Before we dive into this series, let’s take a moment to introduce what will be a 10-part journey covering the 2007 Patriots. Every Friday, we will take a look at one of 10 stories from the Patriots’ near-perfect season. All of our fantastic writers will contribute to this series as we relive the highs-and-lows of one of the most historic seasons in NFL history.
Be sure to react and get involved with what should be a nostalgic look back at a magical season. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook. Use #cover32PatsTalk to send us your comments and questions and enjoy the ride.
2017 NFL Free Agency: Taking a look at the best available players remaining in free agency
Remembering Chris Cornell: Reliving Soundgarden’s 2014 NFL Kickoff performance
NFL Past and Present: Comparing the current Miami offense to Dolphins’ offenses of seasons past
Patriots’ News: Gerald Hodges set to visit with the Patriots
The seeds for this season were planted at the end of the 2006 campaign. The team finished with a 12-4 record and made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game against Peyton Manning, and the Indianapolis Colts. However, after holding a 21-6 lead at halftime, the Colts scored 32 points in the second half and upended the Patriots, 38-34, to punch their ticket to Super Bowl XLI. In that game, they would beat a Rex Grossman-led Chicago Bears team for Manning’s first super bowl win.
In the Brady-Belichick era, this is probably the second-worst loss they have suffered. Everyone knows what the worst loss was. Had the Patriots won that game, they would have steamrolled an overmatched Bears’ team and won their fourth super bowl in six years. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
A big reason for that was the lack of offensive weapons at Tom Brady’s disposal. Considering that the team was led by Reche Caldwell, an aging Troy Brown, Jabar Gaffney and Chad Jackson, it’s safe to say they overachieved. However, the Patriots and Bill Belichick watched the Colts high-flying, explosive offense storm back against them and knew that they could not go into the next year with the same group.
Patriots fleece the Dolphins for Wes Welker
Relatively unknown Wes Welker became a thorn in the sides of the Patriots. He routinely gashed them on special teams during his two-year stint with the Dolphins. In 2006, he emerged as a reliable receiver as he became a restricted free agent.
If you can’t stop him, acquire him. That is what Bill Belichick did. The Dolphins tendered Welker a contract that would have netted them a second-round pick if any team offered him a contract. The Patriots jumped at the opportunity, offering Welker a contract the Dolphins could not match. The Patriots sent their 2007 second round pick and their 2007 seventh-round pick to Miami in exchange for the 25-year old receiver. The team promptly signed him to a five-year extension and he went on to catch 672 balls in his Patriot career, a team record.
Donte Stallworth joins the evolving receiving corps
Initially, Stallworth seemed like he was going to be the big catch of the offseason. However, that changed, but more on that later. Stallworth was coming off a 38 catch, 725 yards and five touchdown year in his lone season in Philadelphia. On paper, it was a six-year deal, but in reality, it was likely one-and-done for Stallworth and the Patriots.
After experimenting with the Doug Gabriels of the world in previous seasons, the Patriots made their first real splash in terms of getting a receiver for Tom Brady. In hindsight, fans should have been more excited about Welker, but at the time there were a lot of unknowns. Stallworth’s speed and first-round pedigree had Patriots’ fans day-dreaming about a team that could really move the ball. There was so much more to come.
Patriots defy reputation and sign unrestricted free agent Adalius Thomas
At the time, this was a very un-Patriot-like move. However, Thomas was the most sought-after free agent and it took the Patriots less than 48-hours into free agency to lock up the star linebacker.
There was a lot to like about Thomas. He was a versatile linebacker, similar to Willie McGinist, coming off an 11-sack and 106 tackle-season. He was an anchor to the Ravens stout run defense and seemed to give the Patriots their most dynamic player on defense. This move preceded the Welker and Stallworth acquisitions, setting the tone for a wild offseason.
Patriots fill in the roster with several other key role players
The flashy acquisitions of Thomas, Welker, and Stallworth overshadowed some of the other key additions to this team. Running back Corey Dillon requested his release and was granted it earlier in the offseason. Tight end Daniel Graham and linebacker Tully Banta-Cain left in free agency.
That left a few voids on this team. Enter tight end Kyle Brady and running back Sammy Morris. The two players were signed early in the offseason in response to Graham and Dillon moving on. Morris joined Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, and fullback Heath Evans. Brady joined Watson in the tight end group.
The Patriots also added Kelley Washington to the overhauled receiving group. Previously of the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington had nine touchdowns and 893 receiving yards in four seasons.
On top of signing outside free agents, the Patriots took care of a number of their own free agents. This included guys like Larry Izzo, Heath Evens, Junior Seau, and Ty Warren. Asante Samuel was hit with the franchise tag and signed his tender before training camp.
All these moves occurred over the span of just a few weeks in March of 2007. The flurry of activity died down for a bit but returned with one of the biggest moves in Patriots franchise history.
Draft day trade hauls in superstar receiver Randy Moss
For awhile, it seemed like a pipe dream that the Patriots could acquire controversial receiver, Randy Moss. On the second day of the 2007 draft, the dream became a reality. The Patriots shipped off a fourth-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for Moss, who took a $6.5 million pay cut to facilitate the trade.
This move changed everything. The Patriots had already adequately restocked the receiver position but this was the ultimate game changing move. Moss was coming off a rough two-year stint that saw him catch a career-low 42 balls and just three touchdowns in 2006. Moss’ motivation was always in question, and he appeared to be a problem on the sidelines for the Raiders. It wouldn’t shock anyone to see the camera catch him slouching on the bench.
However, Belichick and company decided to take a chance on the receiver. The hope was that he would regain some of that explosiveness that he had when he was with Minnesota. The Patriots swindled the Raiders out of Moss with only a fourth-round pick. The move paid dividends instantly. The season had a ton of promise before the move for Moss. Afterward, there was no telling what this star-studded team was capable of.
Coming up next:
Next week we will jump into one of the more controversial stories of the 2007 season. It’s a topic of high tension but a story within the season nonetheless. Join us next Friday for Part Two of the 2007 Patriots series: Spygate.