With the New England Patriots’ 2013 season in the books following their AFC Championship loss to the Broncos, we take a high-level look at how the Patriots’ 2014 depth chart looks, starting with the offense:
Tom Brady, Ryan Mallett
Thoughts: This is the make or break offseason for Ryan Mallett as he enters the final season of his rookie contract in 2014. Mallett has only thrown four career regular season passes, and it is a bit difficult seeing another team giving up a second round pick or more to acquire his services. That being said, regardless of what happens with him, the Patriots will probably want to pick up a developmental prospect or two at the position this offseason.
Running Back:HB: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden
FB: James Develin
Free Agents: LeGarrette Blount
Thoughts: The running back position is going to be a hard one to project heading into this offseason. The key free agent is LeGarrette Blount. I think the Patriots would like him back, but I also don’t think they are going to get into a major bidding war to keep him. Stevan Ridley seemed to regain some trust from the coaching staff late in the year. His final fumble came against the Broncos in week 12. Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine the Patriots installing him as the work horse again and he seems like he could be good trade bait on draft day. This is a position that could remain exactly as is, or see significant changes heading into 2014.
Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce, Matt Slater, T.J. Moe, Mark HarrisonFree Agents: Julian Edelman, Austin Collie
Practice Squad: Reggie Dunn, Sam McGuffie, Greg Orton
Thoughts: This is another tough position to project for 2014, and my best guess is that the Patriots do whatever they can to retain Julian Edelman. Danny Amendola has $2 million of his $3 million base salary guaranteed for 2014, so he likely returns. Considering the way his contract is structured, however, 2014 essentially becomes a contract year for him. The way this position looks in 2014 will also heavily depend on how the Patriots value the three youngsters – Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce. All three flashed potential in 2013, but also had some struggles. Aaron Dobson is perhaps the closest thing to a safe bet of the three. It still wouldn’t surprise me to see the Patriots look aggressively for upgrades here during free agency and perhaps the draft. The free agent crop is stacked at receiver: Eric Decker, Hakeem Nicks, Anquan Boldin, Jeremy Maclin, Emannuel Sanders, and James Jones highlight those available.
Rob Gronkowski, D.J. Williams
Free Agents: Michael Hoomanawanui, Matthew Mulligan
Thoughts: My guess is that Hoomanawanui ends up returning. He isn’t a great threat as a receiver, but does do just enough in that area to keep a defense honest. He’s also a plus-blocker in both the running and passing games. He shouldn’t be a team’s number one, but he’s definitely a solid number two or number three tight end. Matthew Mulligan could be brought back on a one year deal. The big question at this position surrounds the health of Rob Gronkowski, who tore his ACL and MCL against the Browns this year. Even if he does return for week one, it is becoming hard to trust him to play all sixteen games, if only for the way he plays and how he exposes his body to big hits. The tight end position will be one to watch in free agency and the draft for the Patriots. Even if Gronkowski returns to form in 2014, the Patriots would still like an upgrade next to him, considering their reliance on two-TE sets.
Offensive LineLT: Nate Solder
LG: Logan Mankins, Josh Kline
C: Dan Connolly
RG: Marcus Cannon, Barker
RT: Sebastian Vollmer, Markus Zusevics
Free Agents: Ryan Wendell, Will Svitek
Practice Squad: Braxston Cave, Jordan Devey, R.J. Mattes
Thoughts: The Patriots’ line already projects a bit better than it did yesterday, as the Patriots will be boosted by the return of Sebastian Vollmer, one of the best right tackles in the game who went down with a broken right leg at the end of October. With his return and the impending free agency of Ryan Wendell, I’ve slid Dan Connolly over to center and Vollmer’s replacement at tackle, Marcus Cannon, into right guard. One of the key questions surrounding the offensive line this offseason will be along the interior line. Do the Patriots project Marcus Cannon at right guard? Will the Patriots look for upgrades to the average Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly? Connolly could also end up being a cap casualty. Will Svitek is a good depth guy who could be brought back on another one year deal.
This is obviously a very preliminary look at where things stand heading into next year, but gives us a chance to take a high level overview at where the Patriots' offense stands. Where do you want to see the Patriots improve in 2014 on offense? How should they change up their schemes, tendencies and personnel?