The “Patriot Way” long has been the NFL’s most successful model, but it’s much deeper than simply finding players who make winning their top priority.
Bill Belichick and the rest of New England’s front office have been masters of maneuvering the salary cap, but what makes them so good at it? Former agent Joel Corry, now contributing for CBS Sports, shared how the Patriots play chess, while everyone else plays checkers.
Corry began by highlighting New England’s strategy of shipping off a player one year too early, rather than one year too late. From Lawyer Milloy to Chandler Jones and every player in between, the Patriots seem to do this season after season, and it has proven to be effective each time.
“The Patriot Way was never more evident than in 2016, when the New England won its fifth Super Bowl in franchise history. The Patriots didn’t miss a beat after jettisoning arguably their best two defensive players from the 2015 season. Chandler Jones was shipped to the Cardinals in an offseason trade because New England was never going to pay him the going rate for productive pass rushers, which at the time was in the $16 to $17 million per year neighborhood with over $50 million in guarantees, once his contract expired after the season. Linebacker Jamie Collins turning down an $11 million per year extension during training camp was an impetus for dealing him to the Browns as that season’s trading deadline approached.”
The Patriots also rarely participate in the first big wave of free agency, as Corry notes, which is why their big signing of Stephon Gilmore in 2017 was so surprising. However, we all know how that worked out. If things don’t work in free agency, New England often turns to the trade market.
“A run was made at keeping left tackle Nate Solder in 2018 free agency, but New England wasn’t willing to outbid the Texans or Giants, who ultimately made him the NFL’s highest-paid offensive lineman. The Patriots turned to the trade market to find Solder’s replacement, Trent Brown, who was entering the final year of his rookie contract. He was acquired from the 49ers for what was essentially a mid-fourth round pick during the 2018 NFL draft. Brown turned his one-year stint with New England into a free-agent contract with the Raiders, where he became the league’s highest-paid offensive lineman.
“New England uses the trade market more extensively than most teams. It’s a cost effective way to rebuild the roster, especially when there are major losses in free agency. … In a trade, the acquiring team assumes the remainder of a player’s contract. Any bonus proration in the deal is the responsibility of the original signing team. It doesn’t become a responsibility of the new team. This affords the Patriots optimal roster flexibility because a player can be released without any adverse cap consequences as long as there isn’t any guaranteed money left in the deal.”
The “Patriot Way” knows exactly how to play the modern salary cap.