PITTSBURGH -- This week, no other NFL figure has operated at the dizzying pace of Bill Belichick, who can't seem to stop flipping high-profile trades. Receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive end Kony Ealy and tight end Dwayne Allen join an already loaded Patriots roster, thanks to wild draft-pick maneuvering in the past three days. As if that weren't enough, New England is giving cornerback Stephon Gilmore $14 million per year.
What's funny is the Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers used to be among the high-profile teams that proudly showed restraint this time of year. This year, the Steelers are staying true to that path, while the Patriots bodysurf on the free-agency waves. Since Antonio Brown's mega-extension last week, the Steelers have stuck to light housecleaning, re-signing backup quarterback Landry Jones and reserve tight end David Johnson, while calmly targeting a few free agents from afar.
Both plans can work. The AFC playoffs will help determine which works best.
The Steelers simply do business more predictably than most. They like to reward draft picks who perform well. That's why Brown is on his third contract with the team and why Le'Veon Bell likely will get the big-money extension he seeks. They won't overpay for what they consider an average player. If they don't land a free agent they like, it's because they didn't deem him worth the money. That's what happened with Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who garnered interest from the Steelers but ultimately outpriced them at $10 million-plus per year.
Occasionally, the Steelers will trade, but giving up fifth- and sixth-round draft selections in 2015 for cornerback Brandon Boykin and kicker Josh Scobee -- neither of whom lasted more than a year -- seemingly has left them hesitant to part with more picks.
For the Steelers, free agency is as much about re-signing an ascending player, such as defensive end Stephon Tuitt, as it is about finding a pricey tackle to play alongside him.
A big splash for Pittsburgh would be signing a moderately priced free-agent cornerback to help in pass coverage against top-shelf quarterbacks. The draft is deep enough in the secondary, at tight end and in other areas to satisfy Pittsburgh's needs for a 2017 rollout.
That team will once again see a drastically different Patriots roster, one stocked with weapons running crossing routes for Tom Brady.