The Patriots’ free agency can be explained by 3 things

Go ahead. Ask the question.

What the hell are the Patriots doing?

Since NFL free agency kicked off last week, frustration with the Pats’ inactivity has grown daily, inflamed by the memory of last year’s record spending spree and the arms race unfolding across the AFC. As competitors stockpile weapons, it feels like the Pats are loading up on hand-me-down Nerf guns.

Here’s what’s actually transpiring in Foxboro, according to sources: Bill Belichick is negotiating directly with the team’s top targets. Senior consultant Eliot Wolf, an NFL front-office veteran of 20-plus years, is manning the phones for other external free agents. New director of player personnel Matt Groh has shouldered some of the load while conducting a Pro Day tour, having already sealed a few re-signings.

As inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo said last month, the Pats are trying to “get faster, more explosive and put more playmakers on the field.” That is, on their terms.

According to one agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the Patriots raised their offer significantly for an elite offensive client who signed a similar contract elsewhere, but was not drawn there by the money. This account reveals a willingness to expend cash and cap space, even while it runs contrary to several other negotiations where the Pats have refused to pony up for mid-level free agents.

“They have a cheap problem,” another player’s agent said.

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