Pats: Nice Moves
The Patriots have been one of the most active teams in this year's free agency market. This is a bit unusual, but they also moved quickly and paid up to sign Rosevelt Colvin before the 2003 season. Unfortunately, Colvin got hurt in the second game and didn't have an impact until the 2005 season (he did come back and play in 2004, but wasn't that effective).
This year, the Pats have signed OLB Adalius Thomas, TE Kyle Brady, and RB Sammy Morris. They also traded for WR Wes Welker after forcing Miami's hand by threatening to sign him to an offer sheet that Miami would have to match or settle for just a 2nd round draft pick (they got a 2nd and 7th instead). The Patriots have addressed a lot of their weaknesses, backfilled for Daniel Graham (free agent likely to be overpaid) and Corey Dillon (retired, or retired to avoid being dumped?). There are rumors that the Patriots are going to sign WR Donte' Stallworth, too. If he'll agree to a one-year deal, that would be ideal for the Patriots to see if he can fit in.
The Patriots have utilized their cap room very effectively. No other team that has competed at their level has also managed to give themselves financial flexibility year after year. They may have cut it a little close last year when they let negotiations with WR Deion Branch fall apart and eventually traded him. They needed him in their receiving corps. But, even with that miscalculation, they were 30 minutes away from the Super Bowl. Now they have re-loaded and improved significantly. Watch out for the Pats next year!
By the way, it is interesting that Adalius Thomas was willing to take the same type of deal that the Patriots convinced Richard Seymour and Tom Brady to take. They all agreed to split their 'guaranteed' bonus money over the first two years of their contracts, rather than getting it all in the first year. The players take some level of risk in doing this as it is possible for them to be cut after the first year and miss out on some of their guaranteed money. But, the risk of players of this caliber being cut, even if injured, is pretty low. By doing this, the Patriots get some salary cap relief. As I recall, Branch was not willing to do this, which led to the stalemate in their negotiations. If it was good enough for Seymour and Brady (and now Thomas), it should have been good enough for Branch. I like Thomas's attitude, as reported by Peter King. He should fit in nicely.
Also, if you are curious about how the Patriots manage the salary cap, check out this fanatical site.