January 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) in the first of the game against the Denver Broncos of the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots Roundtable 2/20/14

Welcome back to Musket Fire’s fourth New England Patriots Roundtable of the offseason. Last week we talked about the Patriots cap situation and who might be a casualty, Big Vince Wilfork’s future, favourite wide receivers in the draft and free agency, rumours and finally what our writers planned on doing sports wise with their time. This time around we’ll get into some contract extensions, tight ends in the draft and who might be a dark horse to land with the Patriots in free agency, but first…

Q. List the three biggest positions of need in your opinion, that the New England Patriots must address this offseason.

J.T.: The Patriots need to address the offensive line, tight end, and defensive tackle positions.  Tom Brady needs some young blood protection up front, as well as a big body to throw to in the middle of the field.  And the Pats need a big body inside on defense.  Vince Wilfork will probably be back, but the position is already thin and Big Vince will eventually need a replacement.

Hal: Center, Right Guard, Defensive End. Ryan Wendell under-performed and is a free agent. Time to find an upgrade. Along with right guard Dan Connolly (overpriced for his production level) the middle of the Patriots offensive line contributed to the early problems with running the ball and protecting quarterback Tom Brady. It reared its ugly head again against Denver in the AFC Championship Game. Time to upgrade both positions. Defensive end is a need. A pass rush specialist is a must to replace Rob Ninkovich on passing/third down.  The lack of pass rush opposite Chandler Jones was a big problem.  See what Seattle did to Denver quarterback Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl compared to New England’s anemic pass rush.

Cyrus: Tight end, defensive tackle, and cornerback. Without Gronkowski in the fold last year, the Pats offense really struggled. They need to get some insurance for Gronk, and I personally have been high on Jace Amaro. Depth at defensive tackle is a must as well, and you can never have enough quality corners in today’s NFL.

Matt: For me it goes defensive line, tight end and then offensive guard. The Patriots line was a mess last year once Wilfork and Kelly went down, and the guys behind them were spot players at best. Depth is the most important key to the Patriots defensive line, especially with Wilfork recovering from a major injury. The next one is tight end, something I see them addressing in the draft, in the early rounds. The final piece is offensive guard, and this one’s a bit harder to try to address, but something needs to happen, because it’s clear that Connolly is not the guy. Whether that means we see Marcus Cannon moved inside permanently, or it gets addressed in free agency through a veteran, something needs to happen there.

Q. Which New England Patriot is in most need of an early extension this offseason?

J.T.: If they haven’t decided on it already, the Pats need to look at signing Devin McCourty to an extension.  Since converting from cornerback to free safety, the guy has proven to be a solid position player and is a positive leader/role model in the locker room.  Not only that, but restructuring McCourty’s contract would help ease the $5.1 million blow against the team’s 2014 salary cap.

Hal: A tie between running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley.  Both are integral keys to the team.  With Vereen’s injury and Ridley’s fumble-itis now is the time to buy low on a long-term extension for both young backs.

Cyrus: Vince Wilfork. His cap hit is set to be $11.5 million in 2014, and as great as Vince is, he isn’t worth that much.

Matt: Devin McCourty is my guy who needs to get locked up long-term. This is arguably one of the best safeties in football, and his importance to the Patriots is up there with Brady and Gronkowski. Get this man locked up long-term, to a somewhat team friendly deal so he can continue to be an All-Pro caliber player.

Q. The 2014 NFL Draft is loaded with great Tight End prospects. Outside of the big three (Ebron, Amaro, Sefarian-Jenkins), who’s your personal favorite?

J.T.: Troy Niklas.  Dude is a monster at 6-7, 270 pounds and he can do just about everything the Patriots would ask of him.  He has elite size, tremendous athleticism, and can block well.  Rather than spending an early pick on one of the big three, the Pats could look to eye up Niklas in the second or third round.

Hal: Go Amaro or go home. No, seriously give me Dixie State’s Joe Don Duncan to line up opposite Gronk.  Six-four and a load at 270 lbs., he is  a big body who can function on the end of the line as a blocker but a value grab as a small school prospect.

Cyrus:  I had the opportunity to interview Dixie State’s Joe Don Duncan last week, and I came away impressed. He seems like the kind of guy that is willing to work hard to become a good player in this league. Not to mention his Gronk-like size. I would like to see the Pats target him in the later rounds, to possibly develop behind Gronkowski.

Matt: I’ve been a fan of CJ Fiedorowicz for a long time now, and that hasn’t changed. Massive, big bodied player who can use his physicality to get down field. He’s an excellent blocker as well, and while he isn’t the most graceful athlete, he could be a major addition, and help revive the Patriots tight end attack.

Q. Of the big free agents this year, who would you consider the New England Patriots darkhorses to potentially land?

J.T.:  I’ll go with a wide receiver here.  If Julian Edelman is lost to free agency, the Pats will possibly look to add a veteran to their young roster.  Eric Decker is a possibility, though he’s probably going to milk the market for all its worth and get an overpaid contract somewhere.  Hakeem Nicks is another one to watch for, as he likely won’t be returning to the Giants.  Guys like Riley Cooper, Jeremy Maclin, Anquan Boldin, James Jones, Emmanuel Sanders, and Andre Roberts could be in the mix as well.  It all depends on how much New England is prepared to spend and I doubt it’ll be excessive.

Hal: Mark Sanchez to come in and backup Tom Brady at quarterback? How about Super Bowl rival wide receiver Mario Manningham in New England? Richie Incognito or Jonathan Martin to help out on the offensive line? There are some
fantastic bargains (which is the only kind of free agent ever comes to New England these days).  Load up and chase defensive end Greg Hardy for big names.

Cyrus: I wouldn’t necessarily call Emmanuel Sanders a dark horse, but I really want to see him in New England. He is versatile, explosive, and an upgrade over Edelman. Plus, he won’t demand a lot of money, which is a positive for the Pats.

Matt: I’d have to say Michael Johnson formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals. He’s a defensive lineman with an insane amount of talent, and like I mentioned above, I feel defensive line is the biggest need for the Patriots. He’s a really good player, and won’t demand the kind of contract that a guy like Greg Hardy would.

Q. Should the New England Patriots break the bank, and try to go for broke in this offseason like so many have asked for? Or should they continue the path they’ve been travelling the past few years?

J.T.: I remember waking up one morning to find out the Pats had acquired Randy Moss.  I knew right then and there they would be in the Super Bowl that season.  Will we see something like that this year?  Probably not to that extent, nor should we expect it.  Everyone knows Brady’s window is closing, but New England has the tools now.  They just need to utilize those tools properly, address concerns in the draft, and get those key injured veterans back into the starting rotation.


Cyrus: Now is not the time to go after someone like Larry Fitzgerald. Let the young guys develop, and maybe trade in Edelman, for Emmanuel Sanders.

Matt: I’m not as adamant about it as Hal is, but I’d like to see the Patriots take a few risks here and there with their spending. I’m not talking about completely killing their cap with someone like Greg Hardy, but guys like Michael Johnson, Jared Allen, Anquan Boldin etc. are all guys that won’t completely kill the Pats cap, but would be enormous additions.

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