QB Tim Tebow, RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Danny Amendola, WR Donald Jones, WR Michael Jenkins, OT Will Svitek, G Tyronne Green, DT Tommy Kelly, DT Armond Armstead, S Adrian Wilson, KR Leon Washington.
Early Draft Picks:
DE/OLB Jamie Collins, WR Aaron Dobson, CB Logan Ryan, S Duron Harmon, WR Josh Boyce. Patriots Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
RB Danny Woodhead, RB Jeff Demps, WR Wes Welker, WR Brandon Lloyd, TE Aaron Hernandez, G Donald Thomas, G Brian Waters, DE Trevor Scott, S Patrick Chung.
2013 New England Patriots Offense:
Any sort of discussion about the Patriots has to begin with Aaron Hernandez. Despite having all of the potential in the world as one of the top, young tight ends in the NFL, Hernandez was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd in late June. He was released by the team the very same day. The timing for something like this can never be any good, but it was at the worst moment possible because New England's other Pro Bowl tight end, Rob Gronkowski, underwent back surgery in mid-June. He was expected to be out for at least 10 weeks after that, putting his Week 1 status at risk. Gronkowski has had multiple stacking injuries, so there's a chance he may never be the same player again, which is unfortunate because it appeared as though he would be one of the all-time greats at his position.
Having said that, if any coach-quarterback combination can overcome something like this, it's Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The latter has always been regarded as one of the top signal-callers in the NFL ever since taking over for Drew Bledsoe in the early stages of the previous decade. However, he has posted his best numbers since 2007 - the year in which the Patriots acquired Wes Welker from the Dolphins. In six seasons in New England, Welker caught a whopping 672 balls, as he served as Brady's go-to guy despite the presence of Randy Moss, Brandon Lloyd and others. Brady will now have to find a new favorite target because Welker is now with the Broncos.
Hours after watching their slot receiver go to their current arch rival, the Patriots agreed to terms with former Ram Danny Amendola, who will serve the same role Welker did. Amendola is younger and quicker, but he has major durability issues. Whereas Welker missed just three games in six New England seasons, Amendola has been held out of the lineup 22 times in four years as a pro. He has the skills to be a dynamic weapon for Brady, but can he stay on the field? He has yet to prove that he's able to do that.
If Amendola can't suit up, Brady won't have much to work with. Julian Edelman will take over Amendola's slot duties, but the other wideouts include: Donald Jones, Michael Jenkins, and rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. Jones' career-high reception total is 41 with the Bills last year, while Jenkins is a sound blocker who can't get any sort of separation. Dobson and Boyce could be good eventually, but history says otherwise; Belichick has a horrendous track record of drafting receivers.
Having no real alternatives to replace the two tight ends - and Lloyd for that matter - the Patriots are expected to use third-year back Shane Vereen all over the field, much like the Packers do with Randall Cobb. Vereen has been lining up at receiver in OTAs, which makes sense because he's a dynamic pass-catcher and can go the distance at any moment. With no other options, New England has to utilize him heavily. It would not be a surprise if he surpassed 60 receptions.
With all of these problems at wideout and tight end, it's clear that Brady will need extra time to scan the field and find his open receivers. Barring numerous injuries, he'll definitely get that from his offensive line. Left tackle Nate Solder, chosen in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, has developed into a very sound blind-side protector; he surrendered just four sacks last year. He'll once again start across from Sebastian Vollmer, who is one of the better right tackles in the league.
The Patriots are also set inside with the trio of Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell. Mankins has been a Pro Bowl-caliber blocker for years, while Wendell was a pleasant surprise this past season as a first-year starter. The weakest link in the group is Connolly, the right guard, but even he's serviceable. Besides, there's a chance that 2011 fifth-round Marcus Cannon could unseat him as the starter.
Looking elsewhere, it would've been bizarre to say this a couple of years ago, but New England's top skill group is the running back position. Though he lost a couple of key fumbles, Stevan Ridley looked great in his first full season as a starter, rushing for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns on a 4.4 YPC clip. He had just six receptions though, as Brady went to Danny Woodhead in the passing game. Woodhead is now in San Diego, so Vereen will take over his duties. Brandon Bolden will also be in the mix.
2013 New England Patriots Defense:
The Patriots ranked 27th in pass defense in 2011. They had to do something to upgrade that aspect of their stop unit, especially with Peyton Manning back as a legitimate threat in the conference. They made a move in the middle of the season to help improve the secondary, acquiring Aqib Talib, a solid cornerback, from Tampa Bay. Talib performed well at times and seemed instrumental in New England's game plan to defend Aquan Boldin and the Ravens in the AFC Championship. Unfortunately, Talib suffered an injury in the first half, which left the Patriots completely vulnerable to Boldin.
Talib was a free agent this offseason, but New England was able to retain him to a relatively small deal (1 year, $5 million) because of a diminished market for cornerbacks. The Patriots would've been forced into starting slot corner Kyle Arrington, bust Ras-I Dowling or third-round rookie Logan Ryan (or Steve Gregory at safety if they decided to move Devin McCourty back to his original position) across from Alfonzo Dennard. But as it stands now, Talib and Dennard form a very solid tandem. Dennard, who fell to the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft because of legal problems, was solid as a rookie, surrendering a completion percentage of 50 to opposing wideouts.
McCourty, who was mentioned earlier, will continue to serve as the starting free safety. He moved there from cornerback in October and was downright exceptional the rest of the season. He'll start next to the newly acquired Adrian Wilson, who was obtained in free agency. Wilson has been a great safety for a very long time, but the 33-year-old was demoted out of some formations in Arizona this past season. If he doesn't rebound, New England may consider using the pedestrian Gregory or 2012 second-rounder Tavon Wilson instead.
The Patriots can make sure that one injury doesn't completely destroy their secondary again by putting as much pressure as possible on opposing quarterbacks. They registered an average 37 sacks in 2012, with no player accumulating more than eight (Rob Ninkovich). That figures to change with Chandler Jones coming back completely healthy. Jones, a first-round selection last April, had six sacks in the first half of his rookie campaign prior to injuring his ankle. He returned two weeks later, but was never the same after that, failing to notch a single sack after coming back to the lineup. Jones should be able to approach a double-digit figure in 2013, with Ninkovich continuing to serve as a solid complement. Jamie Collins, a second-round rookie, will provide decent depth.
New England, however, does not have much of an interior pass-rushing presence. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork started slowly last year, but picked up his play toward the end of the season. Having said that, Wilfork's strength is stuffing the run; he can get to the quarterback, but not very consistently. He's currently listed as a starter next to former Raider Tommy Kelly, a bum who doesn't care about winning. It was disappointing that the Patriots couldn't find a better solution this offseason.
The linebacking corps is very stout, at least. Dont'a Hightower, New England's "other" 2012 first-round pick, was strong in all aspects at the strongside position. Brandon Spikes was also solid in the middle, while the best of the group was Jerod Mayo, who has no weaknesses in his game.
2013 New England Patriots Schedule and Intangibles:
Since 2003, the Patriots are 76-15 at home. They were 7-3 last year, though one of the losses was in the AFC Championship.
Stephen Gostkowski is one of the better kickers in the NFL. He went 29-of-35 last year, hitting 2-of-2 from 50-plus.
Zoltan Mesko was just 24th in net-punting average last year. He ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of attempts placed inside the 20.
The Patriots were pretty decent on special-teams returns in 2012, but they'll be even better this season because they were able to acquire former Seahawk Leon Washington.
New England has a relatively easy schedule. It battles five teams that made the playoffs last year. Even better, check out its opening three games: at Bills, vs. Jets, vs. Buccaneers.
2013 New England Patriots Rookies:
Go here for the Patriots Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2013 New England Patriots Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2013 New England Patriots Analysis: The Aaron Hernandez situation would be enough to derail any NFL team's chances, but if there's one organization that can overcome something like this, it's the Patriots. Most thought they would capsize after the Spygate ramifications, but they turned that into a positive and thrived. They could easily duplicate that feat in 2013. Besides, the Patriots will always be a Super Bowl contender as long as Tom Brady is healthy.
Please note that the overall grade is not an average of all the individual grades. Other things are taken into account like team needs and goals.
Goals Entering the 2013 NFL Draft: It's odd to see the Patriots with only three picks in the first six rounds. It's a good thing then that they don't need to do much in the draft. Finding help at receiver, defensive tackle and cornerback is New England's primary goal.
2013 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Patriots uncharacteristically had a massive shortage of picks, so they did a good job of moving out of the No. 29 pick to obtain more selections from the Vikings.
New England used those extra choices on receivers in an attempt to fill their greatest position of need. Bill Belichick took two of them in the first four rounds, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. However, if recent history is any indication, both of these players will be busts. Belichick has done a terrible job of drafting receivers, so it's no surprise that he signed Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet a few weeks ago. That plan wasn't successful, so he had to grab a pair of rookies. It's not a good sign that both Dobson and Boyce were chosen a round earlier than their projection.
Elsewhere, the Patriots took prospects like Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan and Michael Buchanan right where they were supposed to go. However, they really reached on one of their third-rounders, Duron Harmon, a safety out of Rutgers. Harmon told the media that he was watching the NFL Draft as a fan, and he was completely shocked to hear his name called. New England could have obtained Harmon in the seventh round, so I don't know what the front office was thinking with that one.
The Patriots did an OK job overall with this class. They turned three picks in the first six rounds into five, and only one was an egregious reach.
2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
52. Jamie Collins, DE/OLB, Southern Miss: B Grade
Defensive end wasn't a primary need for the Patriots, but it's definitely a position that could have been improved. Jamie Collins is a fierce pass-rusher who had 10 sacks in 2012, though level of competition is an issue. He was projected as a mid-second-round prospect, so this is the right range for him.
59. Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall: C+ Grade
If New England's history of drafting receivers is any indication, Aaron Dobson will be a bust. The Patriots have taken so many terrible wideouts in the NFL Draft. Aaron Dobson looked good in the Senior Bowl, but this is a slight reach, as he could have gone a round later.
83. Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers: B Grade
This makes sense. The Patriots have gone to Rutgers before for defensive back help, and that worked out pretty well with Devin McCourty. Logan Ryan fills a need; when Aqib Talib got injured against the Ravens, New England didn't have an answer for Anquan Boldin. And speaking of Talib, he'll be a free agent next spring.
91. Duron Harmon, S, Rutgers: MILLEN NURSING RUSSELL WESTBROOK BACK TO HEALTH VIA KIELBASA Grade
The Patriots apparently love their Rutgers defensive backs. I liked the Logan Ryan pick, but this one is pretty ridiculous. I don't know anyone who considered Duron Harmon to be a draftable prospect. New England probably could have selected him in the seventh round.
102. Josh Boyce, WR, TCU: B- Grade
The Patriots had to double up on the receiver position after losing Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker this offseason. Once again, they have a dubious history of drafting wideouts, but maybe they'll be able to hit on one of these two players. I've had the speedy Josh Boyce in the fourth and fifth rounds of my mock throughout this process.
226. Michael Buchanan, DE/OLB, Illinois: B Grade
Michael Buchanan fits both the 4-3 and 3-4, so it's no surprise Bill Belichick selected him. He fits the range and gives the Patriots another pass-rusher, so this was a solid move.
235. Steve Beauharnais, LB, Rutgers: A- Grade
Steve Beauharnais was expected to go earlier than this, so I like the value. He's a versatile linebacker, which is something Bill Belichick loves.
The Patriots have become pretty infamous chokers over the past few seasons. Actually, ever since Spygate, they've disappointed in the playoffs. It was more of the same in 2012, as they fell to the Ravens in the AFC Championship despite being favored by more than a touchdown.
Patriots cut TE Aaron Hernandez
Redskins sign WR Donte' Stallworth
Patriots sign QB Tim Tebow
Patriots sign G Tyronne Green
Patriots sign WR Lavelle Hawkins
Patriots cut G Brian Waters
Patriots acquire RB LeGarrette Blount from Buccaneers for RB Jeff Demps, 7th-round pick
Steelers match offer for WR Emmanuel Sanders
Patriots sign WR Emmanuel Sanders to offer sheet; Steelers have 5 days to match
Patriots re-sign WR Julian Edelman
Patriots sign DT Tommy Kelly
Patriots sign WR Michael Jenkins
Patriots re-sign OT Sebastian Vollmer
Patriots re-sign CB Marquice Cole
Patriots sign OT Will Svitek
Patriots cut WR Brandon Lloyd
Patriots re-sign CB Aqib Talib
Patriots re-sign OLB Niko Koutouvides
Patriots sign S Adrian Wilson
Patriots re-sign CB Kyle Arrington
Patriots sign WR Donald Jones
Chargers sign RB Danny Woodhead
Patriots sign KR/RB Leon Washington
Patriots sign WR Danny Amendola
Broncos sign WR Wes Welker
Eagles sign S Patrick Chung
Colts sign G Donald Thomas
Patriots cut FB Spencer Larsen
Patriots sign DT Armond Armstead
Three Wide Receivers: Wes Welker has left for Denver, so help is needed in the slot. A starting receiver was also needed across from Brandon Lloyd, who was cut. There will be plenty of options available at No. 29 overall. Signed Danny Amendola, Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins; re-signed Julian Edelman; drafted Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce
Cornerback: Aqib Talib was a great mid-season acquisition, but as witnessed in the AFC Championship, the New England secondary looked completely inept without him. Talib is about to hit the free-agent market. Meanwhile, Alfonzo Dennard was found guilty of third-degree felony assault and now faces up to six years in prison. Re-signed Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington; drafted Logan Ryan
Defensive Tackle: The Patriots don't have much of an interior pass rush. They may spend an early draft choice on a complement for Vince Wilfork. Signed Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead
Safety: Devin McCourty was awesome at free safety this past season. Tavon Wilson has shown promise. However, there is very little behind those two with Patrick Chung about to hit free agency. There's also the possibility of McCourty moving back to corner, which would open up a huge need at safety. Signed Adrian Wilson; drafted Duron Harmon
Right Tackle: Sebastian Vollmer, a free agent, is one of the top right tackles in football. The Patriots have to bring him back. Re-signed Sebastian Vollmer
Defensive End: Another pass-rusher should be acquired. Jermaine Cunningham continues to be a bust, while third-round rookie Jake Bequette barely saw the field. Drafted Jamie Collins
Offensive Line Depth: New England has a very good offensive line, but the unit is pretty thin. Two players will have to be acquired for depth purposes if Donald Thomas isn't re-signed. Signed Tyronne Green and Will Svitek
Linebacker Depth: The Patriots' top backups at linebacker are free agents.
2013 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Danny Amendola, WR, Rams. Age: 27. Signed with Patriots (5 years)
Danny Amendola is one of the top slot receivers in the NFL, but he's incredibly brittle. He can't be trusted with a big contract.
Tim Tebow, QB, Jets. Age: 26. Signed with Patriots
Dumb, homoclitic ESPN groupthink believes that Tim Tebow should either move to the tight end position or be relegated to the CFL. In reality, Tebow is a solid starting quarterback. He makes things happen on the football field (but not in practice, duh, Jets), inspires teammates and just wins football games. After all, leading a mediocre Denver team to the playoffs (after Kyle Orton's horrific start with the same squad) and compiling 400 yards of offense against Dick LeBeau's defense in a postseason victory is no fluke. Tebow still has room for growth. A coach with a great imagination could run a highly successful offense with the former Gator. The problem with Tebow has very little to do with what he does on the field. The media creates such a distraction with him that it can hurt the team. Tebow needs to go to a small-market organization to avoid that. The Jaguars make all the sense in the world, as Tebow would be a colossal upgrade over either Blaine Gabbert or Chad Henne.
Leon Washington, KR, Seahawks. Age: 31. Signed with Patriots
Leon Washington has been one of the top return specialists over the years, but he'll be 31 at the end of August.
Tyronne Green, G, Chargers. Age: 27. Signed with Patriots
Tyronne Green wasn't very good in 2011, but improved enough this past year to be a capable starting guard.
Adrian Wilson, S, Cardinals. Age: 33. Signed with Patriots
Adrian Wilson is a former Pro Bowler, but he didn't play very well in 2012. In fact, he was demoted out of nickel packages. His starting days could be over.
Donald Jones, WR, Bills. Age: 25. -- Signed with Patriots
Tommy Kelly, DT, Raiders. Age: 32. -- Signed with Patriots (2 years)
Will Svitek, OT, Falcons. Age: 31. -- Signed with Patriots
Michael Jenkins, WR, Vikings. Age: 31. -- Signed with Patriots
New England Patriots Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots. Age: 23.
I'm listing Aaron Hernandez with his true rating because the only way he'll be signed is if he's exonerated, which is looking pretty bleak right now. You've heard the Hernandez story by now; he's facing an obstruction of justice charge (maximum sentence of five years in prison) at the very least in the murder of Odin Lloyd. Hernandez could eventually be charged with murder as well. This is a huge shame for many reasons, including the fact that we're being robbed of watching one of the top tight ends in the NFL. At just 23, Hernandez had all of the potential in the world. He was the No. 2 fantasy tight end behind Jimmy Graham in the wake of Rob Gronkowski's injuries. Hernandez may now never play a single snap in the NFL ever again.
Sebastian Vollmer, OT, Patriots. Age: 29. Re-signed with Patriots (4 years)
Sebastian Vollmer is arguably the top right tackle in football - but not when he has to go up against Cameron Wake.
Aqib Talib has No. 1 cornerback potential, but happens to be a major head case. Any team that's even thinking about bringing him in needs a strong locker room.
Wes Welker, WR, Patriots. Age: 32. Signed with Broncos
Wes Welker produces like crazy fantasy numbers, but he's also one of the league's most overrated players. There's a reason why the Patriots wouldn't show him the money. He drops lots of passes and is arguably a product of the system. He's also about to enter his mid-30s. Still, he's a highly effective slot receiver.
Patrick Chung, S, Patriots. Age: 26. Signed with Eagles (3 years)
Patrick Chung missed several weeks in 2012 with multiple injuries, but he performed well when he was healthy, particularly in run support.
Brandon Lloyd, Patriots. Age: 32.
Brandon Lloyd's 1,448-yard 2010 campaign seems like a decade ago. Lloyd has been pretty mediocre the past two seasons. He just couldn't generate any chemistry with Tom Brady, as he's been accused of trying to avoid contact and having a negative attitude. Worst of all, he'll be 32 in July, so he's unlikely to have another 1,000-yard season.
Julian Edelman, WR/KR, Patriots. Age: 27. Re-signed with Patriots
Julian Edelman is a nice weapon to have on offense and special teams, but he spends too much time on the injury report.
Donald Thomas, G, Patriots. Age: 27. Signed with Colts
Donald Thomas didn't get to play very much behind Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly, but when he did, he definitely made the most of it. He could be a starter on many teams.
Danny Woodhead, RB, Patriots. Age: 28. Signed with Chargers
Danny Woodhead is a nifty pass-catching back who thrives in New England's system, but it's safe to say he wouldn't be as heavily utilized elsewhere.
Kyle Arrington is often the whipping boy for Patriot fans frustrated with their secondary, but I thought he played well this past season when acting as the nickel corner.
Brian Waters, G, Patriots. Age: 36.
Brian Waters is a six-time Pro Bowler who most recently was voted as such in 2011. However, he quit on the Patriots because of financial reasons. He didn't play at all in 2012. It's unknown how much he has left.
Michael Hoomanawanui (RFA), TE, Patriots. Age: 25.
Trevor Scott, DE, Patriots. Age: 29.
Marquice Cole, CB, Patriots. Age: 29. -- Re-signed with Patriots
Donte' Stallworth, WR, Patriots. Age: 32.
Deion Branch, WR, Patriots. Age: 34.
Will Allen, CB, Patriots. Age: 35.
Tracy White, OLB, Patriots. Age: 32.
Josh Barrett, S, Patriots. Age: 28.
Niko Koutouvides, OLB, Patriots. Age: 32. -- Re-signed with Patriots