Miami Dolphins

Blueprint For Success: How the Patriots were built (and what the Dolphins can learn)

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Blueprint for Success: How the Dolphins’ 2019 opponents were built

Our weekly series that examines how the Miami Dolphins’ 2019 opponents built their roster, and what lessons Miami can glean as they build theirs.

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This is the second of a weekly series that examines how Miami’s 2019 opponents built their rosters, and what lessons the Dolphins can glean as they build theirs.

Team: New England Patriots.

Coach: Bill Belichick (20th season).

Director of player personnel: Nick Caserio (12th season).

Team owner: Robert Kraft.

Franchise value: $4.1 billion.

2018 record: 11-5 (first in the AFC East).

Last playoff appearance: 2018 (won the Super Bowl).

Total 2019 payroll: $179.7 million (24th).

Total 2019 AAV: $212 million (fifth).

Salary cap space: $4.9 million (25th).

Dead money: $9.5 million (20th most).

Percentage of home-grown players: Roughly two-thirds.

Overview: The Patriots start with Tom Brady and Belichick — the most successful quarterback-coach combination in NFL history — but they’re so much more than that. They are a team built on value and opportunity, with a philosophical flexibility that matches their on-field versatility. They value draft picks, but not necessary drafted players. They rarely spend at the top of the market, but also pay for veterans in a way many teams won’t. They’re the oldest team in football with one of the league’s biggest payrolls, and yet carry hardly any dead money. They are strict — some might even say rigid — with their assistants and players, but four of their top on-field contributors agreed to return for a second go-round in New England after leaving. In short, they zig when everyone else zags. As longtime Belichick observer and Boston Sports Journal founder Greg Bedard points out, their roster has 23 veterans with cap hits from just more than $1 million to $5 million. That’s nearly unheard of in a league that values the top 1 percent and rookie contracts. They hoard draft picks — with at least nine in three of the last four years — but don’t hesitate to move on, and quickly, when it’s clear those picks are duds. Just 14 of their 32 picks in the past four years are on their roster presently. Their M.O.: Take low-risk players in the first rounds, character or injury concerns in the second and fill out their roster in rounds 3-5. But that’s just a small part of their plan. They swing hard for free agents when they like the pitch, regardless of red flags. They assume they can absorb Antonio Brown because they already did so, successfully, with Randy Moss. Nearly 20 percent of their roster was acquired via trade. And the biggest asset on their roster? Brady and his contract, which, at $23 million this year, ranks just 13th in the NFL.

The lesson: Beyond find a Hall of Fame quarterback and pay him 60 cents on the dollar? Roster flexibility is key. Don’t get locked into top-heavy contracts, and if you do, make them short-term. Also, draft picks are great currency, but don’t wed yourselves to players just because they’re taken early. And as always, look for inefficiencies in the market.

He said it: “I don’t really have a lot of comment on what everybody else is doing in the league. I can’t speak for the other 31 teams other than I’m sure each of them is doing what they think is best for their football team. That’s what we try to do. We try to put our best, most competitive team on the field every week and every year. Whatever that is, in my mind, it doesn’t really matter how much experience he has or doesn’t have, whether we drafted him or didn’t draft him, or what team he came from or didn’t come from. We’re just trying to put the best team out there we can every season, but every week within that season, based on the resources we have to work with at that particular time. That’s what we’ll continue to do. Whoever that is, it is.” — Patriots coach Bill Belichick