I watched the replay Saturday of the infamous Tuck Rule game from back in January 2002. (Yes, I have no life). Anyway, that game between the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders which the Patriots won in overtime and used as a springboard to beating Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship and St. Louis in the Super Bowl got me thinking.
As I watched, it seemed everywhere I looked I saw players that the New England Patriots did not draft. I saw free agents all over the field. I saw a team that clearly stomped all over the theory that championship squads must be home grown via the draft.
Consider the free agents on the Patriots:
RG Joe Andruzzi: He was picked up on waivers from Green Bay in 2000. He signed with the Patrtiots. He started every game at right guard in 2001.
LG Mike Compton: He left the Lions and signed with the Patriots as an unrestricted free agent in 2001. He started all 16 games and in the playoffs. So, yes, the Patriots starting offensive line had a couple of free agent starting guards.
Linebacker Bryan Cox: Yes, that Bryan Cox. After leaving the Dolphins and the Bears, Cox spent three years with the Jets. Then the Patriots picked him up in 2001 and he started seven games and played in 11. He had three fumble recovers and two forced fumbles and he scored a TD. The guy was in decline but he always had been a playmaker.
Running back Antowain Smith: He was originally drafted by the Bills. He was added as an unrestricted free agent and led the team by rushing for 1,157 yards. He'd been considered something of an enigma in Buffalo. He was a locker room leader in New England.
Linebacker Mike Vrabel: The Pittburgh Steelers drafted him but let him go to New England as an unrestricted free agent. So much for that theory that the Steelers don't let good players go in free agency. Vrabel started 12 games and had three sacks with two interceptions in 2001. He got better later and had three Super Bowl rings with New England before he went to Kansas City in 2010.
Linebacker Roman Phifer: Originally the 31st overall pick in St. Louis in 1991, Phifer went to the Jets as a UFA and signed a three-year deal through the 2001 season. He was, however, cut after the 2000 season and the Patriots signed him to a one-year minimum salary deal. Phifer started all 16 games. He was re-signed after the season for three more years. He was a Pro Bowl alternate two of those three years.
Cornerback Terrell Buckley: The former Packer and former Dolphins joined the Broncos for one season in 2000 and then went to New England when he was cut. He played with the Patriots in 2001 and 2002. He was the team's nickel cornerback and had an interception in the AFC title game against Pittsburgh that helped New England go to the Super Bowl.
Tight end Jermaine Wiggins: Another Jets castoff, Wiggins signed as a free agent in 2000 and lasted through the 2002 season. He also had a big game in the Tuck Rule game.
Cornerback Otis Smith: He played for the Patriots in 1996 but left to join the Jets for three years. Then he returned as an unrestricted free agent in 2000. He started 15 of 16 regular season games and throughout the playoffs.
Linebacker Larry Izzo: He was an undrafted free agent who made the Dolphins in 1996 and stayed through 2000. The Patriots signed him in 2001 as an unrestricted free agent. There he became the special teams captain and won three Super Bowl rings. He recovered two fumbles in the Tuck Rule game. Two.
Wide receiver David Patten: The Cleveland Browns cut him after 2000. The Patriots picked him up in 2001 and he started 14 games. He was the club's leading receiver in the Tuck Rule game.
No, this is not a Patriots blog. But I happily use the Patriots to prove the point that a team can be brought together from other teams and turned into a cohesive, high-caliber ballclub.
And, yes, that leads me to the Dolphins.
As you know they've been doing work this offseason in free agency. No, they probably haven't done as much as I'd like. The flirtation with Elvis Dumervil which I reported last Tuesday and the Denver Post reported Friday didn't bear fruit. Dumervil signed with Baltimore Sunday and his salary cap number for 2013 is, get this, $2.5 million.
So the Dolphins still have work to do finding more pass rush, adding a cornerback and possibly a defensive tackle. The offensive line is still in need of an upgrade, too. Eric Winston is still a possibility. He'd like to play for the Dolphins, according to his agent Drew Rosenhaus, but would also like to get paid so there's that. The Dolphins may be waiting for the price on Winston to drop somewhat.
The Dolphins may add one or two more free agents.
And that brings up the question whether a team can win with a bunch of recently added veterans? Obviously, I just showed you the Patriots did it.
But I saw Don Shula not only fail to do it in 1995, it was something of a chemistry nightmare. And the following year I remember Jimmy Johnson cleaning house and telling me he didn't want veterans who learned to do things under different coaches to come to him and expect him to do what they were used to.
"I want rookies and players I draft to learn to do things the way I want them to," Johnson said. "I don't want to deal with fighting the veterans."
Well, the Dolphins have some new veterans now. And now it's up to coach Joe Philbin to get them to do things the way the Dolphins do things or he'll have to adjust to them.
Philbin isn't talking like he's the one who will be making the adjustment.
“They’ve got to get acclimated," he said. "We hopefully, in 13 months, we’ve been able to establish a culture and environment, an atmosphere of how we do business when they walk into that door. While these guys are veterans and we’re certainly looking for them to put their stamp on things and make an impact, they’ve got to kind of fit into how we do things. So I think it’s more them, at least, understand these are responsibilities, the obligations that come with being a Miami Dolphin and kind of fall in line and then let their football stuff care of itself."
It'll be interesting to see how that goes.