Recently I was able to land an interview with BillyBob O’Brien the man replacing James McNally on the Patriots equipment staff. I was seeking to determine why the Patriots have had such success his answers may surprise you.
Spot: You guys win all the time. How is it that with free agency, the salary cap, and late draft picks, forfeited draft picks, etc… the Patriots have been able to remain close to or at the top of the AFC? What is it you do to build one of the best teams in the league year after year?
BillyBob: If you think about it the items you mentioned and what they collectively accomplish you realize it’s impossible to build and maintain the best team. There is forced parity in the league and if you try to ignore that by building too far from the center (or average) there’s soon a price to pay defeating your attempt this year and harming your future. So we don’t try to build the best team in the league. The Patriots goal is to be an above average team every year.
Spot: Interesting idea but not what I was expecting and don’t all teams including the Patriots start each season with the goal of winning the Superbowl.
BillyBob: I don’t know about the goals of other teams but I know every year an above average team wins the Superbowl, sometimes great teams happen to come together and sometimes they win and sometimes they don’t but all you need to make the playoffs is a slightly above average team and the benefit of a few fortuitous random events gets you to the Superbowl. If you look at our history we have won with an average team and lost with a great team so above average is the target.
Spot: Patriots never seem to have much salary cap money, lose good players in free agency and seem to never be in the position to make big free agency pick-ups. Why is it that other teams can make deals for the best players available and the Patriots are never able to do that.
BillyBob: The answer to that question is more complicated than it appears to require but I’ll hit the major points for you. First of all the Patriots have just as much salary cap money as any other team and spend it so what your asking is why is it allocated the way it is. This year the cap allows for approximately 2.5 million per player and any amount over that paid to one player has to be subtracted from that paid to another. To some extent the rookie wage scale makes it possible to allocate larger amounts to the veteran players and some player positions command more money than others but you still have to follow the basic premise of being above average but not great at each position. Sometimes you can retain a great player you drafted with an early renewal but in general you can’t afford the best without sacrificing depth.
Spot: So you’re saying a team that signed a top free agent made a mistake?
BB: No, what I’m saying is the team will be weaker in other areas because of the signing. It just doesn’t pay once the season starts and players begin missing games or the rest of the season from injuries and you need the backups. You have to get used to the idea that one players big contract takes away from other players. Some positions command more money than others but they have to stay within a group budget for those positions or once again weaknesses will show in other areas. Above average in your starters and backups is where you need to be to stay above average.
Spot: Looking back at the success the Patriots have had you can at least acknowledge you have had one of the top quarterbacks for the past decade plus.
BillyBob: Brady certainly fits the description of above average but one player doesn’t win anything. However take an above average QB and surround him with above average players every year and some years you’ll make the Superbowl, some years you’ll lose but all in all you will get there an above average number of times. Let me give you an example. At 10-6 your team is 12.5% above average and most years that gives you a good shot at the playoffs. For a little perspective consider that in the last 10 years the Steelers have won 63% of their games, been to the Superbowl 3 times and won twice. With a 38% win percentage the Bills are setting records for missing the playoffs. That 12.5% above or below average makes a huge difference.
Spot: I guess that tells the whole story and thanks for taking time out of your schedule for the interview. There you have it folks expect another season of above average football from the very average players of New England Patriots and pain for those trying to be the best.