Analyzing the New England Patriots Offseason Moves

Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /
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New England Patriots
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New England is counting on a number of veterans on offense to bounce-back from injuries and get them back to their record-setting pace of the first half of the 2015 NFL season. Receiving running back Dion Lewis–whose presence ignited the offense until a knee injury shut him down for the season–averaged 88.8 yards per game (all stats from and should be back for training camp. To add much needed depth and insurance behind him, the Patriots tapped running back Donald Brown in free agency.

Brown was a first round draft pick in Indianapolis and after having been let go by San Diego due to cap reasons in in New England with just $300,000 guaranteed on a veteran’s minimum deal. Brown was a disappointment in Indianapolis and San Diego due to injuries and poor play. He is not a sure thing but an inexpensive depth option who could help out in the passing game.

New England Patriots
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New England also quietly brought back fullback James Develin. Develin is not a great receiver, barely gets the opportunity to run with the ball, and is not a devastating blocker. However, he plays well on special teams, knows where to be on offense, and he made the running game better the previous seasons. An underrated reason for the lack of a strong running game (particularly in short-yardage situations) was the absence of Develin who missed the entire season with a broken leg. His return helps the running game.

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The Patriots still need depth at running back with LeGarrette Blount–coming off a hip injury–still unsigned. With little interest and the expectation that his only role in the NFL is in the New England offense, the Patriots hold all the leverage and should be able to re-sign him to a team-friendly deal if they so wish. Another potential lead running back to pound between the tackles is must to add to the team via free agency or in the draft.

At tight end last season the Patriots tried to team All Pro Rob Gronkowski with another pass catching threat by adding former Buffalo Bills pass catcher Scott Chandler. Chandler was a disappointment catching just 23 passes for 259 yards. Worst of all, when Gronkowski was out of the lineup, Chandler and his drops were at the forefront with 9 receptions on 18 targets over two games (both losses). Not surprisingly, in the last three games of the season and the two playoff games he was targeted in the passing game just once.

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Enter Martellus Bennett from the Chicago Bears. Swinging a deal, the Patriots sent a fourth round draft pick to Chicago for Bennett and a sixth round pick. Adding the $5 million cap charge was only an option after sending defensive end Chandler Jones to Arizona. Bennett is six-foot-six and 273 pounds and had 90 receptions for 916 yards in 2014. Bennett is an upgrade from Chandler and should allow the Patriots to return to the two-tight end (12 personnel) alignment which worked so well in 2011 and 2012.

For New England, it was a matter of mathematics. Keeping Chandler Jones for a final year was outweighed by the chance to use his money to upgrade at multiple positions on both sides of the ball. One of those positions was at tight end. Since 2013 when Aaron Hernandez threw away a promising career and his freedom, the Patriots have been searching for a complement for Gronkowski. They thought they had it in Chandler last season, but Bennett is a better bet.

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Another position in need of an upgrade is wide receiver. Brandon LaFell was a disappointment and was cut this offseason after going from “key cog on Super Bowl champion” to “afterthought”. LaFell missed the first five games of the 2015 season due to a foot injury and like Chandler, he came up short when forced to take a key role on offense and finished the season with just 37 catches on 74 targets. In the playoffs, he was an afterthought with three catches for six yards over two games.

To address the position the Patriots brought in free agent wide receiver Chris Hogan from Buffalo. Hogan is six-foot-one and over 210 pounds and can lineup anywhere from the slot to the outside giving New England the versatility to play in multiple spots. Some of his best games were against New England (5-72-1 in 2014, 6-95-0 in 2015) and he clearly caught the eyes of the Patriots’ coaches and front office

Hogan–as a restricted free agent–was given an offer constructed specifically so Buffalo could not match due to the money and cap charge in year one. Learning their lesson from the failed pursuit of Emmanuel Sanders as a restricted free agent, the Patriots got the player they wanted at a price far below what other free agents received on the market. Now the difficult part is integrating Hogan with quarterback Tom Brady this preseason to increase the comfort level and allow the offense to function.

The signing of Hogan and trade for Bennett brings the question of Danny Amendola and his bloated contract to the forefront. While Hogan takes LaFell’s role, Bennett’s signing directly impacts Amendola’s playing time. New England does not need to act until after the NFL Draft, but with a $6.8 million cap hit (per @PatsCap) for the fourth option and insurance policy for Julian Edelman, Amendola will have to take a pay cut to stay in New England in 2016.

Finally, New England addressed the offensive line this offseason as well. The absolute meltdown of the offensive line culminated in the AFC Championship game as quarterback Tom Brady spent half the game on his back. Veteran offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia was brought back into the fold out of retirement to get the offensive line back to peak efficiency.

While the re-signing of tackle LaAdrian Waddle went under the radar, the former Lions tackle could be a viable backup. A shoulder injury kept him off the field but the 25 year old was a starter for the Lions and has size and strength. A full offseason and training camp in New England working with Scarnecchia can only help him (and fellow backup tackle Marcus Cannon). A healthy Nate Solder on the left side and veteran Sebastian Vollmer back at his preferred right tackle position will do wonders for the offense.

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The Chandler Jones trade to Arizona netted more than a second round draft pick in this May’s draft, it also gave New England the seventh overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Jonathan Cooper. Cooper has struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness in Arizona  and will get a much needed fresh start in Foxborough, MA this summer.

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Cooper can play on the left or right side and will compete with Josh Kline, Tre’ Jackson, and Shaq Mason. Cooper is easily the most skilled of the group with solid footwork and ability to pull out into the open field on screens and outside runs. The lack of the screen game hurt New England against Denver (screens could have slowed down the outside pass rush) and the inability of the current guards to get out into space was a big reason the team abandoned a former bread-and-butter play when Logan Mankins and Stephen Neal were leading the charge in space.

None of the players acquired this offseason by New England on offense are a sure thing: Bennett was moody and ineffective last year in Chicago; Cooper has been a bust in Arizona; Hogan does not have a statline that befits a player of his contract; and Brown has not been a productive lead back in the NFL since entering the league in 2009.

One thing all these player share are a set of tools that fit specific to the New England offense: Bennett is a big tight end with size and pass catching skills which complement Gronkowski; Cooper is an athletic guard with high-level athleticism; Hogan has size, versatility and short-space quickness; and Brown is an excellent receiver and blocker who can contribute in the passing game as well as running the ball.

While none of the five is a sure-bet, all of them have something to prove. They are all in a system that values the tools and talents they bring to the table and in an offense that can give revitalize their stagnant careers. This offense returned Randy Moss to a superstar, made Wes Welker millions of dollars, took a seventh round draft pick converted quarterback and made him a 1,000 yard receiver, and found multiple running backs to contribute over the years.

Not all four players are going to work out in the New England offense, but all four have a skillset that fits the offense and a chance to turn their careers around in New England. Without breaking the bank, the Patriots were able to find upgrades at multiple positions on offense and add depth. While 31 other teams may not see the value of these signings, these players fit the model for what type of player fits in New England’s offense.