Patriots' aggressive offseason rivals '01 as best in Bill Belichick era


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Of the 18 offseasons in which Bill Belichick has been the New England Patriots‘ coach, the moves made by the franchise this year rival its best.

Is 2017 the team’s best offseason ever?

One could make a compelling case that it is. From the acquisition of wide receiver Brandin Cooks, to the free-agent signing of top cornerback Stephon Gilmore, to a number of contract extensions struck with key players such as receiver Julian Edelman and running back James White, Belichick and his staff have attacked the offseason with authority.

Ultimately, what the ’17 Patriots accomplish will help answer the question of whether this is Belichick’s best offseason work, but for now, I slot it in the No. 2 spot.

It is the greatest challenger to the 2001 offseason that we’ve seen yet.

What made ’01 so unique was that its greatness was able to be seen only after the fact. Few looked at a free-agent haul of running back Antowain Smith, guard Mike Compton, receiver David Patten, fullback Marc Edwards, quarterback Damon Huard, cornerback Terrell Buckley and linebackers Mike Vrabel, Bryan Cox, Roman Phifer and Larry Izzo as anything off the charts when those players came aboard.

Then there was top draft pick Richard Seymour, the defensive lineman out of Georgia, who was selected with the No. 6 overall pick. While the Patriots might have viewed Seymour as a slam-dunk pick, the thought wasn’t universally shared among analysts.

But that was a foundation-type haul — the club working the mid-levels of free agency to build quality depth — for a run of three Super Bowl championships in four years.

Maybe, when there is more time to assess, the 2017 offseason will be looked at through a similar lens. Yet even without the benefit of time, it still rivals and arguably exceeds every other year outside of ’01.

The 2007 offseason would be a challenger to consider.

Trades for receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker were executed with the same level of decisiveness and authority that has been seen in 2017. Add in free-agent signings of linebacker Adalius Thomas, running back Sammy Morris, receiver Donte’ Stallworth and tight end Kyle Brady, and it strengthens the grade, although first-round pick Brandon Meriweather, a safety from the University of Miami, never panned out.

The 2003 offseason had big impact with the additions of defensive backs Rodney Harrison and Tyrone Poole, as well as the big-money splash of linebacker Rosevelt Colvin (a hip injury limited his contributions). First-round pick Ty Warren, a defensive lineman from Texas A&M, was solid. That’s a good offseason, but not necessarily great in an all-time sense.

Then there was 2004, which brought running back Corey Dillon in a trade, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork as a first-round pick, and solid but not headline-grabbing free agents in Keith Traylor (defensive tackle) and Josh Miller (punter).

And 10 years later, in 2014, pairing cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner was effective, while receiver Brandon LaFell turned in a solid first year and safety Patrick Chung would turn things around after being signed following a year in Philadelphia to become a key cog.

All good years to bring up in discussion, but in the end, it’s still 2001 vs. 2017 for best offseason in the Belichick era.

That ’01 offseason remains the gold standard.

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