NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
Through free agency, the New England Patriots have attempted to strengthen some of last season’s weaknesses, but much more remains to be done if the Patriots wish to field a championship team in 2013. Read on for a look at the top five needs remaining, as well as some insight into how New England may opt to address them this offseason.
Despite adding Danny Amendola and Donald Jones to inject some youth and talent into their group of wide receivers, New England could still use two or three more receivers. Amendola should take over for Wes Welker in the slot, while Jones is ideally a fourth wide receiver. Releasing Brandon Lloyd created another void at the position, and without many free-agent options available, the Patriots will likely need to invest one or two draft picks in the position, which is a concern considering their lack of available draft choices. New England has been widely expected to sign an offer sheet for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, which may be wise considering their inability to draft effectively at the position, although the depth of the wide receiver class seems more appealing. Depending on the financial commitment, Sanders would be an intriguing option, though. Re-signing Julian Edelman as a backup to Danny Amendola would be logical as well.
Signing CFL star Armond Armstead was a smart move, as the Patriots were able to secure a second or third-round talent at the defensive tackle spot; however, they should not be complacent with their current group of interior linemen. Vince Wilfork is a stud at nose tackle, but Kyle Love may be better suited to a reserve role moving forwards; his ability to clog the middle is valuable, but he doesn’t create much pressure in the passing game. Brandon Deaderick and Jermaine Cunningham were on the field for far too many snaps last season, revealing the need for additional bodies. The Patriots attempted to sign Desmond Bryant before he ultimately ended up in Cleveland, so this may be a need which is addressed through free agency. New England should be on the lookout for a cheap situational pass rusher to add to their collection; players such as Sedrick Ellis, Sen’Derrick Marks, or Amobi Okoye may be willing to sign one-year, non-guaranteed deals.
Like defensive tackle, this is a spot which New England appears poised to address through free agency; the most likely signing is John Abraham, but it’s strange that the Patriots have been unable to reach an agreement thus far. While Rob Ninkovich was surprisingly effective in 2012, he’s hardly an impact player and is entering the final year of his contract. If Abraham opts to sign elsewhere, the Patriots may be interested in a player such as Dwight Freeney, perhaps the only other logical fit available. If Jake Bequette can provide anything in 2013, it’d be a blessing, as players like Jermaine Cunningham and Justin Francis were too visible last season. There are some intriguing defensive ends available in the draft, but New England may be better served by picking up a veteran considering their lack of draft picks. Armond Armstead could also be an option if Bill Belichick decides to implement more two-gap responsibilities at the left end spot.
Dane Fletcher’s return should improve New England’s depth at linebacker, but they could still use additional players, particularly on the outside. Rob Ninkovich makes sense as a backup strongside linebacker, but he is also needed at left end. Ideally, the Patriots would find a player who can cover tight ends while setting a hard edge in run support, although they shouldn’t commit much money to the position, as they have three effective starters in Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Dont’a Hightower. There are still a few potential bargains on the market, so this is something that will likely have to be addressed in free agency, or not at all. Brandon Spikes’ expiring contract could also factor into New England’s decision-making here.
Aqib Talib is on a one-year deal, so the Patriots should still be on the lookout for a long-term answer at the left cornerback spot. With Alfonzo Dennard potentially facing a league-mandated suspension, the right cornerback spot could be an issue to begin the 2012 season as well. Fortunately, re-signing Kyle Arrington should solidify the slot. Ras-I Dowling shouldn’t impact New England’s plans too much, as he has been unable to stay healthy over the course of his career. This is probably one of the most obvious areas in which the Patriots could use an upgrade, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them allocate multiple draft picks in an effort to build depth at the position. Bill Belichick is notoriously influenced by workout numbers here, so the most likely targets are players who performed well in the 40-yard dash and three-cone drill in Indianapolis.