By Matt McCarthy, 985TheSportsHub.com
History will tell us that the Patriots rarely regret letting big name players go elsewhere.
They cut Lawyer Milloy and won a Super Bowl. They traded Logan Mankins and won a Super Bowl. In the last four years alone, they traded Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, let Darrelle Revis sign with the Jets, replaced him with Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan and let them walk, all while winning two more Super Bowls and losing another one by the skin of their teeth.
Now Trey Flowers is off to Detroit on a 5-year, mega money contract. He could very well be the next name on a long list of good players the Patriots have been fine without.
But this one might sting a little more than usual.
Flowers was versatile, impactful and quiet. He made plays in the big moments. He had a nose for a ball. He was their best all-around defensive player.
Sounds like the perfect Patriot to me.
The only thing that wasn’t perfect about Flowers was his asking price. Everything else made him an ideal fit for a long-term deal in New England.
As great a player as Flowers is, I can understand Bill Belichick’s hesitation to get into a bidding war with Matt Patricia, his former lieutenant who could be desperately trying to save his job after a disastrous first season in Detroit. Huge contracts and long-term commitments are a dangerous road for teams in the NFL to go down, and the Patriots have been successful in part because they’ve been excellent at avoiding bad contracts throughout the years.
The real criticism lies in allowing Flowers to get to free agency in the first place.
The Pats likely had a number of opportunities to retain Flowers. They certainly could have franchised him, especially with nearly all of the top pass rushers getting the same treatment around the NFL this offseason. It’s also fair to wonder if the Pats could have locked up Flowers a year or two before free agency as they have done with many players in the past, but of course there’s no way to know if Flowers would have taken that type of contract in the past.
All is certainly not lost for the Patriots. The addition of Michael Bennett is a strong one and he should help replace some of Flowers’ production. Maybe Deatrich Wise will take a step forward in his third NFL season. With six picks in the top 100, the Patriots could add an impact defensive lineman through the draft to bolster their pass rush.
Despite that, replacing your best player on one side of the ball doesn’t just happen overnight. The Patriots have let elite players walk out the door for 20 years and have been just fine, but this one might hurt a little more than usual.
You can hear Matt McCarthy on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.