After a disappointing exit in the Wild Card Round, the Patriots are facing their longest offseason in a decade. The biggest question that must be answered first is whether or not Tom Brady will return, but after him and the vital quarterback position, there are still plenty of holes that will need to be filled.
With significant free agents including Devin McCourty, Kyle Van Noy and Joe Thuney, the Patriots have some hard decisions to make, not only to fill those potential holes but the holes that hurt the team this year and helped contribute to the flame out against the Titans.
They got limited production from their tight ends and with Ben Watson likely to retire that position will get even thinner. Aside from McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon are also over 30 and getting close to the end, while the potential losses of Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Jamie Collins could clean out the linebacker group. And no one can forget the lack of weaponry around Tom Brady that made for a down offensive year. A reliable and experienced wide receiver seems like a must as well, but which of these needs is most critical?
This week's Samsonite Make Your Case question of the week is…
What is the Patriots biggest (non-Brady) offseason need?
Patriots.com's Mike Dussault says…
This includes both the defensive line and linebacker groups because if there's one area that could set the entire organization back if it's not upgraded, it's in the front seven. With Danny Shelton and Adam Butler, along with Van Noy, Collins and Roberts all free agents, there will be significant turnover, and with Dont'a Hightower set to hit 30-year-old in March, the team must find the next generation of run stoppers and pass rushers.
After getting drubbed by run-heavy teams, it could be time to once again evolve their defensive philosophy. They've been flexible in the past but with each passing season they're losing continuity and have become one of the oldest defenses in the NFL. While the safety position has been vital to the Super Bowl success in recent years, it still starts with the front seven in my view.
Finding a defensive lineman and linebacker to pass the torch to will be a vital part of this offseason and to the long-term success of the defense. They need a plan to not only stop the explosive Patrick Mahomes passing attack but also the power running of Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.
Patriots.com's Paul Perillo says …
For a team that captured its 11th straight division title and won 12 game, the Patriots roster has some holes. The most obvious of those are on offense, and to me the biggest one is at tight end. Funny how that happens when you lose the greatest player ever to play the position.
With Rob Gronkowski's retirement went years of comfort for Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels, knowing they had the ultimate weapon in terms of a blocker and receiver. Due to a variety of circumstances, nothing was really done to replace him in 2019. That needs to change.
The Patriots should target tight end in both the draft and through free agency. There are some interesting names available in the latter, including the Chargers Hunter Henry and the Falcons Austin Hooper. Both are young and in their prime and would provide a pass catching option at the position.
After ignoring tight end in the draft last year, the Patriots need to make this a priority in 2020.