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Grading the Patriots' offseason so far

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  March 18, 2014 12:38 PM

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The first rule of grading the Patriots' offseason is that you don't grade the Patriots' offseason, at least not on March 18.

There are still moves to be made in free-agency, and not just for back-of-the-roster fodder. There are potential bargains to be found. Last year, for instance, Tommy Kelly was signed on April 8.

There's also still the matter of the draft, where the Patriots have found such promising players as Chandler Jones, Donta' Hightower, Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan, Aaron Dobson and Alfonzo Dennard over the past two seasons.

Voids remain on the roster -- who will take over for Brandon Spikes and fellow departed backup Dane Fletcher on the linebacker depth chart? And there are voids that could be created soon -- will Vince Wilfork's apparent request to be released be granted?

There's much left to happen and much left to be done. An honest, accurate grade at this point would be a word particularly familiar to Jets fans: incomplete.

Right. It's still early. And you know what? Gonna grade 'em anyway.

Not so much for the sake of putting a hard-and-fast rating on the moves, but as a device to come at what they've done over the past week from a different angle. It's another excuse to talk about a pretty thrilling week of roster-building, starting with this guy, aka Ty Law evolved:

Darrelle Revis
One year, $12 million
You tell me what's not to like. OK, maybe one thing: that he's not signed for, say, three years rather than one. (That second-year, $20-million option essentially is merely a way to prevent the Patriots from franchising him.) Otherwise, this is the Patriots' best transaction since ... I don't know, drafting Rob Gronkowski in the second round? Acquiring Aqib Talib for a fourth-round pick? Stealing Randy Moss from the Raiders? Revis graded out as Pro Football Focus's top cornerback last year despite playing a zone-coverage system that de-emphasized his strengths. He thrived when his own doofus coach stacked the deck against his best player. He's a game-changing playmaker, the rare defender whose mere presence makes the other 10 teammates on the field better. Circumstantial bonus: it made fools of those whining after one day of free agency that the Patriots weren't doing anything substantial. Wrong. Embarrassingly so. Grade: A+

Brandon LaFell
Three years, $9 million
I don't think it's out of the question that he's more productive next season than his aging fellow ex-Panthers receiver Steve Smith, who joined up with the Ravens. He has had three straight seasons of between 600 and 700 yards, with a career-high five touchdowns last year. I also don't think it's out of the question that he becomes an afterthought for the Patriots, especially if Aaron Dobson is healthy. The notion that he could flop in Foxborough because the last Panthers receiver they signed in free agency, Donald Hayes, was the standard-bearer of free-agent receiver flops until Joey Galloway got here, is a silly one; that's like suggesting the Red Sox should have no interest in Wil Myers because Carl Crawford didn't work out. But LaFell does have a reputation for playing smaller than his size. He's worth a shot, especially with just $3 million guaranteed, but asking for bigger things than he produced in Carolina might be too steep of a request. Grade: C+

Julian Edelman
Four years, $17 million
He's a little bit redundant with Danny Amendola (who basically is on the can't-cut list because of the structure of his contract), and I do wonder whether his all-out style of play will make his healthy '13 season the aberration. But he's a versatile, productive player who has the trust of the quarterback, and at $8 million guaranteed, he returns at a reasonable rate. It's a plus to have him back. By the way, another myth busted: Just because the Patriots let a player get to free agency doesn't mean the door in Foxborough isn't still ajar. Grade: B+

brownderfinn318.JPGBrandon Browner
Three years, $17 million, heavily based on playing-time incentives
While acknowledging that there's legitimate bust potential with Browner, a CFL refugee who has been popped for PEDs and who was surrounded by elite talent in Seattle, I can also say this: I was almost as geeked up about this signing as I was the Revis deal. At the least, Browner is a ferocious hitter, giving the Patriots a dimension and attitude that they have missed since Rodney Harrison was stalking the defensive backfield and accumulating fines. Further, I like what the Browner signing signifies in terms of Patriots philosophy, something Grantland's Bill Barnwell elaborated upon in a recent column even as he was skeptical of what the ex-Seahawk might provide:

The moves made by the Patriots after the Darrelle Revis signing were seen as a response to Denver's aggressive free-agency period, in what's amounted to an arms race between the teams. I don't think it quite reads that way. What the Patriots are doing is in response to the Broncos, all right, but it's not to emulate them; it's to emulate the Seahawks. Seattle stopped Denver with big, talented cornerbacks who were able to disrupt its wideouts and force things underneath, and Seattle took advantage of Denver's lack of depth by employing a passing game that went four-deep at receiver. The Patriots made efforts to improve in both spots this weekend.

They sure did. Which reminds me of one last thing:

No, I don't call it loading up. I call it having a hell of a week in the long process of building a team. What they've done so far more than makes the grade. (I give the Browner move a solid B by the way.) I can't wait to see what's ahead on the rest of Belichick's offseason syllabus.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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