Riches from Rags: How the Patriots dominate a sport designed for parity


For those of you who do not know, the NFL does not operate in a similar fashion to European sports leagues.

In European football, the best teams like Real Madrid, Juventus and Chelsea generally spend the most money on transfer fees and wages in order to buy the best players from weaker teams and dominate the competition.

The system leaves many of Europe’s top leagues having only two or three teams with a realistic chance of winning the title.

In the NFL, however, competition and parity are some of the league’s main objectives; with each franchise being allowed the same amount of money to spend on wages for their squad (how much each player gets paid is up to the franchise to decide). 

There is also a draft system where the teams are placed in the reverse order of how they finished in last year’s league and are then given the pick. So for example the Cleveland Browns who had the worst record of 1-15 in last years league will have the first pick of the 2017 draft.

These rules are supposed to allow each team a chance of success in the near future, provided they are able to manage their squads well and out-coach the opposition.

So, for example, the Atlanta Falcons – who will represent the NFC in this year’s Superbowl – had the sixth pick in 2014 and the eighth pick in 2015. The Carolina Panthers, who represented the NFC in last years Superbowl, had the first pick of the 2011 draft, and began rebuilding their team around QB Cam Newton.

So the system seems to work well when you consider that teams who were recently poor like the Panthers can improve dramatically, and teams who were recently very good like the 49ers can deteriorate.

But for the past 16 years, the New England Patriots have been the one constant that seems to seriously contradict this rule:

  • The Patriots have played in 7 of the last 16 Superbowls.
  • Tom Brady will have played in 14% of all Superbowls in history.
  • The Patriots have played in 6 straight AFC title games.
  • They have won 14 of the last 16 AFC East division titles.

However, they cannot buy talent of other teams, and holding onto talent can be hard when other teams can offer some of your players more money if they have filled less of their salary cap.

What the Patriots seem to do is take players who other teams fail to rate and let supposed superstars leave just before they are no longer at their peak.

So let’s look at the Patriots offense and where they came from.

QB Tom Brady was taken in the sixth round, number 199 of the 2001 draft. Now he is going to play in his seventh Superbowl aged 39 and he is definitely the best QB in NFL history.

Their wide receivers are Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan.

Julian Edelman was taken in the seventh round, number 232 and had to change position from QB at Kent state to wide receiver.

Danny Amendola went undrafted and failed to make an impact at the Cowboys, Eagles or Rams before being picked up by the Patriots.

Chris Hogan went undrafted but became somewhat known after Reggie Bush nicknamed him 7-Eleven because he was always open when appearing on Hard Knocks for the Miami Dolphins in 2012.  He failed to make that team and never made a huge impact at the Bills.

Last Sunday he had two Touchdowns and 180 yards, the same stats that Julio Jones had Falcons. Hogan played lacrosse in Penn State for four years and only got to play football at Mammoth University for one year.

He is possibly the most unlikely superstar in the NFL.

Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount are the Patriots’ running-backs.

Dion Lewis was a fifth round pick in 2011 for the Philadelphia Eagles. He never made a huge impact there and failed to nail down a starting position while playing with the Browns for two seasons (the Browns are like the anti-Patriots, as everything they do fails). Although he has been plagued by injury with the Patriots, he has also looked explosive when he has been healthy and could play a massive role on the defense.

LeGarrette Blount was undrafted and failed to get a substantial contract offer by the Titans or Bucanneers before coming to the Patriots in 2013. Despite playing very well for the Patriots with a dominant performance against the Colts in that year’s playoff, he was let go and was picked up by the Steelers.

After being caught smoking a joint with fellow running back Le’Veon Bell, he was released by Pittsburgh and once again picked up by the Patriots. He is now a key contributor to their offence, and seems to average over 200 rushing yards every time they play the Colts. Oh and did I mentioned he leads all players with 18 rushing TDs this year?

In terms of defence, corner back Malcom Butler went undrafted and was picked up by the Patriots in 2014.

He became a household name after picking off Russel Wilson on the one yard line with only half minute left in Superbowl XLIX. He is now recognized as one of the top corner backs in the league, and stars in a Papa Johns advert along side Antonio Brown from the Steelers.

Kyle van Noy and Rob Ninkovich are the Patriots’ linebackers.

Kyle Van Noy was drafted in the second round by the Detriot Lions in 2014. He was let go mid-way through this season and has filled in Jamie Collins role at middle linebacker capably. Rob Ninkovich was rafted in the fifth round in 2006 by the New Orleans Saints. He switched between the Saints and Dolphins until 2009, when the Patriots picked him up. Has been a consistent player for the past seven seasons.

Obviously some of their players have been high draft picks like safety Devon McCorthy, corner back Logan Ryan and tight end Rob Gronkowski were high draft picks in the first and second rounds respectively, while former greats like Randy Moss and Darell Revis were superstars acquired on big contracts, but most of their squad is built on players who were previously nobody’s until they went to the Patriots.

One theory I have seen on internet sites like Reddit is that the Patriots have more white players than most teams and that the NFL has a reverse racism issue where white players are underrated. Frankly I think that idea is complete bullsh**.

Thankfully, the NFL generally seems more meritocratic than most industries in society, and if white players are good at positions mainly played by black athletes they will get selected, as Joey Bosa showed when he went third overall in this year’s draft while playing at defensive end. Raiders punter Marquette King shows that black players will get selected at positions previously dominated by white players like punter.    

The reason I believe the Patriots win more than other teams is because Bill Belichick – like Alex Ferguson used to be in the Premier League – is simply the best coach in the league, and has a unique eye for spotting underappreciated talent and then coaching them to become better players.

He may not be charismatic, but he has a relentless ability to win games. 


Richard Corbally