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Wolf: Patriots changing the rules of team building in NFL

Whether there’s a CBA or not, the draft is going to happen and team building in the National Football League is a fascinating study.

Indianapolis Colts President, Bill Polian, created the modern model for how teams are built in the National Football League. He used this model to get the Buffalo Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990’s before he moved on to Indianapolis.

Polian believed every team had a core-group of 6-10 players that made them who they were. Once identified, he signed these players to long-term contracts and used young players and journeymen to round out the roster. The players on the periphery were recyclable; the players in the core were not.

Polian drafted Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, Thurmon Thomas, Will Wolford, Bruce Smith, Darryl Talley, Shane Conlan and a host of other Bills that contributed to winning four consecutive conference championships. He surrounded these players with excellent journeyman free-agents (Steve Tasker, James Lofton, Cornelius Bennett etc.) but went to four-consecutive Super Bowls mainly because of their best seven players.

Polian’s model and the Bills example has been a mainstay in the league more or less for the last 15-years.

But Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are starting to change that model. Despite their lack of post-season success, the Patriots are showing other NFL franchises how to tweak Polian’s model.

The tweak is simple: unless the player’s name is Manning or Brady (or Kelly), don’t fall in love with any of your core-group players and, when they age, sell high.

Belichick knows when to dump veteran players that still have value. (Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Randy Moss etc.) He does not become emotionally attached to most of his players and will move them before their value expires, trading them for coveted draft-picks. When these draft-picks develop, become core players (hopefully) and then age, he moves them for draft-picks before their value plummets. And this starts the process all over again.

If you need proof or think I’m picking daisies from dandelions: in the last three drafts the New England Patriots have had seventeen-picks in the first three-rounds, eight more than normal! Of these seventeen-picks, nine of them have been second-round picks, six more than normal! Nine!

You can talk about the Patriots losing playoff games all you want but you cannot deny their new doctrine, or the success they have had in getting to the playoffs. This does not happen by coincidence. The Pats are built on a belief and more teams need to pay attention.

So as you’re preparing to watch the NFL Draft in 2011, understand there are new rules developing in the league based on an old model.

The Belichick rules? No, dogma rules.