This offseason the Patriots have plenty of work to do, with contracts that need renegotiating and assessments to be done on players that just aren’t good enough. Free Agency and the draft also need close inspection.
Offense may not be the biggest area of concern for the high scoring Pats – Brady and co. racked up a league leading average of 34.8 points 427.9 yards per game, but there are concerns.
Free agency centres need to be looked at, as the Pats are relying on Ryan Wendell after releasing Dan Koppen prior to last season.
Running back seems to be a strong area for the Patriots, although it remains to be seen whether New England will retain the services of versatile back Danny Woodhead, whose contract is up. Brandon Bolden and Jeff Demps could both become factors in their second seasons, while Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen will hope to build on their productive seasons. A veteran could be brought in, somebody like Jackson of the Rams would fit.
There are two areas where the Patriots could be making moves, both the offensive line and wide receivers could see a change in roster line up. Although Tom Brady’s recent contract re-structure means Wes Welker is more likely to get a new deal, I can still see him leaving with the Rams’ Danny Amendola signing as a free agent, and along with Julian Edelman, filling the void. Edelman’s contract is up but the Pats should re-sign him, as I stated previously. I’d like to see the Pats bolster their offense by drafting either Notre Dame’s athletic tight end Tyler Eiffert or Virginia Tech wide receiver Tavon Austin in the first round of this years draft but in all honesty that is quite unlikely, Bill Belichick will probably trade down. Tight end may not seem a need, but there are durability concerns with both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Daniel Fells is not a first team player and Michael Hoomanawanui didn’t show enough to threaten to be the third tight end.
Two names that could prove pivotal in the off-season are Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer. Both guys have injury worries, Mankins missed a chunk of games and Vollmer has just undergone knee surgery, prior to possibly hitting free agency, with Nate Solder on Brady’s left, it makes sense to try to keep the big German at the right tackle position, health willing. Marcus Cannon did a decent job opposite Nate Solder but a replacement for Vollmer could be needed as well as a guard, should Mankins struggle for fitness again. Keeping Brady on his feet is key to this offense, whichever way you look at it. Nick McDonald and Donald Thomas may not have been terrible but neither of the Pats back-up guards is near the player Mankins is.
Defense is the real worry for New England though, they ranked 25th in yards allowed and 271.4 yard passing. One of the keys is the defensive backs. The cornerbacks looked better when Aqib Talib was on the field, and getting him to re-sign is important, although Talib only made one interception this season, he did return it for a touchdown, and let’s not forget he only joined the team of the first of November. Also relevant is that up until Talib left the AFC Championship game the Baltimore Ravens offense was causing the Pats secondary little trouble, after Talib’s exit the Ravens took over.
Talib seemed to help out Alfonzo Dennard too, who seemed more comfortable than earlier in the season. When you factor in Ras-I Dowling being seemingly made of glass and Kyle Arrington’s frankly uninspiring play it easy to see why Talib was the difference maker. I can see one or two of the current cornerbacks moving on, if offers are made for them. I can’t see teams lining up to take either Dowling or Arrington but I could be wrong. Marquise Cole and Will Allen were non-factors this year and I don’t expect that to change.
At the Safety position one of the big names the Patriots may be eyeing up is Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens, but I’m not convinced Reed would be as productive as he was in a defense with Suggs and Lewis in it. Devin McCourty looks to be a viable option at safety and Tavon Wilson showed he has potential but another safety is a must. Nate Ebner didn’t show much in his rookie year, Steve Gregory looked good but had injury concerns and Pat Chung is one big walking injury concern.
The Patriots didn’t have much in the way of pass rush last season, and haven’t for a few years but it’s not all bleak. Rob Ninkovich is proving to be a very useful player, with an ability to get to the quarterback at times and an understanding of the requirements Bill Belichick and the coaching staff have of him. Defensive end is a must for upgrade this time around, although Chandler Jones showed production, he slowed down after a decent start, while Jake Bequette never really got going and Justin Francis looks to need more work. Jermaine Cunningham and Trevor Scott didn’t exactly light it up either. One option could be to bring back Andre Carter on a one year deal. Carter recorded ten sacks in 2011 as a Patriot.
Linebacker is another area that needs upgrading. Jarod Mayo was selected to the Pro-Bowl and Brandon Spikes had a good season, alongside rookie Dont’a Hightower, aside from Tracy White though, the remaining players don’t add up to much. Dane Fletcher, Mike Rivera and Niko Koutovides are nothing more than back-up players.
Vince Wilfork is the anchor of this defense, and should continue to be so for a few more seasons. Wilfork though could do with some support, Kyle Love was decent this season, but nothing special.
The franchise tag deadline passed this afternoon and it seems New England didn’t tag a player. This will leave teams sniffing around the top Patriots free agents, Welker, Vollmer and Talib. Time will tell what happens next.
Feel free to tell me how wrong my assessments are, by commenting below.