Landscape of the Patriots

Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty will be the key to a successful off-season.

Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty will be the key to a successful off-season.

NEPD Staff Writer CJ Sousa

Super. Bowl. Champions.  At one time in Patriots history, it would have seemed impossible.  During others, it was more of an expected right.  Nonetheless, Tom finally got number four.  And if you’re anything like me, you’re already thinking about how he will get number five.

It’s been a long difficult road since the Patriots Super Bowl 39 victory over Philadelphia.   Since then, the Patriots have won more games and division championships than any other team in the league.  But something was missing.  Every year come the beginning of February, there was a certain agony of disbelief.

It was a  January night in the new year of 2006.  The dynasty rolled into Mile High looking for a chance at a 3-peat.  Those aspirations were cut short thanks to a Champ Bailey 100 yard interception.  It was shocking, but it was cool.  “We’ll be back”, most Patriots fans assumed.

Fast forward to the following season.  The 2006 AFC Championship.  This one stings as much as any.  Not just because the Patriots lost due to a Jeff Saturday rushing touchdown (among other things), but that there was little doubt in my mind Bill Belichick would have lost a Super Bowl to Rex Grossman.

2007.  Still shocking to me.  So many missed opportunities.  I wish I could say more about the game, but to this day I have never seen a highlight on purpose of that fateful day.  Winning XLIX in Glendale helps ease this pain, slightly.

2008.  Matt Cassel, you tried my man. Kudos.

2009. Welker’s injury vs a meaningless Houston Texans squad in week 17 followed by the worst home playoff loss in the Brady-Belichick era ruined what could have been a special season.

2010. Brady’s most underrated season in my opinion.  Maybe if Patrick Chung doesn’t fumble a snap on a fake punt attempt in the Divisional Round, this ends differently.  Nonetheless – the Jets came to Foxboro – after 45-3 – outplayed the Patriots – and won.

2011.  Outside of the Ravens victory this year, I would argue the 2011 AFC Championship game is the most memorable game to be played at Gillette Stadium.  But Gronk got hurt and was essentially limited as a decoy in the Super Bowl.  Welker’s costly drop which would have sealed the deal.  Couple that with Mario Manningham pretending he was a great player for a second and well, you know the rest.

2012.  Talib’s injury combined with Ridley’s fumble in the AFC title meant doom for the Patriots against those damn’ Ravens again.

2013. Not even General Washington could have led the Patriots to a victory with such a wounded roster.  Classic case of needing good fortune to win a Super Bowl.  Lose your best offensive playmaker, offensive linemen, various defensive stars and it is near impossible to win it all no matter how talented the team is.

Clearly, winning the Super Bowl is one of the toughest accomplishments in sports.  Everything has to align, and even then, you are not guaranteed anything.  Let’s look at the landscape of this Patriots roster, and what changes may be coming to assure a place in Super Bowl 50.

Quarterbacks

Nothing will change here as  I don’t see the Patriots carrying a 3rd QB next year.  Fun fact: Jimmy Garoppolo has 1 more Super Bowl ring then Dan Marino.

Running Backs

Not expecting too many changes here either.  LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Jonas Gray, James White and Tyler Gaffney are all under contract next year. Former Pittsburgh star Dion Lewis was signed to a futures contract as well.

Story line to follow: Shane Vereen.  #34 played a key role in the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory as the Patriots took more of an aerial approach.  I do expect Vereen to be back next season.  Stevan Ridley had a nice  career with the Patriots, and I expect him to get a real shot elsewhere in 2015.

Potential Patriots: If Vereen is resigned, I don’t expect any action.  If not, a catch-first low cost running back would be brought in.  Guys who fit that bill could be LaMichael James, Chris Polk, or Joe McKnight. Overall, I’m not expecting any new comers.

Wide Receivers

It's becoming make-or-break time for the former second round pick.

It’s becoming make-or-break time for the former second round pick.

The most talked about position group on the team in recent years.  Brandon JoJo Lafell and Julian Edelman both have outplayed their contracts and seem like bargain deals.  Danny Amendola is under contract, but I’m expecting a restructure coming there.  Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Brian Tyms are also signed.

Story line to follow: For me, it’s Aaron Dobson.  I think Amendola will, and should be back.  Outside of his opening kickoff fumble vs Baltimore he was one of New England’s most valuable players this post season.  Dobson, the former second round pick, still has a lot of support within the organization – but he’s running out of time.  He has talent, it’s just a matter of what will he do with it.  This will be his first fully healthy off season, so let’s see how he shows up to camp before we cut our losses here.  If Dobson can ever turn into the player the Patriots dreamed of on draft day, the Patriots offense could be All-Time great next season.

Potential Patriots:  Realistically I’m not expecting any major splashes.  Lafell & Edelman are locks.  Amendola I believe will be there, as well as Mr. Potential himself Aaron Dobson.  The question is after that, who can be brought in?  There are some big names in the UFA market this year.  Demaryius Thomas, Michael Crabtree, Cecil Shorts, and Torrey Smith just to name a few. Similar to running back though, I see this coming down to a need & money decision.  I think a guy like Nate Washington or Jeremy Maclin would fit in nicely, but I would probably go the draft route here.  Deep, deep WR class coming up.

Tight End

Well, we know this fella named Gronk will be there.  Tim Wright too.  He was quiet down the stretch, but I see some potential in the second year Rutgers alum.  I think Michael Hoomanawanui will be the Cap Casualty of this group, as I expect the Pats to try and upgrade for their dollar.

Story line to follow:  Is the next Aaron Hernandez somewhere in this upcoming draft class?  My bet is no, but I expect the Patriots to try and find out anyway by selecting a tight end in the higher rounds.

Potential Patriots: If I had $1 for every time I’ve seen Devin Funchess to New England talk, I would have had enough money to cover all expenses for my Super Bowl party already.  That being said, it actually is a nice fit – I just don’t see the Patriots going tight end with their FIRST pick.  Top 3 or 4 rounds? Possibly.

Offensive line

Marcus Cannon, Cameron Flemming,  Ryan Wendell, Sebastian Vollmer, Bryan Stork, and Nate Solder are all signed through next year, and I expect all of them to be on the 75 man roster next summer at least.  Dan Connolly and Jordan Devey may be on their way out of town. Josh Kline is a toss up.

Story line to follow: I expect the Patriots to really focus on revamping their offensive line.  It got beat up against Baltimore, but vs Indianapolis and Seattle I thought the O-Line stepped up and played big for Brady.  Nonetheless, 2 or 3 bodies especially on the interior will be needed.

Potential Patriots: I’ll be honest, it’s so tough to predict which offensive linemen exactly the Patriots will target in free agency.  Thinking of versatile guys here who can move around and play multiple positions.  I’ll throw 2 names out that get my interest, and that is Rob Sims and Orlando Franklin.

Defensive line

Like the offensive line, I like where the Patriots stand up front – they just need more depth.  Imagine how much more effective Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones would be if they had any help what so ever.  Vince Wilfork, Dominique Easley, Chris Jones, Zach Moore, and Sealver Siliga will all be under contract through next year.

Story line to follow: Alan Branch and Akeem Ayers.  Both mid-season pickups seem to have played huge dividends for the Patriots.  Branch was a key run-stuffer all throughout the playoffs.  Ayers, especially when Chandler Jones missed a month, showed he could provide a pass rush when called upon.  I would do my best to bring both back for the right price, particularly Ayers.  I think he would be even more effective next year with a full off season to go through the Patriots system.

Potential Patriots: The Patriots will draft a few defensive linemen.  I’d expect at the minimum two guys who can help the pass rush.  This is one of the deepest edge rush classes in a while, so the Patriots should have a great opportunity to improve.   Past the draft, there are some intriguing options out there for the right price.   Jerry Hughes, Adrian Clayborn, Jarvis Jenkins, Sam Acho, Derrick Morgan, Brandon Graham,  and Anthony Spencer are all guys I would take a flyer on at least.

Linebackers

Next year, there may not be a three man linebacker group more talented than the Patriots.  Assuming Jerod Mayo will be back (contract restructure looming?) the Patriots will have three Pro Bowl talents in Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, and Jamie Collins.  Jonathan Casillas – another mid-season pickup – is an UFA who I see New England try and bring back for cheap.  Darius Flemming could compete for a roster spot next year as well.

Story line to follow – Jerod Mayo‘s contract situation.  We’re starting to get to the restructure or cut deadline that has been looming ever since Mayo’s last extension.  With cap hits coming up of $10.3M and $10.1M, the 28 year old linebacker has to decide if he will restructure to stay in a winning environment (Vince Wilfork) or essentially push his way out of town as an un-willing negotiator (Logan Mankins).

Potential Patriots – The starting core is secure.  This will be about adding depth with versatile guys who won’t make very much.  A name I’ll throw out there is former Tampa Bay Bucs’ LB Danny Lansanah. I expect the Pats to draft at least one or two linebackers this year.

Cornerbacks

Brandon Browner, Logan Ryan, and Super Bowl Hero Malcolm Butler I would expect to all be 100% on the team next season.  Darrelle Revis – I believe – will be back.  I think New England in a desperate situation picks up the huge $20M team option before they let Revis Island travel west to the Meadowlands or Buffalo.  Kyle Arrington struggled in the Super Bowl, but he is still one of the best nicklebacks in the league.  I’ll be pretty surprised if he gets cut.  Will he change his jersey number for the 17th time?  That’s another question.  Alfonso Dennard could be around, but may very well be a cap casualty.

Story line to follow: Darrelle Revis. Period.  Biggest story line of the entire off-season.  If Revis is indeed resigned, cornerback is no longer a positional need and you can pencil in the Patriots as heavy AFC favorites to reach the Super Bowl.  Maybe the Patriots scoop a late round corner for special teams purposes or get a low dollar guy to come in from free agency, but that would be all I would expect.

If Revis is somehow not resigned, a complete different scenario.  I would expect New England to be huge players in the free agent market like a depressed man at wedding who just got dumped by his supermodel girlfriend. Tramon Williams, Antonio Cromartie, Kareem Jackson, and Brandon Flowers would highlight my wish list in this less than ideal scenario.

Safety

Who saw Patrick Chung as a key contributor in August?  In his second stint with the team, Chung really stepped his game up and gave New England a nice hard hitting compliment to Devin McCourty. Tavon Wilson and Divisional Round Hero Duron Harmon had some nice moments this year, and for their cap number I expect both will be around.  Special teamer Nate Ebner is signed throughout 2015, but I think he’s on the fence to return.

Story line to follow: Devin McCourty‘s contract situation.  Of the big name free agents to be in New England, McCourty is the guy I’d be least worried about losing.  I don’t see him leaving New England.  If no long term deal is agreed upon, using the franchise tag on a safety is much more affordable than other positions such as cornerback.  DMac as he is known will be playing center field in New England for years to come.

Based on the pure number of bodies in the secondary, I don’t envision the Patriots being major players in the FA Safety market.  The top names along with McCourty are Antrel Rolle, Louis Delmas, and Stevie Brown.

Kicker

Yes, Stephen Gostkowski is an impending free agent.  No, he isn’t going anywhere.  Gostkowski has yet to win a Super Bowl on a last second kick, but he’s been solid as a rock since he took over for Adam Vinatieri.

 

Overall, as you can see, the Patriots main focus this off-season will be fighting off the wolves and keeping their own in free agency.  For me it’s pretty simple: resign Darrelle Revis no matter the cost.  Don’t resign Darrelle Revis, and Belichick better have one hell of a plan B, C, and D.

Looking over the horizon, I see the Patriots as a good bet to get to San Francisco next year.  Denver is a cap nightmare.  They have to figure out their quarterback situation, and then figure out how to field a defense when you have terrible contracts such as Demarcus Ware and not so great contracts such as Aqib Talib and TJ Ward.

Indianapolis, as evidence of the last two years, still have a long ways to go to top New England.  Baltimore and Pittsburgh will be the biggest threats, and there is a good chance the Patriots will see Pittsburgh immediately in the season opener next season.  I wouldn’t sleep on San Diego either.  I feel like I’ve been saying that for a decade, but it still bodes true.

Congrats on the long and bumpy road to get to Lombardi Trophy number 4 New England.  The drive for five will be coming, very soon.

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19 Responses to “Landscape of the Patriots”

  1. Steve says:

    Boy, I keep hearing that Arrington is “one of the best nickle backs in the league”, but I just don’t see it. How many times do you see him just chasing receivers and getting burnt! And he never looks back. For the money he is making ($4 mil+) I would cut him and give Dennard, Ryan & Butler more playing time, and maybe try drafting a 6’2″ CB for a change.
    As for Mayo – he hasn’t played much the last 2 yrs and we really haven’t missed a beat at LB. He restructures or just say goodbye. Wilfork needs to do the same – father time is catching up to him and it really showed this past season. Neither is worth the cap hit and it will free up a ton of money to help pay Revis.

  2. riraho says:

    This team is so young and good, I think they can afford to draft guys and give them a year or two to develop. But the key number 1 priority is to sign Revis. I don’t care if they have to pick up the 20 mil option, he makes the difference in that D.

  3. Chris says:

    Was with you till you mentioned Arrington is one of the best nickel back! You got to stop taking whatever you are on! He single handedly tried to give away the Super Bowl! Now we have Butler, we need to say Bye to Arrington & try to get a tall (above 6 feet) in the draft – cannot stand more of this Lilliputians in the secondary getting burnt again & again by Flacco every year!

  4. Jeff says:

    What do folks think of Danielle Hunter as a potential first round target? Will he continue to develop and reach his upside?

  5. J H TARBORO says:

    I would love to see another big splash signing such as Kansas City FA OLB/DE Justin Houston on the opposite side of Chandler Jones.

    • Jeff says:

      I think if they sign someone like that, you’ll see McCourty and/or Revis walk. The dropoff from those 2 to the next guy is greater than Houston to Nink, so I’d bet they’ll focus on those guys if possible. Interesting idea though if Revis walks to focus on upgrading the D-line in free agency rather than trying to replicate Revis.

  6. GM-in-Training says:

    I think the Pats are still interested in a swiss-army-knife TE/FB/WR opposite Gronk, and a big-tall-win-the-jump-offs WR like Chris Mathews was in the Superbowl.

    That said, dink-and-dunk passes to quick direction-change guys won the Superbowl.
    You had Julian Edelman (6.62 seconds 3-cone-time) juking (7.01 seconds 3-cone-time) Tharold Simon out of his shoes to get the go-ahead score in the 4th Quarter.
    Amendola and LaFell both ran about 6.81 coming out of college.

    So, it would make some sense to bring in a mini-Edelman to shadow him for a couple years and learn the mojo the way Edelman did with Welker. I don’t see that guy on the roster today.

  7. J H TARBORO says:

    WR: draft at least one + UDFAs
    TE: Create a role for Tim Wright!
    DL: Needs help! I’m still mad at the Easley pick! a 1st rd. player has to be a difference maker, not a player with 2 bad wheels.
    CB: 2 teams are in the Revis market the Jets and the Bills. 20m option on table, are the Pats willing to pay? Remember Revis is a business man enough said!
    S: I believe McCourty will be a FA, Chung signed a 3yr deal 2 wks ago, why not McCourty!
    Brandon Bolden signed a 3yr. deal ( he mostly plays on special teams than playing RB, could Slater be moving on? he is 30!

    • Jeff says:

      I think Slater was also extended, so I think he’s sticking around. I think McCourty will see the franchise tag and then work out an extension from there. I doubt the Pats pick up the 20 million option. I think they’d rather extend him or sign another quality CB, even if they are not as good, as they can probably make that 20 million go further loaded into a longer-term contract.
      I’m interested to see if Dennard can come out and show he has enough to generate some trade interest towards the beginning of the season (a la Mankins).
      For tight end, I’d like to see one of the late round picks for a guy to compete with Hooman or provide extra depth as a 4th TE, especially if Tim Wright is going to see the field more frequently.

  8. Jeff says:

    I think Tyms is a restricted free agent – I’m not sure Bill wants to give him the tender amount – is there enough interest from other teams to pry him away?

  9. qwerty says:

    Amendola is just a back up to Edelman. He is too expensive to keep around. You think paying 6 million for a back up makes sense.

    Signing Revis no matter what the cost is poor cap management. It wasn’t
    just having Revis that helped but having a healthy team. Anything above 14 million
    then just let him walk unless it is just one year. i would keep any contract a year to year deal.

    • CJ Sousa says:

      Hey Qwerty, thanks for reading. I just don’t see the benefit in cutting Amendola. His dead money cap hit of $3.6M is a killer. Cutting him, replacing him with a WR with a contract let’s say similar to JoJo means now the Pats are paying essentially double the price for one player. DA had a great post season, and I see him as more then just a backup to #11. As regards to Revis, I would pick up the $20 M option if need be. Obv. not ideal, but better then losing him. The Patriots do not win the Super Bowl this year without #24.

      • td says:

        I thought D.A. would have to restructure a lessor contract until he found life on kickoff return, up man on punt returns and new life at the end of the year in 3 WR sets. With the league going to bigger CB’s, he and Edleman create havoc with their quickness. Another big WR may already be on the roster in Dobson if he can stay healthy. He is also still insurance if Edleman goes down, which he had a prior history of doing.

  10. Bully C says:

    I think we all can agree that keeping Revis is priority 1. As for the running backs I’d be quite surprised to see Vereen back in a Patriots uniform next year. His representation is a man that the Patriots haven’t had good luck in the past with and he supposedly is asking for a lot of money. Keeping in mind that James White is supposedly the heir apparent (I have no idea if he’s ready or capable), then we may have seen Vereen’s last game at Foxboro.

  11. TFB says:

    Bill should definitely go interior O-line at pick 32. As the Cowboys have shown, you can build a dominant offensive line if you are willing to reach for guards and centers in the first round. A strong O-line and running game will prolong Brady’s career.

  12. Russell says:

    A really well done article. I don’t think Mayo will be ready for the season opener, (Rehab) his injury was not the easiest to come back from, needing a full year. His contract issue is large as well, but I wonder if Mayo would consider coaching, working with BB. A guy I like as a free agent is Philly’s LB Casey Mathews. Drafting a guy as well (Lorenzo Mauldin)
    Dan Connolly has had so many concussions during his career, I wonder if he retires. Davey is gone. I don’t look for any free agents here, drafting player’s for the future, keeping the cost down. ( B.J. Finney) and??? (Corey Robinson)

    • qwerty says:

      if jerod mayo gets injured again, he will either need to restructure his contract much lower or say good bye. he needs to stay healthy.

    • Jeff says:

      Russell, no chance Mayo retires to become an assistant coach this season. He’ll play or be cut or traded. He can make a ton of cash even if he were truly unable to regain his form by signing with a team, and he has a good chance to be a productive player, as he’s not too old yet. Belichick seems to really love Mayo, so it will be interesting to see how this one plays out. If he can get a good pick for him, does he move on?

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