After it seemed that the momentum, legacy and vengeance was on the side of the New England Patriots during the 2012 NFL Playoffs, it all came to a screeching halt. For their second straight Super Bowl appearance, the Patriots fell at the hands of the New York Giants, who stole Super Bowl XLVI away from them as they did in 2007 with a 21-17 win that was orchestrated by another Eli Manning fourth quarter comeback.
Around the city of Boston and the New England area as whole, there have been bold yet ridiculous ideas for making sure there isn't the wrong kind of 'three-peat' for the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Some have said "Bill Belichick got out coached again, he's overrated" or "We need to draft some hands, that's why we lost this game", or my all-time favorite "Brady sucks, why wasn't Brian Hoyer leading this team after the interception". Oh, brother.
The fact of the matter is, is that the best thing to do during this traumatic time of many Patriots fans lives is to not blow it all up. Who do you think they are? The Boston Celtics? The best thing to do in this situation is to hold strong and believe the "The Patriot Way". Hey, it gave us three Super Bowl rings and five total appearances in the last 10 years. Not to mention, it's given the Pats I don't know how many division crowns. Let's not abandon ship now.
One things for sure though, is that like any other team (including the world champion Giants), there are pieces to be added to the puzzle. A puzzle that is only a few missing pieces away from showing Tom Brady and Bill Belichick hoisting their fourth Lombardi trophy into the air in New Orleans, Louisiana. It's just the matter of picking the right ones (see Ochocinco, Chad and Haynesworth, Albert)
Let's Keep The Band Together, Minus Ocho Ono
As many can attest to, the Beatles were a great musical group. One of the greatest all time. Paul McCartney and John Lennon are both amazing singers and did amazing things when they went there own separate ways. But the fact of the matter is, is that they both made eachother better singers when they were together.
That's how it is with one of the greatest quarterback-receiver tandems in franchise history: Tom Brady and free agent to be Wes Welker.
While I don't agree with Giants cornerback Corey Webster completely when he said that Welker is only as good as he is because he has Tom Brady throwing him the ball, he did have a point. Who's to say that Welker would have more receiving yards than he did with Brady in 2011 (1,569) than with any other NFL QB. Same goes with Brady, who's to say he would be the same quarterback without having Welker, his most dependent target in 2011, to throw the ball too.
These two are simply better together. Like McCartney and Lennon did for each other on the stage, Welker and Brady make each other better players.
As for how the Patriots should approach this, they should only resort to the franchise tag as a last-minute resort. Welker, like any other elite NFL receiver, deserves to be paid his fair due. For Brady's sake, it would also be beneficial for Welker to have some security in New England with a long term extension of maybe 3-4 years.
For the sake of argument, free agent Deion Branch could be considered the Ringo Starr of this bunch. While Brady and Welker receive the majority of the attention, Branch is the beat that keeps this receiving corps going. He's dependable and loyal to this organization, as Ringo was to The Beatles. He's been with Brady for the majority of his career and is on record of being one of Bill Belichick's favorite players. He needs to be back. After all, you can't have a band without a drummer.
(For the record, the combo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are some some form of George Harrison. Both are under contract for next season)
Another guy that the Patriots in my eyes can't afford to lose is BenJarvus Green-Ellis. How many NFL runningbacks can you name that have never fumbled during their careers? Not "never fumble" "have never fumbled". The only guy that comes to mind is the always dependent Green-Ellis.
In his four years out of Ole Miss, Green-Ellis has never fumbled the football. Ever.
While he did struggle in 2011 in terms of yards on the ground (667), he didn't decline in his execution on third-and-one's and third-and-goals. His 11 touchdowns are evident enough to say that when the Pats need that extra yard to get into the endzone, the law firm is here to help. He most likely won't command a large contract, so let's keep him around until either Steven Ridley or Shane Vereen develop into NFL runningbacks.
As for the defense, it's imperative that Belichick bring back key members of a pass rush that showed tremendous potential as the season progressed. That is, both Andre Carter and Mark Anderson need to back back next season. In 2011, both totaled at least 10 sacks and seemed to have found their stride in Pepper Johnson's defensive line scheme. Carter, whose season was cut short after injuring his knee in the Patriots' regular season meeting with the Broncos.
You can also argue that veterans Gerrard Warren and James Ihedigbo need to be back next season as well. Warren stepped in nicely after Albert Haynesworth was let go, and performed nicely as Vince Wilork's other running mate in the interior line of the team's 4-3 scheme. Kyle Love of course was the primary one. Ihedigbo, meanwhile was by far the most effective safety alongside Pat Chung this season. While I don't think he should be promised a starting role, he should at least be given a chance to compete during training camp.
Led by punter Zoltan Mesko and kicker Stephen Gostkowski, the Patriots' special teams proved to be a tremendous improvement over the unit in 2010. The third tier of that bunch was pro-bowler and free agent to be Matthew Slater, who is also worth a contract offer.
While I'm in favor of bringing back a lot of players on this roster, I am not in favor of bringing back Chad Ochocinco, who was a complete bust in New England. I don't question his work ethic, his focus, not even his excessive infatuation with social media. It's just not a fit. With Ochocinco due just over $3 million next season, it believe it would serve the Patriots well by cutting the wide reciever.
Notable Guys That Should Be Allowed To Test The Market: C Dan Koppen, OG Dan Connolly, DE Shaun Ellis, LB Tracy White, LB Gary Guyton.
Free Agent Market Full Of Wide Receivers, Pass Rushers and Defenders
For all of the talk that the Patriots need a lengthy receiver who can stretch the field, aka Randy Moss 2.0, I completely by into that talk.
After witnessing what an injured Rob Gronkowski would do to a the team's passing game, I was immediately convinced that the team needed a complementary piece in terms of a guy with size and someone who can stretch the field.
For all that it's worth, the 2012 NFL Free Agent Class is full of viable options that could fill that need, but may not fit into the Patriots' plans. There's the clear number one receiver on the market in Vincent Jackson, who totaled over 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns with the San Diego Chargers uniform. Jackson seems to fit into the Randy Moss mold of a guy who "just wants the damn ball", but he would most likely command the highest contract offer, much like Sidney Rice did last offseason.
There are other guys like Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston, Mario Manningham, DeSean Jackson and Steve Johnson that could be enticing for the Patriots to go after. However, all are either likely to stay with their respective teams via a Franchise tag or extension.
There's also former Colt Reggie Wayne, who is very much available. But last time I checked, that Patriots already have a pesky procession receiver in Wes Welker (hopefully).
When it's all said and done, My eyes are on former St. Louis Rams wideout Brandon Lloyd. For me, Lloyd and the Patriots matchup on every level. They expressed interest in acquiring him at the trade deadline this past season, and with good reason. Lloyd, at 6-0, is the ultimate deep threat that the Patriots have needed since Moss left town two years ago. Lloyd averaged just under 15 yards per catch, something the team lacked all last season. Plus, the Patriots now employ a man some gave credit to as resurrecting his career in new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. He most likely won't cost what the above receivers will, and he's the best natural fit alongside Wes Welker in this McDaniels-run offense.
As for the other concern the Patriots have heading into Free Agency is the thought of a dominant pass rusher off the outside edge. As long as they are retained, Andre Carter and Mark Anderson seem to have the ends covered with Vince Wilfork clogging up the interior defensive line. However, the Pats could definitely use another pass rusher. And they're in luck, this market is full of em'.
Starting at the top is Mario Williams, whose already earned two all-pros in his six seasons with the Houston Texans is an option. However, taking the Belichick likes to use certain players in certain situations, a Williams addition probably isn't likely, taking he's an every down player.
However, Belichick isn't the one to shy away from acquiring a big name player, if the price is right.
This is where guys like free agent Robert Mathis come in. Mathis suffered a small setback along with his Colts team as a whole, as he only had 9.5 sacks and 43 total tackles in 2011. Mathis fits best in a 4-3 scheme, something Belichick is slowly transitioning too. I don't think Mathis will come cheap, but the Patriots could possibly contend for the former pro-bowler.
When it's all said and done, the Patriots are most likely going to go for complementary pieces to build to their developing pass rushing unit. You could see guys like Raheem Brock, Aaron Smith or Shaun Rogers joining the Patriots D-Line on the veteran minimum next season.
As for linebackers, it's the same story. You most likely won't be seeing the Patriots going after headlining guys like D'Qwell Jakson or Curtis Lofton joining the team. However, you can't rule out veteran outside linebackers like Anthony Spencer, Manny Lawson, Ben Leber or even former Raven Jarrett Johnson joining the squad. Belichick likes to mix and match players on the defense, something that showed all last season and something that has proven effective at times. Overall, the linebacking corp could be addressed during the NFL Draft. Until then, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich should be able to hold down the fort just fine.
As for the secondary, Belichick is likely to stay put with a developing and young secondary that features Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington, Pat Chung and Ras-I Dowling, that is unless a former Patriot hits the market. Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel could be cut by the Eagles, which could draw the Patriots' attention. Samuel, who played for the Patriots from 2003-2007 and was drafted by the team could be a valuable addition.
McCourty could be fully converted to safety, which would open up the number one corner slot for someone like Samuel. Like Deion Branch was like in Seattle, the former Patriot's stock fell when he changed teams, so Belichick could look to swoop in and sign him. Samuel's a familiar face, and had ample success in New England. The corner could look to reestablish his value as a top corner in a place where it all started in New England.
NFL Draft Full Of Talent, Not Just Quarterbacks
With all of the hype around the 2012 NFL Draft being about where highly touted quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III will end up. For the Patriots, they already have a franchise QB in Tom Brady, so they are likely to take a pass on both.
Currently, the Patriots are set to have two first-round selections at No. 27 (courtesy of New Orleans) and No. 31. In addition they have to two second rounders (No. 48 and No. 63), and a third (No. 94) and a fourth (undisclosed) selection. But with Bill Belichick running the show, you can expect picks to be traded away for more picks.
If they were to draft with just these six picks, they'd be in a good position to add some good talent to the roster. Based on most Mock Drafts I've looked at and my own common sense, the team will most likely be targeting secondary help in the early rounds, with receivers and pass rushers coming later on.
However, Belichick shocked us all by taking two runningbacks in the early rounds in Ridley and Vereen. Overall though, I don't see the Pats addressing Quarterback, Tight End or any special teams help. That's all I can promise with BB.
Sitting at No. 27 overall, expect the Pats to go with some sort of secondary piece, as they did in 2010 with Devin McCourty. You should look out for late round projected guys like Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama), Alfonzo Dennard (CB, Nebraska) and Stephon Gilmore (CB, South Carolina) as possible targets. Also, don't rule out BB trading up in the draft to snag the higher ranked corners, like Morris Claiborne out of LSU or Dre Kilpatrick out of Alabama.
With Pat Chung serving as the team's free safety in 2011, you couldn't rule out pairing the fourth year man out of Oregon with strong safety Mark Barron out of Alabama. Barron's a mid-first round talent that had four solid years in Tuscaloosa.
Another rout the Patriots could choose to take would be to take a wide receiver, if they don't find anyone to their liking in free agency. Something that's very un-Belichick like that could happen, would be to trade the two first rounders to a Top. 10 pick team who could be looking to trade out to take Justin Blackmon. Blackmon is by far the most athletic player in this draft, and helped Oklahoma State out immensely this season. Blackmon, who was once teammates with Dez Bryant in college, would be an tremendous fit in this offense. Also, don't rule out the team taking 6-3 Michael Floyd, who did big things at Notre Dame this season.
If Dan Koppen departs via free agency this offseason, you really couldn't rule out Belichick gunning for a possible replacement with his other first rounder. With the other first rounder, I wouldn't be surprised in the least if the Pats picked Peter Konz out of Wisconsin, the draft's top rated center. Konz is ranked No. 20 ranked overall prospect by CBS Sports. Konz, a junior has been regarded as a very intelligent football player, and has drawn comparisons to Koppen. With Koppen getting older and an impending free agent, Konz would be a solid piece to now younger offensive line that consists of Sebastian Vollmer, Logan Mankins and Nate Solder, who was the first round selection by the Patriots last year.
In the later rounds, I'd expect the Patriots to maybe draft another complementary pass rusher off the outside edge. While I don't think pass rusher is their primary concern, I think you couldn't rule out the Patriots going after a floury of second-round projected OLB's with their two picks that round. Guys like Sean Spence (OLB, Miami), Ronnell Lewis (OLB Oklahoma), Bobby Wagner (OLB Utah State) and Lavonte David (OLB Nebraska) could be viable targets as complementary pieces to the linebacking corp.
As for the "Ryan Mallett Pick" (the insurance pick), I could see the Patriots maybe targeting someone that resembles Vince Wilfork on the D-Line. Pure speculation. Wilfork, 30, is still the same old dominating presence he's always been, but like Tom Brady, he'll only get older.
As for who the insurance pick could be, we'll have to see. Just to toss a name in the hat, how about Marcus Forston? Forston is a junior who just so happened to go to the same school as Wilfork (Miami). He's 300 pounds and 6-3, which measures up to what Wifork is now at age 30 (6-2, 325). Just a thought.
The Patriots could really go a lot of different ways in this draft, and we'll only find out from the evil genius himself on draft night.
Other Offseason Notes And Tidbits
- The Patriots offensive line could be in conundrum this offseason. With the team expected to have Brian Waters and Logan Mankins at the guard positions, the Patriots have uncertainty at the tackle position. Last season, Matt Light, Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder all three played at the two tackle spots. While Solder, a second year player is a lock, the same may not be able to be said about Light and Vollmer. While it's perfectly fine for the team to use the odd man out as a third tight end/blocker, Belichick may decide to cut the 33-year old Light, whose will be in the second year of his two-year deal, or cut the often injured Vollmer. We'll see.
- The debate will be one once again about whether or not Jerod Mayo should be a middle or outside linebacker. Last season, Mayo spent time inside and outside and proved to be fine in both positions. With Brandon Spikes, a primarily middle linebacker, back healthy for a whole season hopefully, Mayo may be able to slide to the outside permanently. However, with Belichick alternating between a 4-3 scheme and 3-4 scheme, Mayo's role may still be undefined. But the pro-bowler will likely be OK where ever he ends up.
- A lot will be made about the reuniting of Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels as the O-Coordinator. When looking a Brady's stats, he did just about equal with McDaniels calling the plays than he did with Bill O'Brien calling the plays. However, the transition may be harder for McDaniels than it will be for Brady. In 2007, McDaniels' last season before departing for Denver, he had Randy Moss to throw too. He doesn't have that anymore. This offseason should be one where McDaniels should figure out to utilize new players (to him) Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the offense.