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Congratulations to the New England Patriots, your 2016 Super Bowl champions. It wasn’t easy, and it sure wasn’t pretty (for the first two quarters plus, at least), but after rattling off 31 unanswered points to escape a 25-point deficit, the largest in Super Bowl history, Tom Brady and co. were able to secure the franchise’s fifth Lombardi Trophy. The Patriots now have a chance to replicate history, if they can repeat in next year’s’ Super Bowl. They would be the first repeating Super Bowl champions since, well, the New England Patriots when they won back to back Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004, winning 3 Super Bowls in 4 years, and the same opportunity has presented itself for the Patriots to repeat history. In order for them to do that, they must put forth a successful offseason. This offseason will feature a lot of activity for the Patriots, which is unusual, but they have contracts that are up, and players to pay. Let’s break down each position and analyze what the Patriots should do.
Quarterback: Who knows when the hell Tom Brady will put an end to this insane run he’s been on. He will be 40 years old when the season begins, but he’s playing as if he’s in his mid-20s. The central question for the quarterback position this offseason is: what will happen to backup Jimmy Garoppolo? There are multiple reports that teams such as the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears are all interested in acquiring him. The rumor is the Patriots are listening to offers, but what is their asking price? In my opinion, I do not trade Garoppolo, since Brady is 40 years old and is (although we do often forget) a human being. The idea of having a quarterback like Garoppolo, who is talented and been in the system for an extended period of time, backing up Brady is excellent insurance. There is a line where I would trade him though, and that is if a team decides to get stupid with trade offers. If a team offers a 1st round pick for him, I pull the trigger, because that is an overpay, considering Jimmy G only has a game and a half of meaningful regular season play under his belt. I do like Jacoby Brissett, but he is not NFL-ready and can use another year or two under the Patriots system, and that is why I would prefer to keep Garoppolo in town.
Running Backs: I think LeGarrette Blount’s Super Bowl appearance showed who he truly is. He is not an efficient runner, until late in the game, when the opponents’ buses are warming up, and nobody wants to tackle that moose. I have zero faith in Dion Lewis staying healthy for a full season, especially if he is the bell cow back. James White is a terrific receiver out of the backfield but is not much of a threat as a runner. This position has been ignored for too long in the draft, and free agency, so expects the Patriots to target someone who can carry the load off of Brady’s shoulders and can contribute on every down.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: Both of these position will have a lot of activity over this offseason. Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell seem to be the outside receivers for the future, and both have earned Brady’s trust. Many fans are not realizing Julian Edelman and the Patriots are in a precarious situation. He will be 31 years old by the start of the season, and is in a contract year. Don’t get me wrong, Julian Edelman is a top wideout in the league, but he’ll be 32 by the time he signs his next contract, and his body has taken a beating over the middle. I expect the Patriots to draft another wide receiver, in the mold of Edelman, in the case that the Patriots and Edelman can’t agree on a long term contract. The tight end situation is tricky, as well. Martellus Bennett is going to command big bucks on the market, as the most talented tight end available. His market value is going to be around 4 years, $30 million, and I simply do not feel that the Patriots will be willing to pay him that. That leaves Rob Gronkowski and Matt Lengel as the two Patriot tight ends. Not ideal, so expect the Pats to at least add depth to this very important position in the Patriots system.
Offensive Line: This is a unit I expect to be together for a long time. They struggled in the Super Bowl, but solidified as the game went along. The offensive line is extremely young, particularly the interior, and very talented. Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney have both struggled throughout the year, but have shown flashes as well, and will only continue to get better under offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
Defensive Line: This unit will need to be targeted plenty in the offseason. The only two starters that are under contract next year are Trey Flowers and Malcolm Brown. Resigning defensive tackle Alan Branch would be a big bonus, but there have been rumblings about a possible retirement. The same with defensive end Chris Long, although if he were to return, I’d expect him to be a role player instead of a starter. This is a great offseason to tackle this position, since the free agent class is loaded and the draft is stacked with defensive talent. Expect a new look defensive line from the Patriots heading into the 2017 NFL season.
Linebackers: Dont’a Hightower needs to get paid, now. His impact on the game and his leadership makes him a top linebacker in the league, and he deserves to be paid as such. I expect Hightower to sign a contract somewhere in the neighborhood of a 4 year, $50 million contract, with about half of it guaranteed, similar to what Jamie Collins received in Cleveland. The Patriots would be wise to add an athletic linebacker who can play in space alongside Hightower. In free agency, a linebacker like Keenan Robinson, of the New York Giants, could help as a role player, since his run defending abilities are, well, bad. In the draft, I really like Vanderbilt linebacker, Zach Cunningham, who is a tackling machine and is great in space.
Secondary: This unit will be very different this upcoming season, in my opinion. Logan Ryan is a free agent, and so is safety Duron Harmon, and I fully expect them to sign big money contracts elsewhere. Logan Ryan is a very solid second cornerback, who will be paid to be a team’s number one cornerback. The Patriots will not match a contract like the 5 year, $50 million contract I expect him to sign. The same can be said about Duron Harmon. He is a solid role player, who will be paid as a full-time starting safety, and I do not expect the Patriots to overpay to keep him, which they shouldn’t. Cornerback Malcolm Butler is a restricted free agent this offseason, but the Patriots don’t really need to sign him until next offseason. Although, they would be wise to extend him this offseason, to make sure he stays a Patriot for a long time. He will command a large contract, but he’s worth every penny. On the backend, Devin McCourty has the free safety position locked up, but Patrick Chung struggled massively this season, regressing big-time from his career year in 2015. The Patriots need to find another starting cornerback to pair with Malcolm Butler, and another starting safety to pair with Patrick Chung. After that, a couple depth pieces would be great insurance. Special Teams: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski did not have his best year, as he was often unreliable, and the returning game was a non factor for most of the season. I do expect Bill to make some changes, but not any drastic moves. Just some moves to add competition and possibly find a diamond in the rough.
Tune in to the first episode of the new podcast ‘Between The Numbers’, hosted by yours truly, Malik Zorrok, on Thursday, February 16th!
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