the outside world is quick to anoint the Jets as the 2010 AFC East favorites, the guys who do their work between the lines on Sundays still look at New England as a prime landing spot. Warren summed it up with one sentence.
"Once New England showed interest," Warren said, "it was pretty much a deal."