Monday, January 12, 2015

Patriots Onfield Success Tied To Business Philosophy, Deft Personnel Management

"...the only thing that matters is that Kraft's business savvy combined with Belichick's continued coaching excellence and commitment to both Kraft's business philosophy and Fairbanks' "old school" football strategies maintain the successful mantra known universally as The Patriot Way...

...a model for protracted success in the era of free agency and burgeoning salary cap rules, a system of which the Patriots use to their advantage when other teams are handcuffed by it - utilizing free agency to win the ever-evolving battle of attrition and the rules for the cap to devise a sort of rotating turnover that keeps the franchise both loaded with talent and on the path to financial solvency."
Foxborough Free Press, July 14, 2014

No matter who won the AFC Divisional round matchup between the Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts in Denver on Sunday afternoon, the New England Patriots were guaranteed to host a team in next Sunday's Conference Championship game that they had already beaten handily during the regular season.

That said, did it really matter who won the game?

Not to the Patriots, who were undoubtedly busy scouting and devising the genesis for a game plan for either, but now that the Colts have finished off a Broncos' team whose demise was set in motion midway through the 2014 season, the two best teams in the American Football Conference will now square off on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium for the right to represent the AFC in February's Super Bowl.

Playing in the Conference title match is old hat to both teams, as they have been part of a group of predominant elite franchises in professional football since the turn of the century, along with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens - all of whom have been more consistent than any team in the National Football Conference in that period of time - but the paths of each team has had vicious twists that left them broken down on the side of the road...

...all except for the Patriots, who are headed to their ninth Conference Championship since the start of the new Millennium.

When taking a moment to absorb the numbers, they are consistently staggering: Nine AFC title game appearances in 14 seasons, a run of success matched only in the history of professional football by the San Francisco 49ers of the mid-80's through the late 90's, whose three consecutive conference title game appearances from 1989-1991 falls short of the four that the Philadelphia Eagles played in from 2001-2004 and, of course, the fourth consecutive appearance that New England is set to host.

Many of the plaudits for the success of the franchise has been laid at the feet of coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, who are the lone on-field constants for the franchise in that time period, but it is equally the result of Bob Kraft's business philosophy, of which head ball coach and defacto General manager Belichick strictly adheres to.

The Patriots are indeed the model franchise of the NFL.  Their on-field record speaks for itself, despite the hate and asterisks generated by fans and - in some cases the coaches - of other teams, and while things like "Spygate" are always going to have a place in the NFL's lexicon when it comes to New England, the front office has been above reproach, both in it's dealings with the league and in it's business philosophy.

Unlike many contenders, the Patriots have refused to "load up" on high-priced talent in order to win now, despite the exorbanent contract given to corner Darrelle Revis this past offseason - instead, they tirelessly scout players to find that right combination of toughness and versatility that has become the hallmark of the franchise - though many have labeled the fiscally conservative Patriots as cheap penny pinchers...

...and while nothing could be farther from the truth - the Patriots routinely spend to their cap with a small buffer to play with during the season - their insistence on not going top heavy on an abundance of over-the-top contracts has drawn considerable lamentations from their fan base, as they skip over most high-priced, big-name free agents in favor of solid niche players, and the results speak volumes.

"There's nothing more important to me personally than winning as many championships as we can while the good lord lets me be on this planet." Kraft said during the Larry Fitzgerald rumor-fest last offseason. "You can gear up (load up), but I think a better strategy is to try and be solid and compete year in and year out - we want to be in the running and do whatever we can to be the best that we can be."

How's that working out for Kraft? In the 20 years that he's owned the franchise, this will be the 10th Conference Championship game, and a win on Sunday will send him to his seventh Super Bowl - and to do that, a team must first win their division or otherwise qualify for the playoffs, which the team has accomplished 14 times in his tenure...

...while it was obviously a solid business decision to hire Belichick as the head man, as 12 of those division titles, nine of those conference championship game appearances and, thus far, five Super Bowls and three World Championships have come during his reign.

Obviously, his philosophy is a recipe for success.

The Patriots are in the midst of their annual pilgrimage through the post-season with a team constructed on the foundation of Kraft's business sense and Belichick's unrivaled maintenance of a 53-man NFL roster, but those who have been fans long enough know that the silly season  of free agency is forthcoming, a time in which we are bound to see reports of players rumored to be "perfect fits" for the franchise.

But there most likely will not be a Larry Fitzgerald, nor an Andre Johnson, nor even a Ndomukong Suh headed to Foxborough, despite the pleas of fans, fueled by idle speculation from bored and unimaginative beat writers, because to do so would disrupt the delicate pay structure in place that keeps the model franchise of the NFL stable and competitive...

...because as Belichick has been fond of saying, you can't win a title if you don't first make the tournament - and since the Patriots have done that more consistently than any other team in the modern NFL, the old adage of "if it ain't broken, don't fix it" should ruminate through the brains of those who pine for the big-name, big-money players...

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