The Patriots returned to the Super Bowl in February for the first time since 2007 (which is also the last time they won a postseason game). But their loss to the Giants in Indianapolis means that New England's last Lombardi Trophy came following the 2005 season. There are worse fates, of course, and as long as Tom Brady is under center the Pats are a playoff team and likely favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Still, Brady needs help. Given New England's cache of draft picks, we expect they'll address each of them in the coming weeks and months.
Free agents of note. Wide receiver Wes Welker was franchised Monday but the hope is that the two sides can come to an agreement on a long-term deal… Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis carried much of the workload last season but the Pats used two high draft picks on RBs. If Green-Ellis leaves via free agency second-year player Stevan Ridley could be next in line… Left tackle Matt Light is rumored to be contemplating retirement and even if he comes back for another season New England might move on without him (they drafted tackle Nate Solder in the first round last April). The Patriots may also let free agent center Dan Koppen walk… Veterans WR Deion Branch and DE Andre Carter could be back in New England if they're willing to sign for cheap, while longtime Patriot Kevin Faulk has retired but hinted that he'd love to return to the sidelines as an assistant coach…
Needs. Defense and wide receiver top the offseason to-do list. As for the former, the Patriots desperately need depth in the secondary; the team cut former first-round pick safety Brandon Meriweather in preseason and then played much of 2011 with other teams' castoffs at cornerback. CB Devin McCourty regressed in Year 2 after a fantastic rookie campaign, but he could rebound with the right players around him. Second-rounder Ras-I Dowling missed his rookie season with injuries but will be available to begin 2012.
Concerning the latter: Chad Ochocinco was an unmitigated disaster. He had 15 catches in the regular season and a lone touchdown. He was supposed to provide Brady with a deep threat. Didn't happen. In fact, Ochocinco routinely found himself on the sidelines when the Pats went to the no-huddle offense because he was still learning the playbook. There's a chance he returns in 2012 but it will be at a reduced rate. With Welker back for at least another year and Branch also likely to return, New England has to find a legitimate down-the-field target to stretch defenses and open things up for tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Which brings us to...
Targets. The Patriots have the 31st pick in April's draft. The Steelers chose not to franchise Mike Wallace Monday. New England should be working up a contract offer for Wallace right now because if they're able to prying him away from Pittsburgh it'll be worth much more than a low first-round selection. New England could also look to free agency to fill their needs in the secondary and along the defensive line.
- The Hall at Patriot Place Speaker Series: Patriots' safety Patrick Chung will appear at The Hall's Raytheon Theater on Thursday, March 15 at 6:30 p.m.
- Erik Scalavino lists some of the prospects he's anxious to see play, based solely on their positive interview performances at the Combine.
- Karen Guregian reports the tag is on Wes Welker, but the Patriots expressed the wish of keeping Brady's favorite receiver for longer than 2012.
- Christopher Price analyzes what getting the franchise tag means for Wes Welker.
- Mike Reiss speculates about Wes Welker and what his contract length will be.
- Tom E. Curran reports the Patriots, as expected, have placed the franchise tag on Wes Welker.
- Shalise Manza Young reports the team calls Wes Welker a 'contractual priority' even though the sides remained far apart in discussions on a longer-term deal.
- Mark Farinella wonders how Welker will respond to the franchise tag.
- Karen Guregian looks at what Stevie Johnson's deal with Buffalo might mean for Wes Welker.
- Mike Reiss reviews the wide receiver position and which available free agents might fit the Patriots.
- Mike Reiss analyzes Pat Kirwan's latest mock draft that has the Pats trading their 31st pick to the Steelers for Mike Wallace.
- Gerry Callahan asserts Gregg Williams must pay for his bounty system.
- Jim Litke says punishing Gregg Williams won't end the real problem. He just kept detailed records.
- WEEI highlights Peter King's guest appearance on the Mut & Merloni show. King believes Texans DE Mario Williams should consider the Patriots.
- Ricky Doyle reports Randy Moss will work out for the Saints today.
- James Walker (ESPN) Where will Welker, Patriots go from here?
- Chris Burke (SI) Breaking down the franchise tags.
- Will Brinson (CBS Sports) 2012 NFL Franchise Tags: Winners and losers.
- James Walker (ESPN) Why Patriots should sign Mike Wallace.
- Michael David Smith (ProFootballTalk) Mike Wallace can be yours for a first-round pick.
- Evan Silva (ProFootballTalk) Assessing the best free agents left, after the franchise tag deadline.
- Elliot Harrison (NFL.com) Super Bowls just aren't instantly won in free agency.
- Chad Reuter (NFL.com) WR/TE Stock Report: Floyd, Hill put on a show in Indianapolis.
- Wes Bunting (Nat'l Football Post) Ranking the draft's top 3-4 pass rushers.
- Mike Wilkening (Pro Football Talk) Tolbert among UFAs who could prove solid values.
- Pete Prisco (CBS Sports) Five little-known free agents I like, and five well-known ones I don't.
- Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News) 2012 NFL free-agent tight ends: Utilitarian group lacks glamor.
- John Clayton (ESPN) Teams taking fewer risks on contracts.
- Pat Kirwan (CBS Sports) NFL Mock Draft. Pats select DE Nick Perry (California) and trade their 31st pick to Pittsburgh for WR Mike Wallace.
- Randy Moss' workout tour could get interesting. (Nat'l Football Post)
- rules have changed. (Fox Sports) NFL must admit that
- Alex Marvez (Fox Sports) Trouble ain't over for Saints.
- Michael Silver (Yahoo! Sports) Like spygate, Saints' bounty scandal hurts league.
- Joe Fortenbaugh (Nat'l Football Post) Why is a bounty program even necessary?
- Jeff Duncan (Times-Picayunne) Gregg Williams wasn't alone in the New Orleans Saints bounty business.
- Don Banks (SI) Payton, Loomis remain silent as Saints bounty investigation widens.
- Ashley Fox (ESPN) Bounty scandal: Coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis deserved to be fired.
- Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk) NFL Network pulls plug on Vikings-Saints replay.
- Chris Burke (SI) Best of the Firsts - No. 25: Ted Washington, 1991 (49ers), No. 24: Ed Reed, 2002, (Ravens), No. 23: Ozzie Newsome,1978 (Browns) and No. 22: Andre Rison, 1989 (Colts).