Callahan: Are the Patriots following Bill Belichick’s playbook in free agency?

Until Monday night time, the Patriots’ roster remained largely unchanged.

Ex-Commanders operating again Antonio Gibson agreed to phrases. Cool.

DeVante Parker and Chris Board have been informed to pack their baggage. Not shocking.

Then Mack Wilson seemed round and left, drawn to the desert in Arizona. That raised an eyebrow.

But you need an actual shock?

The Patriots’ entrance workplace, now underneath new management and following a distinct scouting system, executed the identical previous playbook on Day 1 of free company.

That’s proper. Bill Belichick’s value-over-everything playbook. How else may you learn the Pats’ opening salvo Monday?

Now, for these inclined to present in to talk-radio hysterics, take a breath. De facto GM/director of scouting Eliot Wolf secured the staff’s most necessary free agent, inking proper guard/deal with Mike Onwenu to a three-year deal after nightfall. That was a significant piece of enterprise for a staff in determined want of offensive line assist, adopted by the return of quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

More on Onwenu and Brissett later.

Historically, Belichick sat out the primary few hours – or typically first day – of NFL free company. Why? It’s a suckers lounge, a time when all exercise is mistaken for achievement. The Patriots realized this first-hand throughout his ultimate years.

The Pats have been lounge guests in 2021, strutting round, lit stogie in hand and tossing cash round as a result of they believed they’d out-smarted the league by out-bidding all rivals in a depressed market attributable to a decrease wage cap.

Among different exterior signings, right here’s how Day 1 went for them that yr:

6 issues to look at in Patriots free company

Jonnu Smith: 4 years for $50 million.

Jalen Mills: 4 years for $24 million.

Nelson Agholor: two years for $22 million, nonetheless the richest receiver contract in franchise historical past on a median annual foundation.

Yikes. Fast-forward.

My sense is Wolf’s entrance workplace deliberate to take swings at a couple of of the most effective free brokers, then enable the general market to return to them. Basically, step to the plate searching fastball. If they related, the Patriots would at worst have a double, or perhaps a house run. If not, they’d cling within the field and work the rely on the lookout for worth.

Ex-Dolphins defensive deal with Christian Wilkins was one such whiff. He signed with Las Vegas for $110 million, together with $84.5 million assured. To me, that is a fairly penny for a 28-year-old who simply peaked in a contract yr with 9 sacks, double his earlier season excessive. It appears the Patriots agreed.

Onwenu, then again, was a house run. He was universally seen as a top-tier free agent, somebody the Patriots already know and belief as a system and locker-room match. He’s highly effective, versatile, sensible and on the cusp of his prime. Onwenu is the precise kind of participant groups wish to add or retain in free company.

Patriots free company tracker and grades: Every signing, rumor and breaking information

Of course, different pitches have but to cross residence plate, and these could possibly be simply as crucial. Among them: huge receivers Calvin Ridley and Marquise Brown, offensive linemen Tyron Smith and Jonah Williams and edge rusher Danielle Hunter and security Justin Simmons.

The Patriots perceive they need to pay prime greenback for prime expertise. Ridley is excessive on their free-agent board, based on Herald sources. But if they do not join on Ridley or one other difference-maker, free company will likely be an unequivocal failure for a staff that boasted the second-most cap house within the league.

A failure. Full cease.

That urgency, nevertheless, could also be misplaced on the Patriots throughout negotiations with lower-level gamers. Agents for a few of these gamers not too long ago vented to the Herald that Wolf’s entrance workplace has been enjoying hardball, extra proof of working the rely as Belichick typically did.

(Sidebar: brokers, particularly these in tough negotiations, wish to complain. This is each needed context, and a small glimpse into the Patriots’ work behind the scenes.)

Wilson might have been a casualty of this hardball method. The two sides have been in negotiations in the course of the mix, when Patriots staffers believed they have been near re-signing the 25-year-old linebacker. Wilson performed his finest soccer down the stretch of final season (3.5 sacks, two pressured fumbles), and matches the “faster and more explosive” imaginative and prescient Wolf holds for the Patriots protection subsequent season.

Foxboro, MA – New England Patriots linebacker Mack Wilson Sr. reacts after sacking Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the course of the fourth quarter of the sport at Gillette Stadium. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald)

Instead, Wilson left for a three-year, $12.75 million take care of the Cardinals, and the Pats are immediately all the way down to Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Raekwon McMillan and Joe Giles-Harris at off-ball linebacker. And nobody would confuse that group for soccer’s model of the Fast and the Furious.

It’s doable the Patriots let Wilson stroll believing 2023 third-round linebacker/security Marte Mapu can capably fill his footwear subsequent season. Last yr, the rangy Mapu seemed much more snug roaming the second degree than patrolling the deep center or deep half as a standard security. Maybe that projection is honest.

So far, the Patriots have hit on most of their offseason forecasts. They nailed Kendrick Bourne’s market, hanging a deal late Sunday night time to maintain him at $6.5 million yearly on what mainly quantities to a two-year deal for the 28-year-old receiver. They saved security Kyle Dugger at a fair-market value, making use of the transition tag at $13.8 million; a guess no staff would come excessive and Dugger will in the end signal the one-year pact in a security market now flooded with veterans who will suppress one another’s value tags.

The Pats traded Mac Jones to Jacksonville for a sixth-round decide earlier than free company opened, realizing quarterback-needy groups would quickly decide as a substitute for Gardner Minshew or different backups and finish talks. Meanwhile, the slow-moving Bears are watching their commerce companions for Justin Fields dwindle, with Kirk Cousins off to Atlanta and Russell Wilson signing in Pittsburgh.