New England follows typical slow free agency course
Posted: Thursday March 16, 2006 3:10PM; Updated: Thursday March 16, 2006 3:22PM
The Patriots let Willie McGinest go after 12 years of service in New England.
Willie McGinest, gone. David Givens, gone. Christian Fauria, Matt Chatham and Andre Davis, gone, gone, gone. Adam Vinatieri? Going, going, almost gone.
What in the name of Tully Banta-Cain are the New England Patriots doing in free agency?
Pretty much what they always do, to no great surprise. Sticking to their plan amidst all the hand-wringing by fans and the media. Refusing to break their carefully crafted business model and overpay. Keeping emotion and nostalgia for past successes in check and out of the decision-making process.
Hey, one of these days that formula isn't going to work like it has in the past. Eventually New England's free-agent losses are going to turn into regular-season losses, and not even savvy mid-level signings, shrewd trades and consistently strong drafts are going to be enough to offset all the defections on both the personnel and coaching fronts. It's the law of the NFL jungle.
But until it does, it's hard to quibble with the results, no? Nobody ever said the Patriot Way didn't require a healthy dose of patience and perspective, especially when there's a gaudy $20 million to spend under the salary cap and New England has yet to make a free-agent addition to counterbalance its subtractions.
These are indeed tough times for New England fans to remain true believers. Chanting the mantra of "In Belichick we trust'' takes you only so far in mid-March, when the only news seems to be bad news and the goings completely outnumber the comings.
After all, McGinest was the first player ever drafted by the Patriots (No. 4 overall in 1994) after Bob Kraft bought the team and started the process of turning around the franchise's sagging fortunes. McGinest was beloved by the fans, an ideal teammate and locker-room leader, and his signing with Cleveland on Wednesday marks the end of an era in New England.
But all of that history didn't make the Patriots go wobbly in the knees when the building-an-identity Browns -- led by head coach Romeo Crennel, the former New England defensive coordinator -- offered the 12-year veteran a three-year deal worth $12 million, which includes $6 million of guaranteed money and $8 million in the first two years.
McGinest will turn 35 in December. Paying him as if he were 29 and still in his prime would have been a risk in New England's estimation. And the Patriots simply don't take those kind of risks. Never have. Probably never will. So, with regret, they bid the highly respected McGinest adieu, believing they've made the right choice, if not the convenient one.