Mark R. Bacon—Main Event Sports DC
The Patriots made their latest power move against the rest of the NFL on Saturday by signing released Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown.
The fact New England flexed so quickly on such a talented, but troubled, player was a surprise to no one inside or outside the league. What is shocking is that no other team has figured out how to operate the way they do.
Those same Raiders used to be the mavericks of the NFL. They took “Just Win, Baby!” to heart, assembling winning teams with attitude, with Al Davis using any means necessary, by taking advantage of other teams’ inability to manage players in the same way. They thought ahead by always thinking about the bottom line. They were old school and new school at the same time.
The Patriots are the ones who think that way now. They are shrewd operators who have a great sense of when to take a risk for a chance at a big reward. Brown’s acquisition is “deja vu all over again”; they channeled how they got former Raiders wide receiver Randy Moss in 2007, a move that set up the then highest-scoring offense in NFL history before the team fell just short of a 19-0 season in Super Bowl 42.
In an era where young, offensive-minded coaches are eschewing playing starters in the preseason and everyone is about throwing it around the park, they have embraced being a consistently effective deep rushing team. They remain a step ahead of everyone else with their versatile personnel usage and scheming, without sacrificing the basics of blocking, tackling and assignment-sound football.
Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock weren’t able to manage Brown in Oakland. The Steelers did their best for a long time while hoping that Brown’s skill set on the field would bring another championship.
Now, with Pittsburgh eating $21 million in cap space and Oakland having failed to swallow its pride, New England, the dynastic reigning Super Bowl champion, seems to be an even greater presence.
There will be speculation about whether this was Brown’s master plan: getting moved by the Steelers and then finagling an exit from the Raiders so he could eventually land with the Patriots. Who cares? What player wouldn’t want to play for the team that gets it right with players and always has a very good chance of winning a championship?
Brown is motivated playing on a one-year deal, and if he smashes it for the Patriots at age 31, he’ll have the last laugh. He’ll get back a good chunk of his lost Raiders money and will have set himself up for one, final big contract.
So many teams fail at pushing the right buttons with players. Bill Belichick has turned it an into art form with the “Do Your Job” mantra. He succeeds because he channels what the best combination coach-personnel men have done in the past. Bill Parcells, Bill Walsh, Jimmy Johnson — they were all great schemers and roster designers, but they also handled loaded rosters with aplomb because they were able to treat their most indispensable players differently.
Belichick has adjusted that philosophy to the modern game, within the parameters of the salary cap. The Patriots believe in their system and believe anyone they target for that system can succeed within it. If not, no sweat. They took the short window of Moss’ best and shut the window early with players such as Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth.
Their faith in Josh Gordon is close to being rewarded much more, and, unlike Gordon, there is no major off-field obstacle to Brown performing at a high level. He’s going to buy in because the Patriots will be patient in letting AB be AB. They know in the end how mutually beneficial the relationship can be.
It’s not an accident that players cast out from other organizations, at all talent levels, find their way back with the Patriots, or that the players they don’t re-sign don’t mind coming back at some point.
There’s a tendency to call the Patriots cold and calculating, but their calmness in adapting to advantageous situations is their true calling card.
They just threw down another ace from their sleeve with Antonio Brown.