Deatrich Wise wanted to experience free agency this offseason. After spending his first four NFL seasons with the New England Patriots, he wanted to properly evaluate his options.
Wise did that this past March, fielding pitches from teams interested in the first-time free agent. But ultimately, he decided his best move would be no move at all.
On March 15, the Patriots re-signed the 26-year-old defensive end to a four-year, $22 million contract that included $10 million guaranteed, keeping him in New England for the foreseeable future.
Wise spoke with reporters over video chat Thursday for the first time since his foray into free agency. He was asked why he opted to re-up with the team that drafted him in the fourth round in 2017.
“The free agent market was kind of cool,” said Wise, who used his new deal to pay off a house he’d bought for his parents. “Just hearing what people had to say, what their pros and cons were, what they saw me as … just hearing that, that was interesting. And then one of the things that brought me back here was I just loved the atmosphere here, the culture here that Bill Belichick and (Robert) Kraft and all the coaches and players have created. I feel like this place is second to none when it comes to the mindset and culture of success.”
He added: “During the whole process, I ended up figuring out this was going to be the best place to come back to. I wanted to come back, and I’m happy I did.”
Wise was one of several prominent Patriots free agents to stick around. Quarterback Cam Newton, running back James White, center David Andrews and fellow defensive lineman Lawrence Guy also signed new deals with New England.
Joining those holdovers was a squadron of external signees, including a half-dozen front-seven defenders (outside linebackers Matt Judon and Kyle Van Noy; defensive tackles Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson and Montravius Adams; inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan). Tight end Hunter Henry, Wise’s former college teammate at Arkansas, also came aboard as part of the Patriots’ record spending spree.
Wise said he was “really excited” to see New England’s list of free agent pickups but stressed the need for top-to-bottom consistency.
“I feel like the only thing we need to do is continue to do what we always have done, and that’s our job,” Wise said. “No one coming here is going to be a one-man show. It takes 11 guys to make a defense, and if everybody does their one-eleventh, then that’s all we can ask for, and we can keep improving day to day, week to week and month to month.”
Improvement will be expected this season after the Patriots stumbled to a 7-9 record in 2020, their worst since 2000. Patriots players have used words like “unacceptable” and “embarrassing” to describe their third-place finish in the AFC East. Team owner Robert Kraft called it “horrible.”
Wise viewed the discouraging campaign differently.
“In life — which is on the field and off the field — we all come across things that we count as success, we count as wins, and we also come across things that we count as losses or defeats,” he said. “But in my opinion, going on now, five years (in the NFL), I have learned that wins are wins. You learn from them — ugly or pretty, whatever it is, it’s a win. So we always are thankful and grateful for wins. When we do encounter losses, ails or defeats, one shouldn’t take it as losses or defeats. They should take it more as a lesson.”
What, then, was the lesson from 2020?
“We just have to continue to embrace the journey and believe in the process, in a sense,” explained Wise, who played in a Super Bowl his rookie season and won one the following year. “Nothing comes easily or because we’re wearing Patriots uniforms, and nothing is harder than anyone else beside you. Like my father always said, you’re fighting the fight that other men have already fought. So we kind of learn from the things around us, learn from each game.
“In my opinion, each game is a different lesson. Each play’s a different lesson. Each year’s a different lesson. … Let’s just say we learned from (last season), and we know how to approach the situation now.”
Clearly unhappy with last year’s result, Belichick and Kraft have spent the last two months revamping New England’s roster, overhauling a front seven that struggled to stop the run and pressure opposing passers and infusing sorely needed talent into the wide receiver and tight end rooms.
Two-and-a-half weeks into the Patriots’ offseason program, Wise sees a group of motivated players aiming to contend this season.
“The guys in the locker room are hungry,” Wise said. “Whether they’re rookies, whether they didn’t play last year, whether they were on a different team, everybody’s coming here for one goal, and that’s to win. That’s what I really appreciate about all the guys coming back — we all want to win. And if we’re not winning, we’re learning.
“Last year was a big learning process. We learned from it. Now, the main mindset is to win.”