WR Torry Holt, TE Alge Crumpler, C Eric Ghiaciuc, DE/DT Damione Lewis, NT Gerard Warren, DE/OLB Marques Murrell.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Devin McCourty, TE Rob Gronkowski, DE/OLB Jermaine Cunningham, ILB Brandon Spikes, WR Taylor Price, TE Aaron Hernandez, P Zoltan Mesko.
TE Ben Watson, TE Chris Baker, DE/DT Jarvis Green, DE/OLB Adalius Thomas, CB Shawn Springs.
2010 New England Patriots Offense:
When Tom Brady hoisted his third Lombardi Trophy after a victory over the Eagles, it was a foregone conclusion that he would be the one to pass Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the winningest quarterback in NFL history. Brady was 27 at the time, so he needed just two more rings in the next 10 years or so. Considering he had won three of the previous four Super Bowls, it seemed like a lock that he would become the first quarterback to ever win five Lombardis.
Brady is now 33 and hasn't won a Super Bowl since. In fact, he's just 5-4 in the playoffs since defeating Philadelphia. Brady, once known as a blue-collar gym and film rat, has recently been accused of not working as hard as he used to. Multiple sources, including the Boston Globe and Yahoo have reported that there's a "growing disconnect" between Brady and the Patriots front office. Whether this is all financially motivated is unclear; if it is, it just shows that Brady has changed because he was willing to take less money than he deserved when he negotiated his previous contract. If not, then management is just as concerned that Brady is spending too much time posing for magazine covers, making guest appearances on Entourage, and dating (now marrying) super models.
Even though Brady's not the give-it-your-all quarterback that Jets, Dolphins and Bills fans are used to loathing, he's still ranks among the league's top signal-callers. Brady threw for 4,398 yards, 28 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season despite coming off that horrific knee injury. Unfortunately for Brady, his favorite receiver, Wes Welker, suffered a similar malady in the 2009 finale.
Welker has made great progress considering the severity of his injury, but it's still unlikely that he'll be ready for Week 1. Welker will probably be available by October, though he likely won't be 100 percent until 2011. And if he comes back early, it's probable that he'll just injure himself again; given all the cuts he makes, he'll need his knee to be as strong as possible.
Though he still had Randy Moss as his other wideout, Brady struggled without Welker. Excluding the disastrous playoff loss to the Ravens because he was hurt, Brady was just 48-of-89 (53.9%), 493 yards (5.5 YPA), one touchdown and an interception when Welker was sidelined.
The good news, however, is that Brady will have more weapons to work with this season. Julian Edelman has experience now and should be more effective as a slot receiver. Brandon Tate, a talented wideout who fell in the 2009 NFL Draft because of a knee injury, has been running with the first team ahead of newly signed Torry Holt. Rookie tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski will also be in the mix.
One area New England failed to upgrade was the running game. Once again, it'll be a chaotic mix of Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Maroney saw the most carries last year, scoring nine touchdowns, but was benched toward the end of the season because of a severe fumbling issue. Even if Maroney can hang on to the ball for a change, the Patriots still won't have much of a rushing attack.
The offensive line's outlook is solid - or at least it was until mid-June. Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins demanded a trade once he learned that the Patriots threatened to cut his 2010 salary in half if he didn't report to minicamp on time. Mankins didn't, so his tender offer dropped from $3.2 million to $1.5 million. It's likely that Mankins, like Vincent Jackson in San Diego, will miss quite a few regular-season games.
Aside from the ugly Mankins situation, everything else is fine. Left tackle Matt Light was absent for five games last year with a knee injury, but is currently healthy. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who could have easily won the 2009 Offensive Rookie the Year Award, will be stationed at right tackle until Light moves on. Dan Koppen is a solid center, while Stephen Neal is a Pro Bowl-caliber right guard when he doesn't miss his annual two or three starts.
2010 New England Patriots Defense:
Brady's work ethic isn't the only thing that has changed for the worse in New England. The defense, once a unit that put forth heroic efforts against Kurt Warner and Peyton Manning in the playoffs, couldn't do anything to contain a hobbled Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Baltimore's scoring attack this recent postseason.
New England had just 31 sacks last year, and outside of Tully Banta-Cain's surprising 10, no one had more than five sacks. Banta-Cain had never collected more than 5.5 sacks in a single season prior to 2009, so he's no lock to notch double-digit sacks again. Meanwhile, Rob Ninkovich (one sack in 2009) and rookie Jermaine Cunningham will battle it out for the right to start across from Banta-Cain. Cunningham is easily the better talent, but is inexperienced and has never played in a 3-4 before.
The Patriots won't be putting much pressure on the opposing passer this season, so it's a good thing their secondary is impressive. No. 1 cornerback Leigh Bodden rebounded with a solid 2009 campaign after Matt Millen foolishly attempted to use him as a zone corner the year before. Darius Butler and first-round rookie Devin McCourty will fight for the other starting gig in what should be a heated battle in training camp. The loser will provide the secondary with the depth it lacked last season. In other words, Jonathan Wilhite won't be torched every week (barring injuries).
At safety, Brandon Meriweather had a decent year, particularly in coverage support. James Sanders didn't play much in 2009 until the very end because of a shoulder injury. He's healthy now and will reprise his role as a solid defensive back across from Meriweather.
The most important thing New England did this offseason was re-signing Vince Wilfork to a 5-year, $40 million deal with an $18 million bonus. Wilfork's new contract was well-deserved; he's the best nose tackle in the league right now. Ty Warren is a quality player next to Wilfork, but has missed three games in each of the past two years. The other defensive end slot is up for grabs. Mike Wright, Ron Brace and Damione Lewis will all have a shot at the job. Wright is a mediocre talent; Brace is inexperienced; and Lewis recently turned 32. This will be a big position of weakness for the Patriots.
Speaking of weaknesses, inside linebacker Gary Guyton was completely abused in run support during Baltimore's blowout of New England in the playoffs, which is understandable considering that he's just 240 pounds. Guyton is once again slated to start next to 2008 Defensive Rookie of the Year Jerod Mayo, who didn't play well himself in 2009 after spraining his MCL in September. Bill Belichick will hope that either second-year Tyrone McKenzie or rookie Brandon Spikes pushes Guyton out of the lineup.
2010 New England Patriots Schedule and Intangibles:
Since 2003, the Patriots are 52-10 at home. They were 8-1 in 2009, but that one loss was the one that mattered most.
Stephen Gostkowski is one of the top kickers in the NFL. He went 26-of-31 last year, including 2-of-3 from 50-plus.
Chris Hanson was the worst punter in the league last season, which is why the Patriots drafted Zoltan Mesko as a replacement.
As far as the return game is concerned, the good news is that the Patriots didn't allow a special-teams score in 2009. The bad news is that dynamic punt-returner Wes Welker shredded his knee in the season finale. Julian Edelman will have to take over.
Even if you exclude four tough games against the Jets and Dolphins this year, New England's schedule is brutal. Check out all of its tough opponents: Cincinnati at home (Week 1), Baltimore at home (Week 6), San Diego on the road (Week 7), Minnesota at home (Week 8), Pittsburgh on the road (Week 10), Indianapolis at home (Week 11) and Green Bay at home (Week 15).
2010 New England Patriots Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2010 New England Patriots Analysis: The 2010 Patriots have five major concerns: Tom Brady's growing disinterest regarding football, Wes Welker's health, Logan Mankins' potential holdout, a lacking pass rush, and the rapid improvement of both the Jets and Dolphins. New England will be good enough to make the postseason (or at least contend for a playoff spot), but it doesn't look like it has the horses to make a Super Bowl run.
The Patriots don't always come away from a draft with quality players, but they wheel and deal better than anyone. Through their numerous trades, they somehow acquired Carolina's second-round pick in 2011, which means they have two ones and two twos next April. As Adam Schefter tweeted, it's like they have all four railroads in Monopoly.
I think New England did a good job with their actual prospects as well. Devin McCourty doesn't address an immediate need as a starter, but he was the best player available and should contribute as a reserve in 2010.
There were two things Bill Belichick needed to do in this draft: find weapons for Tom Brady and acquire players who can generate some sort of a pass rush. Belichick handled the former with tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and receiver Taylor Price. Meanwhile, Jermaine Cunningham was a solid selection in Round 2 whom Belichick had a close, personal look at the day after Florida's Pro Day.
My only qualm with New England's draft is its failure to address the 3-4 end position until late. Other than that, the Patriots walked away from the 2010 NFL Draft as winners.
Overall 2010 NFL Draft Grade given on 4/26/10: A
2010 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
27. Devin McCourty, CB, Rutgers
The Patriots are getting a very good prospect here, and they needed a better nickel corner. Devin McCourty could start once Shawn Springs moves on. (Pick Grade: A)
42. Rob Gronkowski, TE, Arizona
Rob Gronkowski would have been a first-round pick if he didn't have back surgery. He's very talented. It's been reported that he's healthy now, and if that's the case, he projects as a great weapon for Tom Brady. (Pick Grade: A)
53. Jermaine Cunningham, DE/OLB, Florida
The Patriots finally add their pass-rusher. Jermaine Cunningham was a consensus late Round 2, early Round 3 talent. He fills the team's No. 1 need. (Pick Grade: A)
62. Brandon Spikes, ILB, Florida
Brandon Spikes will be a two-down player for the Patriots. He has huge issues in coverage, but he's a good complement for Jerod Mayo. I think this was a bit of a reach, but not a bad pick. (Pick Grade: C)
90. Taylor Price, WR, Ohio
Amazingly, an Ohio University guy goes before an Ohio State player. Taylor Price is a really raw receiver; this is all upside. (Pick Grade: C)
113. Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida
He's the best player on the board. Why Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez? One is a blocker and the other is a pass-catcher, so they complement each other well. Also, Gronkowski is no lock to be healthy. (Pick Grade: B)
150. Zoltan Mesko, P, Michigan
Not a fan of a punter in the fifth round, but the Patriots really needed help at the position. (Pick Grade: C)
205. Ted Larsen, C, N.C. State
A decent late-round center prospect. Doesn't have much experience at the position, but played well there for two years. (Pick Grade: B)
208. Thomas Welch, OT, Vanderbilt
Matt Light won't be around much longer and Nick Kaczur isn't very good, so offensive tackle depth was needed. Good range for Thomas Welch. (Pick Grade: B)
247. Brandon Deaderick, DE/DT, Alabama
Has experience in the 3-4 having played in Alabama and also fills a big position of need. I'm shocked that the Patriots didn't address 3-4 end earlier. (Pick Grade: A)
248. Kade Weston, NT, Georgia
It's hard to find quality nose tackles. I like this as well. (Pick Grade: A)
250. Zac Robinson, QB, Oklahoma State
Another nice late pick - Zac Robinson was a solid Round 5-7 quarterback prospect and could challenge Brian Hoyer. (Pick Grade: A)
Key Undrafted Free Agents:
Dane Fletcher, DE/OLB, Montana State
I doubt Patriots fans had high hopes going into the season. Tom Brady was just a year removed from shredding his knee, while Richard Seymour was dealt to the Raiders before the opener. However, no one expected a 33-14 playoff loss. With the Jets and Dolphins emerging as perennial playoff contenders, has the window closed for New England?
Patriots cut G Darnell Stapleton
Patriots sign G Darnell Stapleton
Patriots sign C Eric Ghiaciuc
Patriots announce retirement of WR David Patten
Patriots sign RB Thomas Clayton
Patriots cut QB Mike Teel
Patriots waive OLB Bruce Davis
Patriots waive QB Isaiah Stanback
Patriots claim QB Mike Teel
Patriots cut QB Jeff Rowe
Patriots cut CB Shawn Springs
Patriots re-sign DE/OLB Derrick Burgess
Patriots cut DE/OLB Adalius Thomas
Patriots sign DE/DT Gerard Warren
Patriots sign WR Torry Holt
Patriots re-sign DE/OLB Pierre Woods
Patriots re-sign K Stephen Gostkowski
Patriots sign DE/DT Damione Lewis
Patriots sign TE Alge Crumpler
Seahawks sign TE Chris Baker
Browns sign TE Ben Watson
Patriots re-sign RB Kevin Faulk
Patriots sign DE/OLB Marques Murrell
Patriots re-sign CB Leigh Bodden
Broncos sign DE/DT Jarvis Green
Patriots re-sign G Stephen Neal
Patriots re-sign NT Vince Wilfork
Patriots re-sign DE/OLB Tully Banta-Cain
Patriots cut TE Chris Baker
Patriots tender G Logan Mankins
Patriots tender ILB Gary Guyton
Patriots sign WR David Patten
Patriots franchise NT Vince Wilfork
Patriots announce retirement of FB Patrick Pass
Rush Linebacker: The Patriots' No. 1 offseason priority is to find players who can get to the quarterback. They had just 31 sacks in 2009, and aside from Tully Banta-Cain, no one had more than five sacks. Drafted Jermaine Cunningham; signed Marques Murrell
Defensive End: Trading Richard Seymour for Oakland's 2011 first-round pick was a good move - New England will likely have a top-10 pick next April - but the team now has a hole up front. Addressing this position in the second round is a huge possibility. Signed Damione Lewis and Gerard Warren; drafted Brandon Deaderick
Wide Receiver: Sam Aiken should not be starting across from Randy Moss. Jeremy Williams, Andre Roberts, Mardy Gilyard and Golden Tate will be options for the Patriots in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Signed Torry Holt; drafted Taylor Price
Right Guard: Stephen Neal is a very good lineman, but he has missed 17 games the last three years and has hinted toward retirement.
Running Back: It's time to cut ties with Laurence Maroney. He doesn't make anyone miss, and he fumbles far too often on the goal line. A running back could be obtained with one of the team's three second-round picks.
Tight End: Ben Watson probably won't be retained. Tom Brady needs a more consistent option at tight end - especially if Wes Welker isn't ready for the start of the 2010 season. Jermaine Gresham will be looked at in the opening round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Drafted Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez; signed Alge Crumpler
Nickel Cornerback: Jonathan Wilhite is young, but he showed me no signs that he can be a very good nickel corner in the NFL. A second- or fourth-round selection should be used on competition. Drafted Devin McCourty
Inside Linebacker Depth: The Patriots can't keep going back to Junior Seau. They need depth behind Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton. Drafted Brandon Spikes
Return Specialist: With Wes Welker coming off a nasty knee injury, it's unlikely that he'll be asked to resume his punt return duties.
Punter: A 39.7 average isn't exactly what teams are looking for out of their punter. Drafted Zoltan Mesko
2010 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Damione Lewis, DE/DT, Panthers. Age: 32. Signed with Patriots
Damione Lewis was Carolina's best defensive tackle last year, but that's not saying much. The 32-year-old struggles against the run.
Alge Crumpler, TE, Titans. Age: 32. Signed with Patriots
Alge Crumpler is no longer a pass-catching option, but he's a very good blocker for a tight end.
Torry Holt, WR, Jaguars. Age: 34. -- Signed with Patriots (1 year, $1.7 million)
Marques Murrell (RFA), DE/OLB, Jets. Age: 25. -- Signed with Patriots
Gerard Warren, NT, Raiders. Age: 32. -- Signed with Patriots
Eric Ghiaciuc, C, Browns. Age: 29. -- Signed with Patriots
Thomas Clayton, RB, 49ers. Age: 26. -- Signed with Patriots
New England Patriots Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 14): No cap.
Vince Wilfork, NT, Patriots. Age: 28. Re-signed with Patriots (5 years, $40 million; $25 million guaranteed)
With the older players (Jamal Williams, Casey Hampton) in decline, Vince Wilfork is the best nose tackle in the NFL. He'll be franchised.
An outstanding run-blocker and one of the better guards in the NFL. Mankins has allowed 1.5 or less sacks in three of his five NFL seasons.
Stephen Gostkowski (RFA), K, Patriots. Age: 26. Re-signed with Patriots (1 year, $1.7 million)
Stephen Gostkowski had a down year, hitting "just" 24-of-29 field goals. He's 3-of-4 beyond 50 in his career.
Leigh Bodden, CB, Patriots. Age: 28. Re-signed with Patriots (5 years, $28.5 million; $10 million guaranteed)
What I wrote last year: "One of the top press corners in the NFL, Leigh Bodden struggled last year because Matt Millen foolishly decided that Bodden could play in a zone scheme. Chad Ochocinco recently called Bodden the top corner in the NFL." Well, Bodden just had an amazing season and should be awarded with a massive contract.
Divisional Rival History: Buffalo Bills: Poor Bills. The Patriots have beaten them in 18 of the last 19 meetings, including the previous 13. Miami Dolphins: The host has won 11 of 17 in this heated rivalry. New York Jets: Poor Jets. The Patriots have beaten them in 12 of the previous 15 matchups (though New York won its home meeting this year).
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2010 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)