I was really hoping that I would be typing this article up in the second week of February, but it just wasn’t in the cards for 2012. Some may enjoy wallowing in the self pity, some simply stop watching ESPN or any other sports news (that was my go-to back in the day) and others accept the painful reality, realize that it is just sports, and look forward to the next opportunity. One of the great things about modern sports is free agency. I know the draft is also great too, specifically the NFL and NBA, but free agency is different because we have seen what these players can bring to the equation. It doesn’t always work out; for every Brian Waters-type steal there is going to be an Adalius Thomas-type bust. It’s the nature of the beast when people get handed tons of money; some simply rest on their laurels, and others don’t change at all and keep producing. The hard part for executives is pinpointing other team’s free agents and how they will fit into their system.
The Patriots have been here before, a team that is on the verge but needs to add pieces to get over the top. In 2006, the Patriots lost to the Colts in the AFC Championship, and although they were good, they decided to load up. Moss, Welker, the aforementioned Thomas (he was actually good in 07) were key pieces of that squad that went on the famous 18-0 run. Five years later and still without a Super Bowl, even though there were great opportunities, has shown a serious chink in the Patriots armor, and I think the 2013 free agent class has just the pieces the Patriots need to fix holes and change the focus of their offense. I’m going to go through the offense today and then the defense on Saturday. Let’s hope I don’t put the Patriots in cap jail.
Quarterback- Unless the Patriots trade Ryan Mallett to Cleveland (could happen, Mike Lombardi loves him) they will most likely role with the two they have now. There will be a rookie free agent brought in for camps and maybe a developmental pick, but I don’t see the Pats going this route with an established veteran.
Running Back- This is an interesting area, and an area that I think the Patriots need to take a hard look at. Danny Woodhead is a free agent, so that is the first issue to deal with. I like Woodhead, but he is another one of the non-game breakers on this roster. I let him walk and put my focus onto a guy who could really help. Reggie Bush would be a perfect fit in New England, and that isn’t me speaking though my USC megaphone either. He is versatile, so you can use him as a traditional back and as a slot or even outside wide receiver. As I stated on Tuesday, I think it is time to move on from Wes Welker, and having Bush will ease that loss for Brady and also allow the Patriots to run more, which clearly needs to become a focus as Tom Brady climbs in age. Joe Montana thrived with Roger Craig and I think Brady would do the same with Bush.
Wide Receiver- The wide receiver position in New England has a chance to see as drastic a change as it did in 2007 when the entire crew was replaced. Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Deion Branch- all free agents. Welker is obviously the top guy out of this three, and he is going to be asking for about 9 million per for four years. It was nice to know you Wes, I wish you the best, but this offense just isn’t going to get over the hump with you as the focal point and it is time to move on. Brandon Lloyd (I call him “The Groundskeeper”) is a solid number two guy, but he is far from a number one. The 2013 class of receivers is strong, highlighted by big names like Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker, and even Victor Cruz, who is restricted. The one guy, who makes the most sense for New England, from a football standpoint, is Mike Wallace, who would be a Godsend to New England. Having a guy that has to be accounted for and can really never be taken away will make this offense simply untouchable, assuming they run it right. With the running game looking better in 2012, and the tight ends that they already have, adding the field-stretching playmaker will make this offense unstoppable, and also allow them to play more traditional two wide receiver sets that give Brady more protection. Emmanuel Sanders, another wide receiver from Pittsburgh who happens to be restricted, is another name to keep an eye on. I would stay away from Danny Amendola; why pick up Welker 2.0 when 1.0 didn’t work in the playoffs?
Tight End- I know they will sign about six tight ends, but I also know they will cut all them too. Gronk, Hernandez, and Jake Ballard; the Patriots are the class of the NFL at this position. Now let’s see if they can stay healthy…
Offensive Line- The offensive line in New England is always strong, which is a testament to Dante Scarnecchia, but there is a literally a huge piece that is in his contract year. Sebastian Vollmer has had some injuries; he has also been the best right tackle in football since he stepped into the position. The Patriots have to re-sign him, and I believe they will. They found him, took the chance in the draft, and have been proven correct. Keep him around, he is a known commodity. At the guard spot, Donald Thomas, who had a better year than he gets credit for, is also someone who should be brought back, assuming the money is right. Aiming high, I would bring Andy Levitre in for at least a conversation. He is a good blocker, young, and he knows the division. He is probably going to demand big dollars, but they should still take a look.
I know it seems like a lofty list, but the Patriots have cap room and this offense needs to adjust. If the Patriots could find a way to add Wallace or Bush while keeping Vollmer, it would be a huge addition to this current crew. Wallace and Bush represent the one thing that the Patriots have been lacking for years- speed.
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