Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Bill Belichick, Personnel Arbitrageur

Rich Gosselin writes:

If quarterback alone could deliver a championship, the Miami Dolphins would have six Lombardi Trophies to show for the Dan Marino era. Instead, they have none.

That's what makes Belichick the best in the business right now. Tom Brady takes up only one roster spot. It's what Belichick has done with those other 52 roster spots that have forged the Patriots into the NFL's team of the decade

On Feb. 5, Belichick placed a franchise tag on his backup quarterback Matt Cassel. That ensured the Patriots could keep him on their roster in 2009 at a cost of $14.6 million. Brady was already on the books for $8 million in 2009.

The two quarterbacks combined for almost one-fifth of New England's $125 million salary cap money for 2009. That squeezed the Patriots under the cap. They no longer had any wiggle room.

But Belichick had no intention of keeping Cassel. He understood the value of a starting NFL quarterback and slapped the franchise tag on him to protect the team's investment of time and money in Cassel.

On Feb. 28, Belichick created wiggle room, sending Cassel and aging linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs for a second-round draft pick. That created almost $18 million in salary-cap space and gave Belichick the financial freedom to add 16 veteran players since March 21.

Belichick invested that $18 million in re-signing eight of his own players plus eight free agents. Five of those free agents were NFL starters in 2008: running back Fred Taylor, cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs, wide receiver Joey Galloway and tight end Chris Baker. Belichick also signed deep snapper Nathan Hodel away from the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals.

The Patriots could go to training camp tomorrow with the deepest, most talented roster in the NFL. Belichick would have no glaring holes in his depth chart.

But, wait, it gets better for the Patriots. New England has an NFL runner-up 11 selections in the 2009 draft, including a league-high six premium picks in the first three rounds. The Patriots have the 23rd overall pick of the draft, three second-rounders and two thirds.

On April 1, the Patriots had the best roster in the NFL. By May 1, it will be even better. Champions are crowned in the NFL every February. But championship teams are built in March and April. Right now, no one does it better than Belichick.

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