Bill Belichick knows how to get the most out of superstar players near the end of their careers.
Bill Belichick has always been fascinated by special football players. Maybe it's the football historian part of his DNA, or maybe he just loves to coach players he admires, but Belichick is always willing to take a chance on a great player even if his best years are behind him.
The list of these kind of players Belichick has taken a chance on is long.
Junior Seau gave the Patriots nearly four seasons from 2006-09 in his late 30s. Chad Johnson was always a Belichick favorite and got his own chance with the Pats in 2011, though he struggled to pick up the offensive system. Torry Holt had a training camp in New England, as did John Lynch. Bryan Cox, Rodney Harrison, Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Andre Carter and Joey Galloway were others who got a shot late in their career with Belichick with varying degrees of success.
Many were shocked Belichick didn't take a shot on Ed Reed last season, whom Belichick called the greatest free safety in NFL history, but each season there always seems to be at least one former star getting one last chance with the Patriots.
This year it is Reggie Wayne, who signed a one-year deal worth up to $3 million with incentives on Monday.
We immediately heard how Wayne was done. That he was a shell of himself in 2014, and how he wasn't even worthy of Darrelle Revis' time when the Pats whooped the Colts in last year's regular season.
But what that leaves out is how Wayne was in his first season after an ACL tear, traditionally a down year for any player recovering from it, and he also tore his triceps during the season. Wayne said it himself that he played all of 2014 injured.
Does this mean Wayne will come in and be the Hall of Fame-level player he was early in his career? No, and that's not what the Patriots need from him. But it's reasonable to think he'll have a little more jump in his stride and be able to better fend off contact.
Injuries to mid-level wide receivers Aaron Dobson, Brandon Gibson and Brian Tyms are what opened the door for Wayne. With Gibson and Tyms ending up on Injured Reserve, the Pats don't need a top target, but a situational receiver who can come in, run a good route, make the catch and pick up a first down.
Wayne's preparation and smarts are well-chronicled and he might even have something to prove after last year's "down" season where he still had 64 catches for 779 yards. He should be able to play that small role for the Patriots' offense perfectly.
While top targets Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman have been out of training camp, both are expected to be ready for the regular season, along with Danny Amendola who broke out in the middle of 2014 and became an invaluable weapon during the Super Bowl run. The Pats have all their big targets back from last year, that's not what they need Wayne to be.
The Patriots need Wayne to be smart and reliable in key passing situations, not explosive and uncoverable as he once was. Maybe Wayne will flourish in this role for a season, or maybe he really is done, but the Patriots' success or failure this season doesn't depend upon him.