The coaching staff remains stable with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in place, and former assistant Brian Daboll returning to the fold. New England never stands pat schematically, especially on offense. There's just no way to know how they'll change. Perhaps coach Bill Belichick will bring back the Wing-T offense.
Biggest free agents
- RT Sebastian Vollmer: A Pro Bowl-quality right tackle in his prime is not going to come cheaply.
- WR Wes Welker: New England has only two useful wide receivers under contract next year: Brandon Lloyd and special teamer Matthew Slater. That makes re-signing Welker more likely than conventional wisdom suggests.
- CB Aqib Talib: It will be fascinating to see how much Belichick values Talib after an uneven run with the Patriots. The Patriots remain very thin in the secondary, especially with Kyle Arrington also a free agent.
Other key free agents: RB Danny Woodhead, safety Patrick Chung, WR Julian Edelman, CB Kyle Arrington.
What they need
Whether the team re-signs Welker or not, the Patriots have to add numbers at receiver in free agency and the draft. The defense is in better long-term shape than it has been in a while, but there are still big holes in the secondary and a need for more pass rushers. The Patriots have fewer draft picks to play with than usual after cashing in chips last year.
Offseason crystal ball
Look for the Patriots to keep two of their three big free agents above, with Talib my pick to leave. The team can use the franchise tag on Welker or Vollmer. A trade of backup quarterback Ryan Mallett to old buddy Michael Lombardi and the Cleveland Browns might be too obvious to actually happen.