In fourth place, and picking up 18% of the vote, Patriots nation believes that the defensive tackle position is the fourth most important role to address in free agency.
The reason for fourth place may not be as cut-and-dry as why tight end came in fifth.
Unlike the tight end position, the Patriots currently have plenty of bodies at the position who, if healthy, could lock down the role.
There's Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, and Isaac Sopoaga, who at season's end will combine to be 100 years of age. Wilfork and Kelly are returning from devastating injuries, especially at their age. All three are enormous cap risks, with Sopoaga already penciled in to be released.
There's Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, and Sealver Siliga, who had to play the season without much veteran help. While they played admirably, they left plenty to be desired. Siliga was a top notch nose tackle over the final quarter of the season, actually edging out Sopoaga for playing time, but it's unknown if he can sustain that over the course of a full season.
Vellano and Jones started through the core of the season, with Vellano getting bumped by Siliga down the stretch. Vellano is a valuable rotational end who can play in a pinch, but is someone who shouldn't be asked to play whistle to whistle. Jones leaves plenty to be desired in the early downs against the runs, getting easily blocked out of the plays. He's also inconsistent against the pass, although there's a chance that moving him to a purely pass-based situational role would help his productivity and utility.
Behind those six players are Marcus Forston, Armond Armstead, and Cory Grissom. Forston has yo-yo'd on and off of the roster the past couple of seasons and can't be trusted to be more than just a depth body. Armstead is an unknown entity, although Bill Belichick believed him to be the third best defensive tackle on the roster last off-season. Grissom flashed during the off-season, but was derailed by an injury.
All should be back for this off-season. Those are nine players who could be all the Patriots plan to move forward with into 2014.
I don't believe that would be the wise decision.
I believe that Sopoaga and Forston are two names that can be etched into the bubble of the roster. Grissom and Armstead can't come with expectations and relying on them goes into the realm of prediction instead of projection.
Vellano and Jones are players that we know enough about to realize we don't want to have to rely on them. They're fantastic role players. Guys you want as DT4 and DT5. But they don't present enough every-down value to be more than that.
Siliga flashed potential starter upside, which is why I don't believe nose tackle is of the utmost importance.
This brings us to Kelly and WIlfork. If healthy, the Patriots have their DT1 and DT2. But they're not. Their serious injuries throw a huge wrench into this off-season.
The Patriots could draft a defensive tackle, but how soon will they be ready to inherit the starting DT role? This is where the vote must have split.
Those who believe that starting level DTs can be found in the draft will likely try and fix the position view free agency, if at all. Those who don't think this is a strong enough DT class will want to plug the holes in free agency.
This is actually a great year to address the defensive tackle spot in free agency. There's at least 10 to 15 players who can step in and be an immediate impact player on the line, and they can come without breaking the bank.
You want a young and upcoming talent that could fortify the position for the next five years? Maybe Linval Joseph, Henry Melton, Art Jones (Chandler's brother!), or Tyson Jackson fit your bill. They come with varying degrees of expectations, but they would all complement whoever the Patriots tag to play nose tackle (Wilfork? Siliga?).
Or maybe there's an older veteran you want to use as an insurance bridge for just a one year deal. Kevin Williams (34 years old), Jonathan Babineaux (32), Antonio Smith (32), and Mike Patterson (31) are just a few names that could provide a band-aid if the Patriots wish to push off the positional need for another season- or if they just want a body on the roster to provide time until Armstead/Kelly/Wilfork can prove themselves as able bodies.
I wouldn't be surprised if the Patriots brought in a body in free agency. I'd expect them to bring in a middle-tier talent on a two- or three-year deal for 2-3 million a season. Think of a Steve Gregory type player and contract.
I don't believe the Patriots will go into the season with their current line up at defensive tackle. There are just too many questions. They have players who could be DT1 and DT2. They have a whole bunch of proven DT3, DT4, and DT5s.
With so many questions, and so many methods of answering them, this is going to be a fun position to follow into the off-season.