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Should teams copy the Patriots’ offseason strategy moving forward?

Could we be a looking at a league-wide shift?

NFL: Super Bowl LI Champions-New England Patriots Parade Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

One of the great cliches that you’ll often hear regarding the NFL is that it is a copycat league. While old sayings that are constantly rehashed can get annoying (such as “run the ball, stop the run”), there is often at least some validity in each of them that can allow for the justification of people consistently repeating them over time. The copycat league sentiment is one that is usually pretty true, and with the New England Patriots having one of the more unconventional but also impressive off seasons in recent memory, it is fair to wonder whether for-player trades and other such transactions will become the focus for teams instead of the draft.

Sure, it might not be a stretch to say that teams around the league will always be willing to work off of the blueprint of the most successful franchise since 2000. However, what Bill Belichick and New England decided to do these past few months completely eschews almost everything you hear from those who believe themselves to be versed in the front office 101 curriculum. That is a lesson plan that is very much entrenched in building a roster up through the NFL draft in order to acquire young and cheap talent that will give contributions to your franchise, and then ultimately earn a second contract or result in a compensatory selection down the road.

Belichick, inarguably the NFL’s number one thought leader, threw that to the wind by giving up almost all of his draft choices in order to get a hold of proven NFL talent. It started with former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks, for whom the Patriots parted ways with the 32nd overall pick. After that, they traded a fourth round pick for Colts tight end Dwayne Allen, acquiring a sixth round pick in the process. They also traded their second round pick to Carolina for defensive end Kony Early, signed restricted free agent Buffalo Bills running back Mike Gillislee, as well as former Cincinnati Bengals ball carrier Rex Burkhead and former Ravens defensive lineman Lawrence Guy.

Their prized free agent pickup (something they don’t often go for) was another Bill, defensive back Stephon Gilmore, who was brought in to possibly replace contract rebel Malcolm Butler. In the most Patriots twist ever, Butler remained with the franchise, giving them two potential number one cornerbacks to work with. All told, their free agency/trading landed them two running backs who can contribute right away, two potential starters on the defensive line, a starting caliber tight end (to backup the best tight end on planet Earth), a number one wide receiver to bolster an already very strong corps, and another talented cornerback to round out their fairly complete secondary.

In terms of what they did in the draft, four selections were made that pretty much fit the mold in what they look for in a rookie. Defensive end Derek Rivers was lauded as a good pick in the third, as well as offensive tackle Antonio Garcia at pick 85 in the same round. They also went on to take another defensive end (Deatrich Wise in the fourth) as well as another offensive tackle (Connor McDermott in the sixth). Nothing especially sexy, but a very Belichick draft, and a fine one considering all of their other pickups prior to it.

So what does all of this say about what Bill Belichick thinks of the league right now, and what does it say about what teams should prioritize? For Belichick, he seems to have a singular focus on just acquiring good players, rather than maximizing value. It makes sense. At the end of the day, a 53 man roster isn’t about looking at how you got all of the players, but rather, the players that you have.

So should other teams try to adopt this strategy of forgetting value and just trying to field the strongest team? In theory yes, but it doesn’t work like that for everyone. For example, one concern would be salary cap space. A lot of teams are tight up against the cap, and as a result would likely have to choose between a Burkhead and a Gillislee in this situation.

Not the Patriots though, as they have (almost inexplicably) the 11th most cap space right now with 20 million dollars sitting in the black, and this is after all of their recent maneuvering. Teams like the Rams, Eagles, Ravens, and Chargers (the bottom four on the list) couldn’t adopt the Pats strategy at this point in time even if they wanted to. However, there is a clear validity to what they are doing on paper, and if the results bear out on the field, we may be looking at a different NFL in just a few years.

Another issue is job security, and Belichick rightfully has the most of it at this point in time as anyone in the history of the sport. Having Tom Brady as your quarterback is certainly a big help here, but if this does blow up in Belichick’s face (and let’s be honest, that probably means 10 or 11 wins), then he has absolutely no chance of getting the axe from owner Robert Kraft. Up until Jeff Fisher recently got fired, I believed there were only two untouchable figures in the league, and now that he is gone, there is only one: the man in the hoodie.

While the draft remains the prime vehicle for rebuilding a squad, if Belichick’s maneuvers result in another tremendous season (possibly culminating in another Super Bowl as has been speculated), that could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back on yet another league wide paradigm shift. Trades used to happen all the time in the NFL - whether it was player for player, within the division, or otherwise - but the salary cap era made trades much more infrequent. If the Patriots do in fact make good on what looks to be a great offseason, don’t be surprised to see all of that quickly change.