After losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday night, the Patriots walked off the field into a future where many questions loom. This offseason is going to be another busy one for the American Football Conference (AFC) champions, and it starts on the defensive side of the ball, where they lost the game. With defensive coordinator Matt Patricia headed to Detroit, the first priority will be finding his replacement. Linebackers coach Brian Flores appears to be the favorite. He joined the Patriots as a scouting assistant in 2004, and has served as the linebackers coach the past two seasons.
With Malcolm Butler almost guaranteed to leave following his benching in the Super Bowl, his position will be an area to address. Stephon Gilmore played much better down the stretch, and having another corner similar to Butler as a complement to him would be ideal. Trumaine Johnson and Bashaud Breeland are two of the stronger corners on the free agent market, but will both be asking for money in the same ballpark of Gilmore’s current contract ($65 million over five years). I doubt New England cashes in on another corner again, which means they’re likely to get one in the draft.
Mike Hughes of the University of Central Florida comes to mind as an option. Similar to Butler, Hughes stands at 5 feet 11 inches, but has the physical tools to cause chaos at the line. He has the speed to keep up with nearly any receiver he faces and also displayed incredible kick and punt returning abilities in college. Hughes definitely has areas of improvement which include tackling, footwork and overall in-game experience (he played two years in college, one as a starter), but he seems like a project Belichick would be willing to take on. Having a corner that shows versatility is something Belichick always loves.
Another area of improvement is the defensive line. This is another area I see the Patriots resorting to the draft for. Despite names such as Dontari Poe and Ezekiel Ansah both being on the market, the Patriots will most likely not pay them the money they’re asking for. An intriguing option, if he returns, could be 38-year-old defensive end Julius Peppers. He’s up there in age, but is coming off a season that saw him get 11 quarterback sacks. He’s a veteran, and could work as a low risk high reward player if the Patriots decide to go after him. In his 16-year career, he’s yet to win a Super Bowl and we’ve seen plenty of players in the past go to New England for a shot at a ring.
If the Patriots do go to the draft, DE Marcus Davenport of the University of Texas at San Antonio could be an option if he falls to the back end of the first round. He’s flashed great pass rushing abilities and will only get better under a defensive-minded coach like Belichick, and New England definitely needs someone who can get after the quarterback.
The Patriots ultimately will have a late first round pick and a mid second round pick, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them take defensive end and cornerback with their first two picks.
Other needs in the draft: Quarterback, Offensive Tackle, Linebacker
Top three free agents they need to resign
- Running back Dion Lewis: He’s coming off a career year and emerged as their feature back on offense. He can run and catch out of the back field and displayed incredible patience while running.
- Special teamer Matthew Slater: No one’s better when it comes to this position in the league. Slater has made it to seven consecutive pro bowls, which tied an NFL record for most ever by a special teams player.
- Wide receiver Danny Amendola: He’s improved every season in New England and is evolving into one of the league’s most clutch players. He notched 348 receiving yards in this postseason alone and has the best hands on the Patriots.