Priority Level: 4
Returning Players: Devin McCourty, Ras-I Dowling, Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore
Free Agents: Anwaun Molden, Nate Jones
Back in Decemeber when I did a similar piece, the Patriots secondary was in complete shambles. Since then, a few things have happened that may alter how they go about the off-season.
First, was the emergence of Sterling Moore. Moore really came on at the end of the season, playing critical minutes and saved the Patriots season. Moore was one of the only CB on the team who could play man to man coverage. Moore is someone to watch entering next season.
Second, was the moving of Devin McCourty back and forth between CB and S. McCourty lost his confidence this year and really struggled when the ball was in the air. He would often be in the right positions but couldn’t get his head around in time and couldn’t make a play on the ball. In my opinion, his moving to safety in nickel situations spoke more to the dire situation at safety this year, than his long term future there.
Ras-I Dowling is really the x-factor in all of this. Dowling missed all training camp, yet started game one against the Dolphins and looked very very good. He then got hurt in the 2nd game of the year and missed the rest of the season. It’s critical that Dowling return healthy and stay healthy for this secondary to get better.
Kyle Arrington is a solid corner who tied for the league lead in interceptions, as a #3 CB I really like the fit, but not as the #1 guy.
The Patriots are in luck since this year it’s such a deep draft and free agent class at the CB position. There are a number of CBs who could step in and be a huge improvement over what we have. It’s important that they find players who can play man to man as well as zone coverage and find some players with ball skills. I expect the Patriots to draft a CB within the first 2 rounds of the draft or sign a top target in UFA.
Priority Level: 4
Returning Players: Patrick Chung, Sergio Brown
Free Agents: James Ihedigbo
I’m not going to sugar coat it, the safety position this year sucked. Outside of Patrick Chung, who missed half the year to injury, none of them could cover. It was a revolving door, continually trying to mask and hide the gaping hole in the back of the defense.
Sergio Brown, who Bill Belichick was banking on to develop, was literally one of the worst safeties I have seen play professional football. His pass interference penalties were directly responsible for two Patriot loses.
James Ihedigbo, who I really like as a special teams player, can’t cover a single soul. The position really was a joke last year. It lacked leadership, physicality, cohesion and confidence. The #1 need of this team right now is to shore up the position. With the league so pass-oriented, you can not afford to have such a liability at such an important position.
Bill Belichick will have to get creative as there is not much available in the draft outside of Alabama safety Mark Barron, so this might be a position where the Patriots spend some money. The Patriots can draft all the CBs they want but, until they fix the safety position it won’t matter.
Priority Level: 5
Returning Players: Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken
Free Agents: None
The Patriots are set here and it would appear for the long term. Mesko is developing into one of the best punters in the league, Gostkowski is an upper echelon PK and Danny Aiken didn’t have a bad snap all season. This is an area where the Patriots don’t have to worry about for a long time.
Priority Level: 0
It’s painfully obvious where the true needs of this team are. They need to add players who can cover on the back end of their defense. They also need to add athleticism to their front 7 on defense and add players who can make plays at the LOS.
On offense it will be fun to watch what they will do at the WR spot. The draft and UFA is loaded with high quality WRs many of whom would be perfect in this system. The Patriots were very susceptible to teams that could take away Welker and Gronkowski and get pressure on Tom Brady. Adding speed to the perimeter of the offense will make it nearly impossible to stop.
If I had to classify the Patriots needs this off-season I would say they need to add speed to the outside of their offense, and add defenders who are more athletic and can cover in man to man situations.
This team is in great position going forward as they are still essentially at the end of a rebuild. No team in history has been able to rebuild and still be as successful as the Patriots. With four picks in the first two rounds of the draft again and plenty of money to spend in Free Agency, there is no excuse why these needs can’t be filled. It would be nice to have a defense that can carry the offense next year and that is what I am looking for this off-season.