In third place, and barely nudging out our fourth place contender, 19% of Patriots Nation believes defensive end to be the most important position to address in free agency.
In my opinion, defensive end is an under-appreciated need for this squad.
We can see the rookie defensive end that was made a special teamer because he couldn't uphold the gap integrity against the fun: Michael Buchanan
And we can see the former third round pick who has somehow found a way to almost never make it on the field (43 snaps in two seasons): Jake Bequette
That's it. The Patriots have four defensive ends on the roster. Bequette is a top candidate to be released and Buchanan can be trusted as much as his former Illini teammate Tavon Wilson to make an impact in 2014.
Both Ninkovich (96% of defensive snaps) and Jones (97.9%) need help if they want to stay more efficient over the course of the season as their high snap counts are unsustainable. Football gods forbid if any injury should befall either of the two.
I don't think this is a position that can be fixed in the draft, for the short term. Having to rely on a rookie to spell the two veterans would likely lead to another late-season addition of Andre Carter, so keep your eyes open for the Patriots to bring in another veteran.
There's a certain split in free agency that helps the Patriots. There's the top heavy talent, like Brian Orakpo (franchised), Greg Hardy (franchised), and Jason Worilds (transitioned). There's the bottom tier players who just didn't pan out like Jermaine Cunningham (signed with the Jets!) and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.
And in the middle are the grizzled veterans looking for that last chance for glory.
We'll find out if Julius Peppers becomes a casualty of the salary cap.
There will be the inevitable cast offs once training camps begin.
There are options.
And if the Patriots are willing to open up to an extended contract deal, there are plenty of players in their late 20s who have a lot to offer. There's Matt Shaughnessy, old friend Marcus Benard, Robert Ayers, O'Brien Schofield, Everette Brown, and more.
Tis the season to find some much-needed reinforcements along the defensive line. Whether or not you believe this is the most important position, it's undeniably an important one. Look for the Patriots to pick up some mid-tier players for the off-season.