While Bill Belichick and the Patriots always seem to find a way, there should be some reason for concern with the future of this team. A bad draft next year would be detrimental to the future of this team and here is why:

In 2020 and 2021 several premiere players on the Patriots’ offense and defense will see their current contracts expire. The Patriots will have many key pending free agents coming up. Pending free agents are the last thing a team with a desperate need for a tight end wants to hear.

Tom Brady will be a pending free agent after this season and David Andrews will be in 2021
Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Notable 2020 free agents: Tom Brady, Kyle Van Noy, Joe Thuney, Devin McCourty, Josh Gordon, Jamie Collins, Ben Watson, Adam Butler, and many more

Notable 2021 free agents: David Andrews, Dont’a Hightower, James White, Michael Bennett, J.C Jackson, Duron Harmon, Lawerence Guy, Stephen Gostkowski, Rex Burkhead, Deatrich Wise and more

Some of these players will obviously be resigned, however, some will not and will go to other teams.

Safety Concerns

Honestly, McCourty’s days look numbered, and he even contemplated retirement during the week leading up to the Super Bowl.

Devin McCourty during Opening Night for Super Bowl LIII
Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

“Yeah man, if we win a Super Bowl, I don’t know what else can top that.”

Devin McCourty during Super Bowl media week

Devin McCourty has always been a key piece to this defense and the team, however, he is on the wrong side of thirty and has the second-highest cap hit among safeties this season.

Unless the then thirty-two year old safety wants to sign on to a pretty sizable cash reduction in comparison to years prior, McCourty might find himself being forced to call it quits.

The other safety up for a new contract soon is Duron Harmon. Much like McCourty, he also plays a big role in the Patriots’ secondary. Losing him would not bode well for the Patriots, and would leave a pretty large hole in the secondary (especially if McCourty is gone by this time too).

New England will try really hard to resign both players. Harmon will probably be a harder one to accomplish, as the 2021 cap might restrict the Patriots from offering a desirable deal.

The last and final thing to mention before naming the potential solution to this issue is that Chung, much like McCourty, also is aging. He is coming off shoulder surgery and a bad arm injury that he sustained in the Super Bowl. Many question marks surround his future going forward.

Solution at the Position:

Xavier McKinney of Alabama
Photo: Stuart McNair, 247Sports

Three big names to watch this season at the safety spot are Grant Delpit of LSU, Isaiah Simmons of Clemson, and Xavier McKinney of Alabama.

McKinney should be, by far, the most realistic name when the season is all set and done. Delpit currently projects to be a top ten pick and Simmons does not stand far behind.

For the sake of realism here, Xavier McKinney is the guy to look at.

Xavier McKinney: Some compare him to former Giants, now Redskins’ Landon Collins. McKinney plays strong safety for the Tide and, in some eyes, was the Tide’s top safety last year. Even over NFL draftee Deionte Thompson, who many had going in the first round, but fell out due to size concerns.

McKinney will now be the leader of that Nick Saban secondary, and his skills will be on full display. Pay close attention to his intelligence and athleticism on the field. These are traits that New England convets.

Another standout trait McKinney has is his footwork. His feet are on another level, which goes to show just how much time he puts into his game. Good footwork does not come easy ,and takes a lot of time to perfect.

McKinney’s press coverage is air tight. He is a gym rat. Only has 3% body fat (DK Metcalf’s was 1.6% for reference). His versatility and potential are also key traits of his too.

All this leads me to think that Xavier McKinney could not only play strong safety in New England, but could really fill the void of Patrick Chung’s inevitable absence in a few years.

Defensive End is Destined to be a Problem

In the 2021 offseason Deatrich Wise, Michael Bennett, and Derek Rivers will all see their current contracts expire. This will be problematic as there is no way the Patriots would be able to afford signing all three of these pass rushers.

Bennett would demand at least $4.5 million at 35 years of age.

Wise has a chance to secure the bag with good play over the next two seasons
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Deatrich Wise’s market is yet to be seen. The pass rusher seems set for a breakout season, and might increase his market dramatically over the next two seasons.

Derek Rivers should focus on making the team first, however, he has the potential to make somewhere around $3 million (if he actually pans out, which is a big if).

Things could really go haywire in 2021 if all three, more importantly Wise and Bennett, do not return. So who can be our pass rusher across from Chase Winovich?

Solution at the Position:

Patriots’ fans can hope and pray all they want that Iowa defensive end A.J Espensa can fall later in next year’s draft. Unfortunately, much like Grant Delpit, this seems very unlikely. Yetur Gross-Matos, right now, seems more realistic at the defensive end position and should be an extremely intriguing prospect to watch this football season.

Yetur Gross-Matos: He earned first defensive team Big-10 honors last season as a sophomore. His size is pretty prototypical for an edge defender (6-5, 265 pounds). Matos looks to become the next first round defensive lineman out of Penn State since Jared Odrick in 2010.

The most impressive skill of Gross-Matos’ is his quickness. Not too long ago, he ran a 4.52 forty-yard dash. That would have ranked third among all defensive lineman in this year’s NFL combine.

A really impressive stat from last season was his twenty tackles for a loss. Gross-Matos proved to be a disruptive force last season in University Park and will only continue to grow this season.

His jump off the ball is very nice and his change of direction skills are very solid as well.

He still hasn’t proved to be a fantastic pass-rusher, and his success really relies on how well his jump off the ball was. However, expect him to improve on those weak spots this season and keep a close eye.

Victor Dimukeje of Duke
Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

*Note: For a more mid-round prospect, watch out for Victor Dimukeje out of Duke. Pro Football Focus likes him a lot and so should you. Really good defender for Duke.

Tight End Still Pressing Need

Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo should be good enough to get by this year. However, next season Ben Watson will probably retire again. Even if he somehow finds his way onto the roster again, tight end should be a position to address early.

Ben Watson back in Patriots’ gear for the first time since the 2009 season
Credit: Nancy Lane/Boston Herald

Naming a tight end out of this class is really hard. Almost all of the tight ends are different and have their own trademark ability.

Albert Okwuegbunam of Missouri is currently the top tight end prospect in this class. However, his ability has really been hyped up, and he might not be the top prospect come next April.

Grant Calcaterra of Oklahoma is certainly intriguing. He plays a lot like Evan Engram. Unfortunately, he blocks a lot like Evan Engram too.

This John Mackey Award candidate Jacob Breeland might be the best fit in New England Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The most complete tight end might just be Jacob Breeland of Oregon.

Breeland is a 6’5, 248 pound deep-threat tight end with strong hands and elite athleticism.

He played receiver in high school (just as Grant Calcaterra did) and he has brought those receiver-like skills to his job as tight end of the Oregon Ducks.

With Gronk now gone, the Patriots will lose one of the greatest red-zone threats in team history. While Breeland certainly should not be expected to replace Gronk per say, a 6’5, receiver-like body would defiently help pick up the pieces in the red area.

Another thing that makes Breeland extremely valuable is his speed and size combination that can so easily create mismatches for opposing defenses. We all know that Belichick, Brady, and McDaniels are experts in this area and having a guy like that could certainly serve them well.

Breeland appears to be a much stronger blocker than both Grant Calcaterra and Albert Okwuegbunam. That really tipped the scales in his direction.

A strong season by him would really seal the deal for him being the favorite tight end target for next year’s NFL Draft.