Patriots Offseason Needs and Issues

Patriots+Offseason+Needs+and+Issues

Nick Glennon

12-4 is a solid record and an AFC Championship appearance is nothing to be ashamed of but the Patriots know that they need to improve.

Tom Brady is getting older and there are only a few years left until the golden boy quarterback rides off into the sunset. The Patriots, who won their last Super Bowl in 2004, would love to end the Brady era with one last trophy. The window is closing fast and everybody knows it. This years’ team was a very talented overall group but injuries, inexperience and lack of depth at some positions ended up killing them down the stretch. Here are some issues the Patriots need to address if they want to make it to the big game next year:

Free Agency – Key Decisions

It’s very clear that the Patriots need to resign star cornerback Aqib Talib and slot receiver Julian Edelman in order to contend next year. Talib was the cornerstone of the defense and Edelman was by far the greatest and most consistent passing threat. It’s absolutely crucial that the Pats lock these two guys up before some other team offers them big bucks. Power running back LeGarrette Blount is also a huge priority. Stevan Ridley is a great running back but Blount is an absolute necessity for the team. The two perfectly complement each other and led what would eventually become perhaps the most dominating running game in pro football. Blount had a horrid AFC Championship game as he gained 6 yards on 5 carries but this is actually good news for the Patriots; teams will be less willing to offer big money for Blount due to a fear that he cannot perform in big games. I fully expect the Patriots to resign all three. However, look for other free agents such as wide receiver Austin Collie, defensive end Andre Carter, and linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher to be playing elsewhere next season as it seems almost certain that the Patriots have no intentions of resigning them. Spikes being the most notable considering he was a starting interior linebacker and led the team in tackles.

Injuries and Inexperience at Wide Receiver

Patriots fans will admit it – letting Wes Welker leave after last season was a big mistake. Julian Edelman had a monstrous breakout year but his future in New England is currently uncertain and overall this position is a major concern. Offseason acquisition Danny Amendola showed many signs of promise in his first game but then he got injured and was hobbled the entire rest of the year. While it seems unlikely at the moment, don’t be overly surprised if the Patriots don’t bring him back next year. Undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins had some nice catches and showed that he can create separation but his route running skills and hands are severely questionable. Thompkins was amongst the lead leaders in passes dropped and there were several games where it was clear that him and Tom Brady just weren’t on the same page. Aaron Dobson, another rookie, has experienced some of the same struggles as Thompkins. Dobson has true potential and he has outstanding athletic ability but he also struggled with drops and was injury prone down the stretch. The younger guys need to develop more and don’t rule out the possibility of the Patriots bringing in a veteran free agent receiver to help them out. Roddy White and Larry Fitzgerald are definitely two names that come to mind.

Uncertainty at Tight End

The Patriots really suffered from lack of productivity at the tight end position this year. When Rob Gronkowski returned the offense was running as smooth as ever but once he got injured again things kind of fell apart. The play making skills of Aaron Hernandez were greatly missed – but that’s something out of the team’s control. Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan are stout blockers but rarely contribute to the passing game. Gronkowski is a legend when he plays but the key word in that sentence is when. The Patriots can’t rely on his health to determine their success. Perhaps it’s time to look to the draft for a young tight end who can be a real threat in the passing game.

Inconsistent Offensive Line

The offensive line was very inconsistent this year. In some games they looked amazing and allowed Tom Brady all the time in the world to pass and also created room to run for Ridley, Blount and Shane Vereen. However when they faced more skilled defensive lines they kind of showed their true colors. Sebastian Vollmer was out almost the entire season and he was greatly missed on the left side. Nate Solder wasn’t the worst left tackle ever but his true position is right tackle – where he’ll be back next year. The interior line is where the true problems are. The guard position was essentially a revolving door last season as six different players started at the position over the course of the season. The interior lacks key young talent – expect the Patriots to use one of their higher picks to select an interior lineman.

Coverage Problems For Safeties

Anybody who watched a Patriots game this year will tell you that the defense has outstanding cornerback play. Aqib Talib is an elite cornerback, Kyle Arrington is an excellent slot corner and  younger guys Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan show signs of promise. The safeties are a completely different story. Devin McCourty is solid but he often makes crucial mistakes in coverage. Steven Gregory is a complete tragedy however. He can’t cover anybody at all. He’s a brilliant defensive mind on the field but his athletic skills are lacking and he’ll miss at least a few big tackles each game. Rookie Duron Harmon made some nice plays at the position but he’s still young and needs time to develop. It’s not the biggest offseason need but it’s something to be looked at. Bringing in a veteran presence to help out Harmon and McCourty would not be a bad decision at all.

The Patriots are a very solid overall team. They have a young roster budding with talent on both sides of the ball. Younger players like Logan Ryan, Jamie Collins, Duron Harmon, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Aaron Dobson are sure to develop. Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Sebastian Vollmer were greatly missed this season but they should all be back in prime form next season. Rob Gronkowski is coming off injury again but you can never count him out. But the main thing is that as long as Tom Brady is quarterback, the Patriots will always be relevant and in contention. If the Patriots keep the roster together and address the weaker positions then a Super Bowl appearance could definitely be in the cards next season.