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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.