When the New England Patriots find themselves shallow or weak at a position, head coach Bill Belichick tends to overcompensate by bringing in extra depth the next season.
Saturday’s Antonio Brown signing is the latest illustration of this trend. Nothing went right for the Patriots at wide receiver last season. Eric Decker, Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell, Amara Darboh, Corey Coleman, Bennie Fowler, Jace Billingsley, Riley McCarron, Chad Hansen, Devin Lucien, Paul Turner, Braxton Berrios and more fizzled out. That led the Patriots to trade for Josh Gordon after Week 2 of the regular season. He lasted until Week 15, at which point the Patriots made do with what they had in Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson.
Clearly, things turned out OK. The Patriots won Super Bowl LIII. But Belichick didn’t want to find himself in that position again this season, and the Patriots didn’t bring back Hogan or Patterson as free agents.
So, what did the Patriots do? They drafted N’Keal Harry in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, brought back Gordon and Dorsett and signed Demaryius Thomas, Cameron Meredith, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Dontrelle Inman, Maurice Harris, Bruce Ellington, Ryan Davis and now Antonio Brown. They threw an excessive number of wide receivers at the wall and saw who stuck.
They’re currently carrying seven wide receivers on their 53-man roster. Brown will make eight, plus they have Harry and Meredith on reserve lists, ready to serve as insurance. They’re not going to get caught with their pants down.
They took a similar approach at running back in 2016 after they finished out the 2015 season with Steven Jackson, James White and Brandon Bolden carrying the ball in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots then carried five running backs for most of the season in LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, D.J. Foster, Dion Lewis and James White.
The Patriots similarly got shallow at running back last season when Patterson had to fill in at the position for two games. So, New England re-signed Bolden and drafted Damien Harris to get back to a five-man stable which also includes White, Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead.
Rostering additional running backs and wide receivers forces the Patriots to be a little more shallow at other positions. They have two quarterbacks, eight offensive linemen and just 14 total front-seven defenders.
Most offensive linemen can play at least two positions, so there’s built-in depth there. The Patriots cut backup quarterback Brian Hoyer and considered bringing him back, but it didn’t work out when he signed a big contract with the Indianapolis Colts. Rookie Jarrett Stidham will serve as Brady’s No. 2 this season. Most of the Patriots’ defensive linemen and linebackers have versatility. The Patriots also can adjust their defense to account for a lack of depth in one position.
If carrying additional skill-position players winds up biting the Patriots this season, then expect Belichick to adjust again next season. Just know he won’t make the same mistake twice.
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