For the fifth time in the franchise’s history, the New England Patriots have brought the Lombardi Trophy back to Foxborough. As per usual, Bill Belichick made it look easy, turning vagabonds into perennial stars on the biggest stage possible.
Belichick is used to picking at the bottom of the draft, while making his living off of over-looked players with good fundamentals and less than stellar athleticism. This year, Tom Brady and the defending champs don’t necessarily have any areas that are glaringly in need of improvement, but addressing a few areas in the off-season will ensure another top-four finish.
New England Patriots 2017 Off-Season: Top 3 Needs
Defensive Line Depth
Excluding rotating outside linebackers and categorized defensive ends, the Patriots are shorthanded on true defensive tackles. Their most productive lineman was the 32-year-old Alan Branch, who played 60% of snaps according to Pro Football Reference. This season, the team made its living off of their pass rush rotation, which allowed them to compensate their lack of size at the position. It’s essential that the champs grab some athletic run-stoppers to shore up the inside, because the depth chart is surprisingly thinner than recent years. My prediction is that they do this in the draft, grabbing at least two or three defensive lineman.
Lock Up a Tight End Behind Gronk
Martellus Bennett is a pending free agent, and has already reported that he will test the market. The Patriots want to sign him to a long-term deal, but they definitely won’t play cat and mouse. Extraordinaire Rob Gronkowski is coming off a back injury, so relying on him going into 2017 is dangerous. If championship runs of the past have proved anything, it’s that Belichick’s offenses are successful with talented tight ends at his disposal. O.J. Howard is an interesting prospect out of Alabama, and there’s a high possibility that the Patriots take a flyer on him if he slides to the bottom of the first.
Cornerback (Sign Logan Ryan, please)
In order to maintain dominance, the Patriots need to secure a top-tier cornerback on both sides of the field. Logan Ryan is a pending free-agent, and in my humble opinion, should be re-signed. If I’m analyzing him based off of total package, I believe he’s a long term core piece for this defensive backfield alongside Devin McCourty. Without question, Ryan’s Super Bowl performance against the best receiver in the league, Julio Jones, proves this. Ryan’s got a good work ethic and character, and my feeling is that he might be willing to take a hometown discount after two championships in three years.
Outside of Malcolm Butler, the rest of the players at this spot look a tad shady. Looking at the season statistics might lead you to believe that the Patriots are good here, but the truth is the safeties compensated. McCourty’s flexibility, combined with Patrick Chung’s physicality, masked the struggles others have had at the corner position. Since they’ve addressed the defensive backfield in the past couple of drafts early, I’m almost certain that they go after a veteran in free agency.