To me the craziest part of the New England Patriots 15 year reign of terror on the NFL that includes 5 Super Bowl championships, 7 AFC Championships, an undefeated regular season, 11 seasons with at least 12 wins, 11 seasons with a first round bye in the playoffs, and 11 AFC championship game appearances is that is should be more.
Yes, despite all the success my beloved New England Patriots have achieved in the last 15 seasons. There is an IMO a legitimate argument to be made that the team has under achieved. It's crazy to say about a team with 5 championships in 15 years but I believe it to be true. Mainly due to cheapness and the team's inability to keep star talent. Now before I keep going I don't want it to seem like I'm ungrateful or anything, I mean being a Patriots fan is the best, I'm extremely happy that they're my team. They're responsible for some of the greatest moments in my life. They've gone from irrelevant to the most dominate franchise in all of sports. I'm just saying even with all the success they've experienced, it could and should be more.
The Patriots have won 5 Super Bowls which is incredible, but the spacing is sort of strange. They won 3 in a 4 year span to begin this run (2001, 2003, 2004), went a full decade without a championship, then won 2 out of 3 (2014, 2016). To put it in perspective the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXIX when I was in 7th grade, then it took until my 5th year of college, the last year of my education for them to win again, when the beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.
From 2005-2013 the team came very close. In that time frame the team won two AFC championships, and played in the AFC title game in 2006, 2007, 2011, 2012, and 2013. They were extremely close to adding at least one more Super Bowl win.
Yes upsets happen, in 5 of the Patriots 8 playoff losses from 05-13 the Patriots were favored. The team has underachieved in some of the biggest stages. The Patriots were favored in Super Bowl 42, 2009 Wild-Card game against the Ravens, 2010 Divisional-Round against the Jets, Super Bowl 46 and the 2012 AFC Championship game.
Of course every season and team is different and all face obstacles along the way, but one thing that I think has cost the Patriots is their frugalness. Bill Belichick would much rather have 5 nickels than 1 quarter. We've heard the same cliches over and over again that the Patriots would rather move on from a guy a year too early than a year too late. They've shocked fans by trading players like Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Logan Mankins, Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins. They've let guys like Asante Samuel, Wes Welker, and Darrelle Revis walk in free agency. They made moves that fans would question, yet somehow, more often than not they'd work out and the Patriots would be right be in the championship mix the next season.
You could argue Belichick's ability to make the tough calls is what makes him so great and has allowed the Patriots to consistently be in the championship conversation year in and year out. Apart from the dead money from Aaron Hernandez's contract, there aren't many examples of the Patriots spending big on the wrong guy. Other than maybe Adaluis Thomas they really haven't given out too many bad contracts. However they still have been very cheap and had years where they had tons of cap space to help Tom Brady and chose not to. I believe their frankly cheapness and inability to keep top talent on the roster has cost them chances at even more championships. With the deadline to franchise tag players approaching, the Patriots still have been very quiet about what their future with All-Pro linebacker Dont'a Hightower entails.
Going into 2017 with 6th most salary cap space in the NFL they cannot let guys like Malcolm Butler and Dont'a Hightower walk away. They straight up just can't. They have no excuse. With 63 million in cap space they have no excuse to let two guys who should be fixtures of this defense for the next 5+ years walk away.
Don't let just the stats tell the story of Dont'a Hightower because he means a hell of a lot more to the defense than just the numbers. It's everything about him. He's a winner at every level. He is one of the best linebackers in the NFL and has been responsible for two of the biggest plays in Patriots Super Bowl history. Given the make up of the team and the fact that they've already moved on from two of their most talented players Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins they need to keep some studs like Dont'a Hightower who has proven to be after Tom Brady one of the most clutch players on the team.
Super Bowl XLIX everybody remembers Malcom Butler's interception that sealed the game for New England, but it was Dont'a Hightower's tackle of Marshawn Lynch the play before that kept him out of the endzone when it looked like he was going to walk in that allowed that play to be made.
If Hightower doesn't stop Lynch from scoring on 1st and goal after the Kearse catch the Patriots lose Super Bowl XLIX and the legacy of both the organization and Tom Brady are forever altered.
Then of course this year on 3rd and 1 midway through the 4th quarter in the midst of the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history it was Dont'a Hightower's strip sack of Matt Ryan that truly made the comeback possible. Had the Falcons picked up a first down there, with the amount of time left, I don't believe the Patriots win the game.
This Patriots defense is a lot about scheme, they've made due with a lot of players who were cast offs filling the void left by stars the team decided to move on from. But at some point you need to keep your star talent. Coaching can only get you so far. Scheme is only going to get you so far. You need talent. You need to have at least a few play making studs. Which the Patriots have in both Butler and Hightower, it just worries me even with all this cap space that they may move on from two of the best young players in the game just because the Patriots think they can outsmart everybody.
Tom Brady looked great this season but he's going to be 40 years old. You need to take the load off him, you shouldn't be asking a 40 year old QB to score you 30 plus points a game. We saw this season with the league's best defense (points per game wise) how much pressure that takes off an offense. Look at the Denver game this year. Brady played pretty shitty, but the Pats defense only gave up 3 points so you can survive those off Brady weeks, which I'm sorry I think are gonna happen more and more frequently, the NEED to get the heart of this defense intact. This team should be doing everything it can to make Brady's job easier, he has only a few years left, keep as much talent as possible. That was the biggest knock on this team in the years leading up to Super Bowl XLIX.
Plus I just think it's a really shitty look by the team to cheap out on guys who actually buy into the Patriot way and produce at an elite level. Dont'a deserves it and he deserve it from THIS organization. Bottom line is there is no reason that Dont'a Hightower should play for another team next year and going forward. It's not like they're strapped for cash, this team can afford to reload and try to repeat next season. It starts with keeping our guys.
P.S. I also want Hightower back because I have an awesome idea for a custom jersey based on his #54.
BRU-TOWER. Little homage to two great #54 Patriot linebackers. Can't happen if he's gone :'(