The Patriots fell just short of their sixth Super Bowl trophy against the Eagles. They have a stacked team, but they could definitely use some upgrades. Here are four positions or groups of positions that the Patriots need to evaluate over the offseason.
Rob Gronkowski has been the best tight end in the NFL since 2011, but retirement rumors have been swirling due to injuries. Gronk was extremely valuable to the Patriots this season. The offense averaged 19.5 points per game in the two games he did not play. In the other 14 games he played in, the Patriots averaged 30 points per game. If the Patriots lose Gronkowski, then the offense will take a big fall. Backup tight end Martellus Bennett could also retire, and Dwane Allen and Jacob Hollister were ineffective in the passing game. The free agent tight end pool is weak and the tight end draft class is similiar, so Bill Belichick needs to have a plan.
All of the positions on the offensive line have been very good since Dante Scarnecchia came out of retirement. He has been able to get the best out of players such as LaAdrian Waddle and Marcus Cannon. However, Nate Solder’s contract is up and it is rumored that he might leave. Belichick could move Waddle over to left tackle, but that would leave Cam Flemming and Cole Croston as the backup lineman. Croston did not play in his rookie season and Flemming has not been good lately. Belichick could explore the free agent market or draft class to find a replacement. The list of free agent left tackles includes Greg Robinson, Chris Clark, and Donald Stephenson.
The Patriots’ defense was the reason why they did not win the Super Bowl. Almost all of the positions on defense struggled throughout the season. They did not get pressure with their front four, which allowed opposing quarterbacks to have field days against the Patriots. New England ranked 31st in rush yards per attempt because they gave up 4.7 yards per run. They were poor with and without Hightower, so it is hard to rely on him to come back and change everything immediately. The Patriots have slow linebackers who cannot cover running backs or cause pressure. Belichick needs to draft or sign a fast linebacker that can get to the quarterback and keep up with running backs. He also needs to draft or sign a lineman who can get pressure and help with the running game.
With Malcolm Butler set to leave, the Patriots need to find a replacement for him. Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones, and Eric Rowe are not good replacement options. Aqib Talib, Richard Sherman, and Marcus Peters have all been rumored to be cut or traded in the offseason. The Patriots will be spending a lot of money at corner if they sign one of them, considering how much they are paying Gilmore. However, the Patriots have not had dominate corners since Revis and Browner in 2014. They won the Super Bowl with Butler and Logan Ryan two years ago. Stephon Gilmore is great, but they can not win with one dominant corner. Super Bowl 52 is a perfect example of that because Gilmore was great, but Rowe, Bademosi, and Jones did not step up in Malcolm Butler’s “absence”. Belichick must recognize that and spend money and/or picks to get another shutdown corner.
Cover image courtesy of USA Today.