The New England Patriots have signed former San Diego Chargers strong safety Steve Gregory in free agency. I can’t say this is a bad move, but it certainly falls in the “safe” category, and I have serious doubts that this is the right path for the Patriots at this point in history.
Bringing Gregory into the fold gives some needed help to the defensive backfield. James Ihedigbo was far from an asset at the position, and the most head coach Bill Belichick could hope for was that Ihedigbo wouldn’t mess things up too much. Gregory improves the spot and will make a good pairing alongside free safety Patrick Chung. But is this the move the AFC champs needed the most? I don’t think so.
There’s plenty of room for New England to be bold during free agency—or perhaps I should say was, because the best options were busy signing elsewhere, while the Pats negotiated with Gregory. The top receivers are disappearing left and right. If you wanted a pass-rushing end, something New England can certainly use (and which I advocate addressing during the NFL draft), then you just saw Mario Williams sign on with Buffalo.
Even if you believe that the secondary was the place for New England to fix—and after watching wide receiver Julian Edelman play in the nickel package during the postseason, I could hardly tell you that’s a wrongheaded idea, even I rank it third behind defensive line and a deep threat in the passing game. But does Steve Gregory strike you as a difference-maker or just another cog?
Ultimately all the problems the Patriots have can be traced back to one simple flaw—other than the man taking the snaps, they have no one who really qualifies as a ‘difference-maker”. There are good players, there are tough players and there are players easy to root for. They are exceptionally well-coached. But what the last three years have established is that alone isn’t enough to win a Super Bowl.
Normally I’m all for teams playing it safe in free agency, because big-money busts are incredibly damaging in a salary cap system. But New England is different. They have one of the game’s great quarterbacks and a narrowing window of him playing at high level. They can’t waste it without nickel-and-dime moves. If the Gregory signing is a prelude to bolder moves ahead, then all is good. But the failure to act is creating problems, and if this is the best we’re going to see from the Patriots this offseason, then they won’t be back in the Super Bowl next year, much less win it.