Another trip to the AFC Championship Game. Another 12-4 record. Another AFC East title. Despite the 2015 New England Patriots falling short of the ultimate goal – repeating as Super Bowl winners – the team had another stellar season. And even though New England lost a league-worst 245 games to injury this year, the team was in contention for yet another conference crown and Super Bowl berth.
Looking forward to 2016, there is a lot to be excited about.
Not only will those injured – among them top-of-the-depth-chart players like Nate Solder, Dion Lewis, James Develin and Dominique Easley – return, the team will also get most of its 2015 roster back. Looking at the Patriots' upcoming free agency class, only a handful of players are worth retaining and even those select few will not put too much pressure on the team's salary cap situation.
Speaking of the salary cap. Entering their offseason, the Patriots currently have around $5 million in cap space (depending on the yet to be announced final salary cap number). This number could increase even further if the team, as is expected, cuts its ties with Jerod Mayo and re-works several contracts like those of Danny Amendola and Sebastian Vollmer. And if the team finds a way to not have Marcus Cannon take up $4.7 million of the cap.
With the combination of a solidly looking salary cap situation as well as the Patriots' upcoming free agent class, the team can turn its attention to solidifying a young and talented defense for the foreseeable future. Starters Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones and Malcolm Butler are all looking for new contracts and the team will likely enter negotiations with all four over the course of the offseason.
The team does not have to rush those negotiations, though, as Hightower, Collins, Jones and Butler will be part of the 2016 Patriots anyway: all four are under contract next season, which means that New England's defense will stay largely intact. The same goes for the other parts of the Patriots' 2015 roster as well. While not every member of the current squad will be back next season, the team will build upon a very talented and relatively young foundation – further strenghtening an already very good defense and a potentially lethal offense.
Not only the majority of players will return next season, the coaches will as well. Despite coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia being oft-mentioned head coaching candidates, neither will leave Foxboro this offseason, adding another element of stability to a team, which is one of the younger ones in the league.
Stability is also added by quarterback Tom Brady. Despite getting up there in age, Brady showed no signs of slowing down and carried the offense throughout the second half of the season. While his last game was certainly not one of the brightest moments of his career, Brady projects to continue as one of the best quarterbacks in the league – especially, if New England's young and unstable offensive line is able to use its 2015 season to build on the good and learn from the bad.
The 2015 season may have ended in disappointment, short of the goal of defending the world championship. Still, despite yesterday's loss, the New England Patriots can look towards a bright future.
On to 2016.
The journey starts today.