Prior to the game against the New York Jets, Gang Green Nation’s Michael Nania posed an excellent question that I answered in his 5 questions with GangGreenNation.com series. The question was so good that we used it as the topic for this week’s theme around SB Nation.
Now that the season has begun to play out, what would your team do today if they could go back and change one move they made in the offseason? Would it instead be a move or addition they didn't make?
It’s a great question and it’s a lot of fun for those that enjoy the process of building teams to answer. “What if” scenarios aren’t necessarily insightful, but they can help to evaluate the team’s decision making and to make smarter choices in the future.
This was my response, and I have a few other thoughts I’ll present afterwards, along with a poll. I’d also like to hear your thoughts.
“The most immediate and obvious change would be to not let Martellus Bennett go,” I wrote. “The Patriots let Bennett walk to the Green Bay Packers and acquired Dwayne Allen from the Indianapolis Colts and James O’Shaughnessy from the Kansas City Chiefs. O’Shaughnessy didn’t make the final roster and Allen hasn’t recorded a single catch, even with Rob Gronkowski not playing last week. Allen’s been an okay blocker, but he’s been a huge drop from Bennett on the offense.
“Alternatively, and this is a bigger domino effect, would be retaining Logan Ryan instead of signing Stephon Gilmore. That probably could have saved the Patriots $4 million per year, assuming a minor discount by Ryan, and the Patriots could’ve bolstered another position on their defense, preferably in the defensive front seven. And maybe they would’ve combined that $4 million with what they gave to Alan Branch ($4.25 million per year), and signed a player line Bennie Logan, Nick Fairley, Dontari Poe, or Jonathan Hankins.”
This was all written prior to facing the Jets and they’re both still valid changes because Dwayne Allen remains catchless and Stephon Gilmore didn’t suit up due to a concussion; oh, and Logan Ryan just had his best game of the season for the Titans.
Let me lay out my alternative offseason for the Patriots.
1) TE Martellus Bennett over TE Dwayne Allen and TE James O’Shaughnessy
This seems like a no-brainer, even if Bennett is “only” on pace for 576 receiving yards. He’s still a more reliable contributor than Allen, who played just 9 snaps against the Panthers and 6 against the Jets. O’Shaughnessy isn’t on the Patriots and the third tight end, Jacob Hollister, has more special teams snaps (36) than offensive snaps (35).
Allen is on the books for $5.8 million per season. Bennett is making $7 million per season, although his contract gives the Packers an easy out after the 2017 season. It wouldn’t have been difficult for the Patriots to match or challenge that offer.
The Patriots would have also kept the 137th overall pick at the end of the fourth round which they could have used on:
TE Jake Butt (145th overall), a former 1st round prospect prior to tearing his ACL.
TE George Kittle (146th overall), a do-it-all tight end on pace for 565 receiving yards, which would rank 16th all time for rookies (Rob Gronkowski had 546 receiving yards as a rookie).
DB Desmond King (151st overall), a safety/cornerback/slot hybrid that would have an easy upside role in the Patriots secondary.
And then the Patriots still could have signed Jacob Hollister as an undrafted free agent.
2) RB Kareem Hunt (86th) and/or LB Kendell Beckwith (107th) over EDGE Derek Rivers (83rd) and/or OT Tony Garcia (85th)
The Patriots had two selections in the couple picks prior to the Chiefs’ selection of Rookie of the Year lock Kareem Hunt. Neither Rivers nor Garcia will play for the Patriots this year and there’s no way to have predicted that either player would befall such severe injuries during the draft- but since we’re playing “what if” it’s not hard to pick an alternative to two season-ending injuries to a pair of third round rookies.
Hunt is busy setting records for the Chiefs and he could have been a good choice to prevent the Patriots from signing either Mike Gillislee or Rex Burkhead. Hunt is a big every-down back that keeps defenses off balance, while the Patriots are busy tipping their play-call with Gillislee (it’s a run) or James White (it’s a pass) on the field.
Oh, and LeGarrette Blount is tearing it up with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The other player is Beckwith, a prototypical-sized linebacker for the Buccaneers who has stepped up as a star with Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander missing time. Beckwith fits the Patriots linebacker profile and could have really helped the depth at a position that struggled for the early part of the year. The Patriots might not have added David Harris if they had a player like Beckwith.
3) CB Logan Ryan + cap space over CB Stephon Gilmore
The biggest breakdowns in the Patriots secondary for 2017 has been the miscommunications stemmed from the addition of Gilmore to the secondary. What if the Patriots kept the band together and reached an extension with Logan Ryan? I don’t know if they would have had to match the Titans offer ($10 million per year) or if Ryan would take a “hometown” discount, but he’d certainly be cheaper than Gilmore without any of the growing pains.
And if the Patriots kept that extra $3-5 million in cap space for retaining Ryan, what if they extended Malcolm Butler? Or used it on a defensive tackle or edge defender to bolster the line of scrimmage? There are a lot of ways the Patriots could have applied that cap room to better the weaknesses of the defense.
4) Someone other than DT Alan Branch
Staying on the theme of better use of cap space, what about going in a different direction from the 32-year-old defensive tackle that was a healthy scratch against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? The Patriots signed Branch to a 2-year, $8.45 million deal with a chance to earn up to $12 million if he reached every incentive. There is a roster bonus due prior to the 2018 season, so New England has an out after this year, but the money could have been better spent for 2017.
The Patriots also signed Lawrence Guy to a 4-year deal worth up to $19 million if he hits all his playing time incentives, but that contract appears to be working well for New England. I simply mention it because it shows how much the Patriots were willing to pay for the position this offseason.
What about adding a player like NT Dontari Poe or NT Bennie Logan, both of whom signed a 1-year, $8 million contracts. Or a cheaper veteran like NT Domata Peko?
After two stellar seasons from Branch, where he was the team’s most reliable defensive tackle, he had earned a new contract and it wasn’t a tough decision at the time. He was one of the best run defenders in the league in 2016 and so his extension was received with praise.
But after his early season struggles in 2017, maybe the Patriots would have gone a different direction if given the chance.
What should the Patriots have done differently during the 2017 offseason?
This poll is closed
Retain Martellus Bennett instead of signing Dwayne Allen
Draft contributors in the 3rd round
Keep Logan Ryan over Stephon Gilmore
Sign a different defensive tackle than Alan Branch
Other (and post your thoughts!)
Personally, I have a hard time arguing that the Patriots should’ve drafted differently in the third round or added a player other than Branch. Both Rivers and Garcia filled a need with the Patriots and I loved the signings of Gillislee and Burkhead and the extension of Branch.
I would argue that the one big change would have been to try and retain Martellus Bennett instead of acquiring Dwayne Allen. I still think Gilmore can figure out how to contribute with the Patriots and he looked as good as advertised against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; he’s flashed his upside at times in man coverage.
Allen has not. He’s lost his role in the offense and it’s an long uphill climb to get out of the dog house if Rob Gronkowski stays healthy. Bennett was as good of a blocker as Allen and already has the rapport as a receiver with Brady. I had a lot of hope when the Patriots acquired Allen, but his offseason struggles continued into the regular season.
The Patriots look for a reliable #2 tight end continues.