Bill Belichick hasn’t always had a great track record for effectively using his high draft picks. But one area where Belichick excels as a General Manager is in finding undrafted free agents, many of whom will play important roles on Super Bowl Sunday.
Several of the Patriots’ undrafted players told PFT today that they think of New England as a good place for undrafted players, because Belichick’s mindset is that the players who earn playing time will play, regardless of their draft status, their contracts or anything else.
Patriots offensive lineman Ryan Wendell arrived as an undrafted free agent from Fresno State in 2008. He said he had several offers from other teams to sign on their offseason rosters, but when Belichick called it became an easy decision.
“When Bill Belichick calls, it’s hard to say no,” Wendell said.
Wendell said he wasn’t expecting to get drafted and only hoped for a shot in the NFL.
“I knew there was a slim chance,” Wendell said. “Playing in the NFL has been a dream. It’s been an amazing experience.”
Offensive lineman Josh Kline wasn’t expecting to be drafted, either, but during the seventh round of the 2013 draft he started getting phone calls from teams offering him invitations to rookie minicamps. He said he felt like the Patriots were going to be a better fit for him than any other teams that showed interest because he believed they’d give him an honest shot of making the roster.
“The Patriots see more potential than other teams,” Kline said. “They find talent that other teams don’t see.”
Guard Dan Connolly signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in 2005, spent two years as a backup in Jacksonville, and then signed in New England after the Jaguars cut him. Connolly has become a consistent starter with the Patriots, and he said in New England, it’s understood that every player is always trying to prove himself — just as an undrafted rookie has to do in training camp.
“I was coming out of a small school [Southeast Missouri State] and just hoping to find a place in the NFL,” Connolly said. “Even after years in the NFL, I can always improve.”
Players with that mindset are Belichick’s kind of players.