The Patriots go into the offseason with a lot of things that need to be done. Coming off of Super Bowl LI, most of the core will be intact. However, there are positions that do need to be upgraded through FA and trades. There will be a lost of roster turnover, possibly up to 15-20 different players on the 2017 team compared to the 2016 Super Bowl winner. The Patriots will have their work cut out for them that’s for sure.
Michael Lombardi did a video for all 32 teams outline what fixes they need to do this offseason. The video below focuses on the Patriots and their needs for 2017. As a guy who’s known HC Bill Belichick for years and worked on the Patriots staff 2014-15, he knows a lot about the players on the roster and what long term needs the team will have.
Step 1: Don’t trade Jimmy Garoppolo
Lombardi reasons that even though Brady had one of the best seasons by a QB at Age 39, there is no precedence that a 40+ year old QB will come back and play well. We saw it with Brett Favre in 2010. Brady has a much more different training and nutrition regime than most QBs of his age, but there comes a point where Brady’s age will become an issue. The Patriots have a young QB who in 6 quarters showed he can handle the full offense. Brady’s contract allows for the Patriots to save $8M if cut or Tom retires in 2018 case Father Time wins. In that case, the Patriots can either sign Garoppolo to a long term deal or franchise him.
Step 2: Re-Sign Malcolm Butler to a long term contract
Malcolm Butler is the top CB on the Patriots depth chart and is a restricted free agent on Thursday. In case anyone is wondering, teams cannot tamper with restricted free agents in the tampering window. I outlined a potential Malcolm Butler extension here that pays him over $11M per season and guarantees his salary for the first three seasons (Age 27-29). It’s a 3/$34.7M with $26.5M of it in the form of signing bonus ($10M) plus guaranteed salaries. If the two sides can’t come to a long term deal by Thursday, I expect the Patriots to give him a first round tender that sets Butler’s 2017 salary to $3.91M tomorrow. Both sides will be paying close attention to the market this week, as that will dictate future action.
Step 3: Don’t overreact in Free Agency
This is the one area where the Patriots always win. They rarely overpay players and always get the type of contracts they want in free agency. The Patriots have already re-signed fullback James Develin to a two-year deal. It’s very conceivable the Patriots could lose Dont’a Hightower, Logan Ryan, LeGarrette Blount, Duron Harmon, Jabaal Sheard, Alan Branch, and Martellus Bennett this week to another team. While Patriots Twitter will question Belichick’s methods, the team has a contingency for all of this. The Patriots are going to wait for the market to dictate their action for most of these free agents once the league year begins on Thursday. The Patriots did the same with Devin McCourty two seasons ago and re-signed him to a deal that gave him the most guaranteed money at his position at the time. The Patriots will have a chance to match all these contracts and then make a move when the season begins.
To reiterate, the Patriots operate at a value standpoint. It’s not necessarily building the most talented roster, it’s about finding the best players for the scheme with the fewest dollars possible. That approach has netted the franchise 5 Super Bowls in 16 seasons, including 2 in the last 3 years. The key for the Patriots, and especially for those that read this, is patience and let the market develop. When we see teams at the bottom like Cleveland overpaying for the shiniest car on the row, it’s a reminder for why bad teams stay bad.
Step 4: Fix the defensive line
At the minimum, the Patriots need three defensive ends and one defensive tackle to add to the 53-man roster. Those numbers do not count the current free agents. At both positions, the Patriots should invest draft capital in a very deep DL draft. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots double dip on the edge and add a veteran at the position. At DT, the best FA move they can make is re-signing Alan Branch and then draft his replacement. A Branch re-signing looks very likely and the Patriots should find some solid DTs at the end of Day 2 and in Day 3.
At the draft, Tyus Bowser and Trey Hendrickson make a lot of sense on Day 2. Bowser is a hybrid DE/LB with freaky athletic traits who could rush from the edge or blitz up the middle. Hendrickson is more of pure edge rusher, but he’s quick, has enough burst to rush from the edge, and the ability to move in space very well. Bowser compares to Jamie Collins, Hendrickson compares to Rob Ninkovich in terms of athletic numbers. I feel like the deep positions where the Patriots need to draft should allow the Patriots to trade down from 32 and add another Day 2 and possibly a Day 3 pick to the mix to increase the odds of them hitting at the position.
Step 5: Sign/trade for good players in FA period, worry about fit later
One of the things Bill Belichick will do is sign some of the best 2nd tier players in free agency and then work on establishing a fit later. That either means an older player willing to sacrifice money and take a lesser role in New England to win a title or perhaps a player that was underutilized on his previous team. The Patriots find a way to turn those guys into strong contributors and make a run in the postseason. The Patriots should worry less about checking off certain positions just to say they did.
The Patriots draft needs all come at positions that are deep and the team rarely uses the draft to fulfill that year’s free agent needs, but rather the next 2 years. The team just needs to focus on signing good players and then figuring out what to do with them later. In the era of a hard salary cap and free agency, the roster will look a lot different in 2017. We could see as many as 20 new players on the opening 53-man roster. FA needs are different because they aren’t playing the same teams in the NFC in 2017.