The New England Patriots' decade-and-a-half of dominance was not built with over-priced free agents, yet every offseason the collective followers of the team seem to forget this simple fact.
Despite handing out plenty of top end deals over that time, usually to their own players who are just hitting the primes of their careers, the Pats are often labelled as "cheap." That was once again the case last week when Darrelle Revis signed a monster contract with the New York Jets. For many Patriots fans, no price was too high for the shutdown corner Revis.
There was certainly an argument to be made for Revis' value, but at that price it was unrealistic to expect the Patriots to ignore the methodology that has kept them in the thick of the Super Bowl hunt since the turn of the century. Sure, it's hard when the Pats' AFC East rivals are each making huge, splashy signings, but the Patriots know how to stay the course.
Now that most of the overpriced and over-30 big names are off the market, the Patriots are starting to strike their sweet spot - the undervalued veterans with something to prove, along with a smattering of special teams performers and depth players.
While names like Kevin Dorsey, Brandon Gibson, Jonathan Freeny and Chimdi Chekwa won't get many people excited, it's important to remember Rob Ninkovich was once a similar unknown castoff long snapper. These kind of low-risk unknowns are where the Patriots find their value.
But it hasn't been all unknowns.
The first big signing came in the form of Jabaal Sheard, a defensive end from Cleveland who had gotten lost in the shuffle due to multiple coaching changes. Sheard has been a perfect Pariots fit since he entered the league, and was a popular mock draft pick for the team in 2012.
Sheard instantly adds a third edge presence, joining Chandler Jones and Ninkovich, for what should be a solid rotation. The Patriots have run Ninkovich and Jones into the ground the last two seasons, with Ninkovich playing more snaps than any other defensive end in the NFL in 2014. Sheard can help them ease back a bit on Ninkovich's and Jones' snaps and potentially make them more effective.
Sheard's 23 sacks in his first four seasons point to a needed skill set in New England, but it's his run defense that might make him the best fit of all. He's a physical and versatile addition who should make a big impact.
The next notable signing was tight end Scott Chandler, who had 28 catches, 384 yards and four touchdowns in eight career games against New England while with Buffalo. If there's another tried-and-true methodology for Bill Belichick, it's signing players who have hurt the Patriots in the past. Wes Welker was one of the greatest examples of that.
At 6'7", 270 pounds, Chandler will form a monstrous combination with Rob Gronkowski, one that should be especially difficult to defend in the red zone. Chandler will also allow the Patriots to be even more creative with how they use Gronkowski.
The Pats latest signing, Travaris Cadet, is another typical move by them. Cadet, a promising receiving back, was not tendered by cap-strapped New Orleans this offseason. New England jumped on him, making him the current favorite to replace Shane Vereen in the vital receiving back role in their offense.
With holes remaining at guard and cornerback, the Patriots are not done in free agency yet, but they'll continue to build their team the same way that has brought continued success, with low risk, mid-range free agents on manageable contracts and maximizing draft value to mitigate risk with as many picks as possible.
The Pats' unprecedented run of success during the salary cap era should be all the proof we need that this philosophy works, but that will never stop those who prefer to see big splashes in free agency with risky contracts on players whose best days are close to behind them.