How the Patriots Can Maximize The Offseason
A Quick Recap
In case you haven't had time to catch up on the Patriots this offseason, you will most likely be very confused when you see the team line up to play next season. Why is Revis in a Pats uniform? Who is Lafell? Where is Brandon Spikes? All of these things can be answered in this quick recap of the Patriots offseason. First order of business is the re-signings of Danny Aiken, Michael Hoomanawanui (your guess is as good as mine on pronunciation), and most importantly Julian Edelman. Danny Aiken has been a consistent long-snapper for the Patriots for the past 3 years. He did however have a few miscues this past season, perhaps none more memorable than when he snapped the ball clearly over the punter's head and nearly cost the team the game as well as their punter, rookie Ryan Allen. He was brought back on a two year deal and it remains to be seen if he can recover from his struggles. Michael Hoomamawanui was brought back on a two year deal also. He caught 12 receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown. He serves as a good backup tight end for the often injured Rob Gronkowski. Finally, there is Julian Edelman, who scored a 4 year deal worth up to $19 million after catching 105 passes for 1,056 yards and 6 touchdowns. Edelman was in for the now-Bronco Welker and proved that he can be more than just a punt-returner after staying healthy and being a productive slot receiver, though actually he worked out of the slot only half the time.
While these 3 were brought back, starting cornerback and middle linebacker Aqib Talib and Brandon Spikes left via free agency. Another departure was key backup linebacker Dane Fletcher, whom served as the team's best coverage linebacker. Fletcher will surely be missed as a key backup for the Patriots. Talib was upgraded though after Revis was brought in via free agency. Spikes, while a hardy run stuffer, was never a good pass-defender so his loss isn't too hard to deal with. Plus, his departure opens the door for the likes of Jamie Collins to become a starter after a terrific postseason. Things are bright even with these departures.
Look For Bargains
Now, how can the Patriots offseason get even better. While "big-name" free agency is almost at a standstill, real free agency actually never ends. Think about it. All year long we hear about "so and so" being picked up by a team. Even if the player is only kept on the team for a week, it is still a form of free agency! For now though, the Patriots should look to pick up some bargain free agents. This includes old players with one last season in them or a troubled youngster. The Patriots are actually very good at this sort of thing. Andre Carter had 10+ sacks a few seasons ago, Mike Vrabel caught touchdowns and made big tackles, and Brian Waters protected Brady from everywhere on the line. All of these men were cheap free agents that went on to have big years with the Patriots. Even if it was only for a season (Carter) they produced and helped the team win. As the team goes for yet another Superbowl, they need to look for cheap players that can help them win. These include MJD for a backup running back, Sidney Rice for receiver depth, and Shaun Phillips as a rotational end. All of these guys had down years, or are just not worth big money due to age and unreliability (Shaun Phillips). However, put them in a rotational role and surrounded by good players, they could end up producing huge numbers. These guys are what wins Super Bowls.
Figure Out What to Do With Vince Wilfork
Vince... your years have been quite productive. When healthy, you're a run stuffer and truly one of the best defensive tackles of the last decade. You are also very old... and on the decline. That is why the Patriots asked their defensive stud to take a pay cut... which he apparently wasn't too keen on doing as he tore his name tag off his locker soon after. This leaves the Patriots three options (well really only two). They can either cut him, and shed about $8 million in salary cap in the process for other free agents, or they can pay him the full amount he is due which is a little over $11 million. The third option was to get him to take a pay cut but who are we kidding? He is never going to do that. If he does then Bill Belichick is more of a genius than I originally thought. Either way, they need to figure out what to do with him... and soon. Right now this whole situation is only serving as a distraction, and the Patriots don't do distractions. They let Spikes go without a pause, even Wes Welker and Randy Moss. If the guy doesn't fit your vision, drop him. If he is willing to play ball, keep him. Either way just get something done and soon.
Where is The Patriots Biggest Draft Need?
Pay Their Own
Devin McCourty, Stephen Gostowski, and Nate Solder. All players are vital to the team and all are set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of next season. That is why the team should start hammering out deals now. While they don't have a ton of money to work with since Revis and Wilfork account for over $15 million against the cap (more than $20 including bonuses), it would be nice to get the nickels and cents to an appropriate mark. This way when the money frees up they can just sign the dotted line. This is a lot better than a Logan Mankins holdout... speaking of which I think I just found $10 million more in potential savings... but we can save that for next year when an heir-apparent arises. For now, the team should just get some sort of deal done for these players so that they can resign them more easily.
Nail The Draft
The Patriots come into next season with some big hole named stars... but a lot of little holes to fill. In order for the Patriots to continue being successful and possibly win a Super Bowl this season they are going to have to nail the draft. A big issue they had last season was the lack of depth at defensive tackle. I predict they target Ra'shede Hageman, a 6'6" monster in the first round that can both rush the quarterback and stop the run. That will give them a potential starter so maybe they can figure out what to do with Wilfork. A big void was also made when Aaron Hernandez traded his football pads for a jumpsuit. The Patriots, if they wish to rekindle their old passing attack, must get another "Move" tight end that can act more as a receiver. Their is also very little depth behind Gronkowski, so perhaps like in the past they could double dip on a position and acquire a blocking/vertical tight end like Gronkowski incase the star goes down yet again. This is more like Troy Niklas , who could be taken in the second round. After that it gets a little fuzzy. Logan Mankins has been inconsistent, Dan Connolly is an utter joke, and Wendell is a liability in pass-blocking. For a team that operates primarily out of the spread offense, a good pass blocker is a must. In round 3-5 the team should look for a guard and a center for depth and hopefully one day a potential starter. Finally, their last few picks can go towards linebacker depth. After Dane Fletcher left it created a sizable whole in their depth should a starter go down with injury. If these picks can be solid, the team should be set with depth as well as good starting talent to go along with an already All-Pro potential lineup.
Continue to Evolve
The 2012 draft was almost a slam-dunk with three players becoming important contributors to the team's longterm success. Hightower, Jones, and Dennard are all Pro-Bowl caliber talents. They all, however, must continue to get better for the team to be successful. Hightower is a sturdy run defender that can attack the quarterback. Sometimes during games though he misses tackles with poor form, and can lose his man in coverage. He needs to become a more sound tackler and better at coverage if he wants to get better. Dennard is a physical press corner that can make big plays in the passing game. He is, however, not the fastest player on the field and can be burned by those speedy receivers, as well as be too aggressive at times when the ball is in the air. With physical limitations he needs to improve his technique to mask any deficiencies he may have while in coverage. Perhaps playing behind one of the greatest shutdown corners the game has ever seen will help him. Finally, there's Chandler Jones. A adept athlete he is best at getting off the line of scrimmage quickly for pressures and sacks. For him to get better he simply must add some strength and improve his repertoire of pass-rushing moves. While this is only a handful of players, many need to become better at some little-things to really help out the team. If they can all continue to improve, the NFL better watch out!r