The continued genius of Bill Belichick lies in his ability to live in the margins.
While some NFL coaches peck at those margins briefly before retreating to the warm safety of the interior, Belichick backstrokes in those outlying waters, finding advantages at every turn as he swims circles around his competition.
Take the case of Julian Edelman, the reigning Super Bowl MVP. A 5-foot-10 receiver without standout athleticism, who played quarterback in college. A decade ago, every team passed up on the chance to select Edelman, until Belichick used a seventh-rounder to pluck a would-be heir to the Wes Welker throne.
"I think they [the Patriots] grade people differently, honestly," Edelman told Peter King of NBC Sports. "They don't want distractions. They want guys that are versatile. They want mentally tough football players. That's what I've seen through my career being there. They want a smart, physical, tough football player. If you don't have that, you're probably not gonna be there. So I've been fortunate to have a bunch of teammates -- pretty much all the teammates I've had have been pretty good guys. You've got these young kids out here that have to learn, but you learn from the guys above you. I learned from the Kevin Faulks. I learned from the Toms, the Wes Welkers, the guys that worked hard that were there that were playing at a high level consistently. If you don't, they usually get rid of you."
It's trope-ish to simply say that Belichick and the Pats are looking for "football only" men. It's the team that has taken shots with the likes of Randy Moss, and even Josh Gordon this year, after all.
Yet, Edelman's broader point is salient. The Patriots do a better job than any coaching staff of coaxing the most out of the 53 men on their roster.
To buffer that point, let's turn to a nugget from The MMQB's Albert Breer. In his Monday column, Breer recounts with the McCourty Twins the importance backup quarterback Brian Hoyer played in preparing the Patriots to face Sean McVay's offense. Hoyer played for Kyle Shanahan in 2014 in Cleveland and again in 2017 in San Francisco, which provided a background for helping slow McVay and the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.
From Breer's column:
*Before the Super Bowl, he watched an episode of Peyton Manning's Detail series on ESPN-Plus on Goff, and it hit him right away -- the offense is the same. Looking at the Rams tape confirmed it. Then, he saw an NFL Network interview where Goff and McVay discussed the coach being in the quarterback's ear up until the 15-second play-clock cutoff, which was something Shanahan did with Hoyer. Then, Hoyer went back to Amazon's All or Nothing series on the Rams; it was about the 2016 season but had footage of OTAs from McVay's first spring there. Hoyer recognized the language. *
- "I guess that's the risk in putting yourself out there like that," Hoyer joked over the phone on Sunday.*
The McCourty Twins then go on to detail how Hoyer played a vital role in how the Patriots defense evolved throughout the season, as he would point out how a QB would beat them as a scout quarterback during practice.
The Patriots aren't exclusive in how they find players, roster-construct or utilize opportunities. They are simply the gold standard.