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2018 NFL free agency: Ranking the Patriots' biggest needs after the first week of free agency

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Which positions still need to be addressed?

NFL: AFC Championship-Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After a week that led to some considerable roster turnover for the New England Patriots, the first wave of free agency is slowly dying down. There are still quality players available – both via the open market and potentially via trade – but overall, most of the major action has already taken place. This, in turn, gives us a chance to look back and analyze what happened and what this means for the Patriots and, in this case, their positions of need.

Let's take a look at them and try to rank them in terms of importance:

#1 Offensive tackle

After losing starting left tackle Nate Solder, who protected Tom Brady's blindside for the better part of the last seven years, New England is in dire need for a replacement. The team did receive some good news yesterday in form of Antonio Garcia's medical clearance to play again, all while it is still in play to bring back Cameron Fleming and/or LaAdrian Waddle. However, as things stand right now there is no safe bet to ultimately fill Solder's shoes under contract – and until this changes and a frontrunner establishes himself, the position remains the Patriots' biggest need.

#2 Linebacker

One of the major weaknesses of the 2017 Patriots was at linebacker. After season-ending injuries to two of the top three options at the position – Dont'a Hightower and Shea McClellin –, the quality of play suffered drastically as the depth players were unable to play on a consistent level. Surprisingly, though, the only moves made at linebacker this offseason were McClellin's release and David Harris' retirement. Safe to say, New England still needs to upgrade its depth behind nominal starters Hightower and Kyle Van Noy.

#3 Strong safety

The Patriots have one of the better safety trios in the NFL in free safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon and strong safety Patrick Chung. The depth behind the top three, however, look as suspicious as it looked last season: Jordan Richards, who proved to be a liability particularly in pass coverage in 2017, is the number two safety/linebacker hybrid behind Chung. Ideally, the Patriots add another player to challenge Richards for playing time and a roster spot.

#4 Punt returner

When the Patriots lost Danny Amendola via free agency, they also lost their number one punt returner. The team now needs to find a way to replace the production and trustworthiness Amendola brought to the kicking game. It appears likely that the player to do that is either already on the roster (Cyrus Jones? Cordarrelle Patterson?) or will be brought aboard through the draft or rookie free agency. However, until a clear-cut option is established, the punt return position remains a need for New England.

#5 Defensive line

New England already upgraded its defensive line over the past week by trading for tackle Danny Shelton and signing edge Adrian Clayborn as a free agent. The team still faces some questions that potentially need to be addressed on the interior and exterior: How will Derek Rivers and Vincent Valentine look after season-ending injuries? Will Adam Butler make the second-year jump? How will the new additions fit in? The line is certainly deep but adding quality to the rotations could still be on the Patriots' agenda.

#6 Tight end

Since the release of Martellus Bennett two weeks ago, the Patriots have not made any transactions at the tight end position. A depth chart consisting of Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister and Will Tye certainly is sufficient as it proved last year but would likely still benefit from additional talent. After all, Gronkowski's future is still up in the air while Allen's guarantee-free $5.0 million salary cap hit makes him a candidate for a restructure or possibly even a release.


Overall, the Patriots have depth and talent across the board with only a few spots – starting left tackle, number three linebacker, number one punt returner – still in need to be filled. But while free agency is slowly winding down, the team still has plenty of time to address them.