James Walker (ESPN) Ranking team needs: Patriots.
No. 1 need: Cornerback
Analysis: If you watched the Patriots all season, this shouldn't come as a surprise. New England's 31st-ranked pass defense was horrific last year. Even casual observers who only watched the Patriots in the Super Bowl saw New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning carve up New England and earn MVP honors. New England starting cornerback Devin McCourty took a big step back last season. Kyle Arrington had a lot of interceptions but also gave up plenty of big plays. McCourty is young and can still improve, but I don't think his ceiling is high enough to become a Darrelle Revis-type corner, who can shut down one side of the field. If New England feels it can get that caliber of corner free agency or the draft, the team should jump on it.
No. 2 need: Safety
Analysis: Many would argue safety is New England's biggest need, and it's certainly a valid debate. However, the reason I put cornerback over safety is because corner is more valuable in today's NFL. In my opinion, cornerback is the second-hardest position to play behind quarterback. You take the corner over the elite safety every time. But there's no avoiding New England's need at safety. Patrick Chung is a good, young player who needs someone next to him to take the pressure off on the back end. This is a great year for safeties in free agency. Therefore, New England could have this need filled before the draft.
No. 3 need: Pass-rusher
Analysis: This need could be helped if New England retains free-agent defensive end Mark Anderson, Andre Carter, or both. The Patriots' two best pass-rushers are set to hit the open market. Anderson most likely will generate more interest due to Carter’s season-ending quad injury. He had a great year with the Patriots and registered 10 sacks. But even if New England keeps Anderson, the team needs another threat on defense to get to the quarterback.
Look, the Patriots screwed up when they traded with the Bengals and gave Ocho a three-year deal worth $11 million and close to $5 million guaranteed. By the end of the season, the greatest compliment he earned was, "Well, at least he wasn't an a-hole . . ."
He wasn't worth the money. Big deal. He wasn't an impediment to the team's success and the fact other pickups like Andre Carter and Brian Waters worked out so well lessens the sting. This could be the latest -- and last -- bit of face-saving done in L'affaire Ocho. The Patriots ask him to trim his deal, he politely refuses, the team releases him and the indignity of an outright release is avoided. Everybody loved the chance to work together and will remain friends forever.
Worst-case scenario? Ocho agrees to the pay cut.
- Paul Perillo notes the Patriots signed QB Mike Hartline to a futures contract back in January, but never announced it.
- Andy Hart discusses the five Patriots players who made the Pro Football Weekly list of the top 100 free agents, and which ones didn't.
- Andy Hart notes Chad Ochocinco acknowledged the Patriots' request to restructure his contract, through Twitter: "Restructuring is fine, the fun part is finding ways to make it back up during the offseason."
- Mike Reiss explores one line of thinking as to why the Patriots asked Ochocinco to restructure his contract.
- Rich Levine shares how he thinks the conversation between Belichick and Ochocinco went down about restructuring Ocho's contract.
- Mike Reiss profiles one player at each position who made an impression at the NFL combine, and who might have qualities the Patriots would value: Offense and Defense.
- Karen Guregian reports Patriots personnel will likely be attending the upcoming pro days for Boston College (March 21) and UConn (March 28).
- Christopher Price profiles WR Vincent Jackson as a possible free agent fit for the Patriots.
- Tom E. Curran thinks it's unlikely the Patriots will make a play for free agent DE Mario Williams, but lists why it would make sense... and why it wouldn't.
- Zuri Berry identifies a number of free agents who could fill the holes the Patriots need to have filled.
- Mike Reiss offers his thoughts on Peter Schrager's latest mock draft selections for the Patriots.
- Adam Hart wonders why the Patriots would be putting out feelers on the No. 2 overall draft pick.
- Jeff Howe thinks it's worth noting the Patriots have been to the Super bowl during the last three leap years (2004, 2008, 2012), and 19 other Patriots thoughts.
- Tom E. Curran takes an interesting look back at the 2001 Draft, and what stood out in the press about Richard Seymour and Matt Light after the Combine.
- Karen Guregian notes Bill Belichick played golf in a rain-shortened Honda Classic pro-am Wednesday.
- Ian Rapoport posts his random picture of the day: Julian Edelman riding the Zamboni at the Bruins game last night.
- Jeff Howe issues his Mock Draft 2.0. Pats select DT Devon Still (Penn State) and DE Andre Branch (Clemson).
- CSNNE reports NFLN analyst Heath Evans thinks Miami drafting QB Robert Griffin III would make their offense particularly difficult for the Patriots to handle.
- Nate Davis (USA Today) Three-and-out: Patriots' free agency outlook.
- Kevin Fishbain and Eli Kaberon (Pro Football Weekly) After setbacks, 2011 rookies ready to make another go of it.
- First Take (ESPN) Debate: What should Pats do about Ocho?
- Andrew Brandt (Nat'l Football Post) Receiver Roulette, Part 2: Six more interesting names set to hit the market.
- Jason La Canfora (NFL.com) You might not recognize the names of these future millionaires.
- Adam Rank (NFL.com) Six biggest leaps of faith with free agency, draft approaching.
- Kevin Fishbain (Pro Football Weekly) Not the draft for immediate help in slowing down the spread.
- Ron Borges (Pro Football Weekly) When The Catch falls to the ground.
- Dave George (Palm Beach Post) Commentary: Far from hoodies and snow, Bill Belichick shines his own way through Honda Classic pro-am.
- Don Banks (SI) 2012 Scouting Combine awards.
- Jack Bechta (Nat'l Football Post) Is it time to rethink the Combine?
- Kerry J. Byrne (Cold Hard Football Facts) The 2012 NFL Combine: Not so fast!
- Joshua Brustein (NY Times) The predictive value of the NFL Combine.
- Pete Prisco (CBS Sports) Combine rewind: Interviews are overrated, just like hyped 40 times.
- Michael Silver (Yahoo! Sports) NFL needs to open access to Underwear Olympics.
- Chris Burke (SI) Who might be 'mystery' team in Robert Griffin III sweepstakes?
- Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk) Friday could be franchise tag day.
- Jason Cole (Yahoo! Sports) Flurry of franchise tags could dampen free-agent market for Vincent Jackson, others.
- Dane Brugler (CBS Sports) NFL Draft risers and fallers.
- Peter Schrager (Fox Sports) Post-NFL Combine mock draft. Pats take WR Kendall Wright (Baylor) and LB Zack Brown (UNC).
- Jeff Sperber (Cold Hard Football Facts) 101 football-related things to do during the offseason.
- Rivers McCown (Football Outsiders) The month in quotes: February 2012.