DE Will Smith, OLB James Anderson, CB Darrelle Revis, CB Brandon Browner.
Early Draft Picks:
WR Brandon LaFell, DT Dominique Easley, QB Jimmy Garoppolo, C Bryan Stork, RB James White, OT Cameron Fleming, G Jon Halapio. Patriots Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
RB LeGarrette Blount, NT Isaac Sopoaga, ILB Brandon Spikes, ILB Dane Fletcher, CB Aqib Talib, S Steve Gregory, S Adrian Wilson.
2014 New England Patriots Offense:
A recent article that was published on another Web site sparked some controversy on social media. It focused on Tom Brady, and the premise was that Brady is no longer a top-five quarterback. Based on how he performed in 2013, it's difficult to argue with that opinion.
Brady threw for 4,343 yards, 25 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions in 2013. However, he maintained a poor YPA of 6.9 and a near-career-low completion percentage of 60.5. Granted, he had issues with his receiving corps and tight ends, but Brady just turned 36. He hasn't been nearly as clutch as he was earlier in his career, and it's fair to blame his off-the-field lifestyle for distracting him. Could he rebound with a strong 2014 campaign and lead New England to its fourth Super Bowl? Absolutely. But Brady will need his supporting cast to perform better than it did this past season.
For that to happen, Rob Gronkowski needs to stay healthy. Unfortunately for the Patriots, that's a long shot. Gronkowski has incurred numerous injuries throughout his brief career, so that could lead him to getting banged up even more. He tore his ACL and MCL in the middle of this past season, and while he seems to be on track to play in Week 1, he probably won't be 100 percent. It would be nice if New England had a second tight end like Aaron Hernandez, or someone close to that caliber, but there is no such player on the roster.
Meanwhile, Brady's receiving corps proved to be a huge disappointment in 2013. The Patriots let Wes Welker walk, but they were fine with that because they expected former Ram Danny Amendola to come in and be a solid replacement, or perhaps even an upgrade. Amendola didn't come to close to living up to expectations, hauling in just 54 receptions. In-house option Julian Edelman was actually the one who slid into Welker's spot; he registered 105 receptions for 1,056 yards and six scores in 2013, shattering his career-highs of 37, 359 and three. He'll continue to be a top option for Brady, as will second-year Aaron Dobson, who flashed prior to suffering an injury in the middle of the season. Dobson posted a 5-130-2 line against the Steelers, but was knocked out with a stress fracture in his foot soon after that. He and Brady were working out together prior to OTAs, so perhaps that'll lead to improved production.
A major reason why Brady had relatively poor numbers is because the offensive line couldn't protect him. Brady took 40 sacks, the most he's endured since his first year as a starter. The interior was the worst part of the front, as center Ryan Wendell and right guard Dan Connolly were atrocious. The usually reliable left guard Logan Mankins also had a down year, but the Patriots were expected to find upgrades for one of Wendell or Connolly this offseason. That, however, never happened. New England spent mid-round choices on center Bryan Stork and Jon Halapio to perhaps eventually start at center and guard, respectively, but it's unlikely that either will be able to play right away.
Brady is at least protected well from edge rushers. Save for a couple of poor outings, Nate Solder was solid at left tackle in 2013. He'll probably get better, given that he's entering just his fourth year. Meanwhile, having Sebastian Vollmer back at right tackle will help. Vollmer was on track to have a terrific campaign until he broke his leg in late October.
While the Patriots didn't add anyone on offense, they did manage to lose a key player. The running game was mediocre at best until LeGarrette Blount stepped in and provided a huge upgrade over the fumble-prone Stevan Ridley. However, the Patriots lowballed Blount, prompting him to abandon his starting gig and take more money to be a backup in Pittsburgh. This was a stupid decision on his part, but the result is that New England will once again have to pray that Ridley doesn't lose the football in a key moment. Meanwhile, Shane Vereen will continue to serve as a potent, pass-catching weapon leaking out of the backfield.
2014 New England Patriots Defense:
While the Patriots barely touched their offense, they acquired three key players on defense who will have a big impact. Their stop unit permitted 21.4 points per game this past season, so that number figures to be even lower in 2014.
The big name New England landed was Darrelle Revis. The Buccaneers cut Revis in March, and the Patriots quickly pounced on him, signing him to a 1-year deal worth $12 million. Revis, whose birthday is actually today (July 14), is still at the top of his game. He struggled a bit in 2013 because Tampa foolishly was using him in the incorrect system, but the team rectified that, allowing Revis to perform on a much higher level during the second half of the season. There's no reason to think Revis will regress at any point during the next few years, so he'll be able to completely erase one side of the field.
Opposing offenses will have to throw to the other side, where Brandon Browner will lurk following his four-game suspension. Browner, the second key acquisition, is a talented, big corner (6-4, 221) capable of shutting down No. 2 receivers. In the meantime, Logan Ryan, a third-round selection from 2013, will start there, while the skilled Kyle Arrington occupies the slot. Ryan performed well as a rookie, so he should only get better. It wouldn't be a huge surprise if he kept the No. 2 corner job.
What the Patriots could have used was an upgrade at strong safety, which is currently occupied by 2013 third-rounder Duron Harmon, who was a pretty mediocre part-time player this past season. Devin McCourty, a stud defensive back, will start next to Harmon, and he'll make it even more difficult for the opposition to throw on New England.
A ferocious pass rush would make the Patriots' secondary even more formidable, and that's where the third big acquisition comes in. That would be Dominique Easley, whom New England selected in the first round. Easley may have been a top-10 pick had he not suffered a knee injury during this past collegiate season. He may not be 100 percent this upcoming year, but when he is, he should be able to emerge as a disruptive, interior pass rusher. Tommy Kelly will probably start ahead of Easley, but the Patriots will be hoping that the Florida product progresses quickly. Either Kelly or Easley will play next to Vince Wilfork, who may struggle coming off a torn Achilles.
New England has some solid pass rushers on the exterior. Chandler Jones, chosen in the first round back in 2012, led the team with 11.5 sacks in 2013, which was way up from the five he accumulated as a rookie. The only way his figure doesn't rise again is if the opposition pays way more attention to him, which will only open things up for Rob Ninkovich, who has a combined 16 sacks in the past two seasons.
As for the linebacking corps, the group was solid in 2013, but will almost certainly be better this season because Jamie Collins will be taking on a full-time role. Chosen in the second round last April, Collins didn't play very much until late in the season, when he exploded. He was absolutely dominant in the playoff victory over the Colts. That's likely a sign of things to come. Collins will start with 2012 first-rounder Dont'a Hightower and Jerod Mayo, who tore his chest in mid-October and missed the final 10 games as a consequence. Having him back on the field will be huge.
2014 New England Patriots Schedule and Intangibles:
Since 2003, the Patriots are 85-15 at home. They were a perfect 9-0 as hosts last year, which includes a playoff victory over the Colts.
Stephen Gostkowski is one of the better kickers in the NFL. He went 38-of-41 last year, hitting 5-of-6 from 50-plus.
Zoltan Mesko ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of net punting average and boots placed inside the 20.
No touchdowns were scored for or against the Patriots on special teams, but they at least outgained their opponents by three yards on both punts and kickoffs.
New England has a very easy schedule, given that it has to play the Bills, Jets and Dolphins twice each. It also has matchups against the Raiders, Chiefs, Vikings and Lions. There are a couple of tough outings on the calendar, but the Patriots have to feel good about their slate.
2014 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.
2014 New England Patriots Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2014 New England Patriots Analysis: The Patriots were just one win away from the Super Bowl last year. They didn't really lose anyone, save for LeGarrette Blount and Aqib Talib, and the latter was upgraded. They also added a couple more defensive pieces. New England will be one of the favorites to win the whole thing this year, but what it comes down to is whether or not Tom Brady will choke in the playoffs once again.
Goals Entering the 2014 NFL Draft: The Patriots were able to upgrade their roster in free agency, but they have a few things they must take care of in the draft. They need to add at least one defensive tackle, find a new center, obtain a speedy linebacker and acquire a replacement for Aaron Hernandez. Bill Belichick may also want to add another running back because he doesn't trust anyone on his roster to carry the load.
2014 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Patriots have to win now. I think we can all agree on that. Tom Brady is 37 in August, so he has limited time remaining in his career. The Broncos have recognized this with their own aging signal-caller, so they've done everything in their power to give themselves the best shot at a Super Bowl. The Patriots appeared to be mirroring their actions in free agency, but they went a completely different route during the draft.
Taking Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round was the worst decision in the 2014 NFL Draft. I'm not saying Garoppolo will bust, but how is he going to help Brady win another Super Bowl? Using a major resource on him could cost the Patriots the Super Bowl. What if they need a key depth player or a potential starter that they could have acquired at that juncture? It was an awful decision.
Furthermore, how are New England's other picks supposed to help the team win now? Dominique Easley could be dominant in the future, but he won't be 100 percent in 2014 because he's coming off his second torn ACL. Bryan Stork, meanwhile, may not be able to win the starting job. He was a reach in the third round. James White was taken too early as well.
The Patriots had one goal in the 2014 NFL Draft, and that was to acquire a couple of pieces to help them claim another Lombardi Trophy. They failed to do so, and that's why they are getting the worst grade of any team in this class.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
29. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida: B Grade
This pick surprises me because Dominique Easley doesn't fit Bill Belichick's profile. That's not to say Easley isn't a good player. He's very talented, and would be a top-15 choice had he not sustained torn ACLs. But the injuries have to be a factor, so this is a big high-risk, high-reward selection. Easley could be a force for the Patriots, but he could also frustrate the coaching staff by always being banged up.
62. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois: MILLEN Grade
Finally, a Millen grade! Here's why: The Patriots are in an arms race with the Broncos to reach the Super Bowl. Both teams have done many things this offseason to put themselves in a "win-now" mode. This pick does not help New England win now. Rather than give Tom Brady a better weapon, or improved blocking, or someone to help on defense, Bill Belichick pissed off Brady by making this choice. With the Patriots and Broncos being so close, this second-round pick could end up making the difference.
I have nothing against Garoppolo. He could evolve into a decent starter, though I doubt it. I just absolutely hate this fit.
105. Bryan Stork, C, Florida State: C+ Grade
This is a bit early for Bryan Stork, who was projected as a fifth-rounder by some teams we've spoken to, thanks to some medical concerns. It shouldn't be a surprise the Patriots took a center though, as the position was a huge hole on the roster last year.
130. James White, RB, Wisconsin: C Grade
Bill Belichick doesn't have a running back he can trust, but I'm not sure if James White will be that guy. White is a reach, as he was projected to go a bit later than this. I don't hate this pick, but New England could have done better.
140. Cameron Fleming, OT, Stanford: A Grade
Some thought Cameron Fleming would go as high as the second round, so this is terrific value for the Patriots. Fleming doesn't fill a huge need for the Patriots, but they did have to get some tackle depth.
179. Jon Halapio, G, Florida: A- Grade
Bill Belichick is taking a Florida player? Wow. Anyway, this is a very good pick. Jon Halapio could have been chosen in the fourth round without any complaints, so New England is getting decent value. Guard depth was viewed as a big need.
198. Zach Moore, DE, Concordia: B Grade
Zach Moore is the first player ever chosen at his school, and it's a good pick. The Patriots wanted defensive line depth, and there was some buzz about Zach Moore as a late-round prospect.
206. Jemea Thomas, CB/S, Georgia Tech: A- Grade
Secondary depth was needed, and the Patriots hadn't added a defensive back yet. Jemea Thomas, who could've been chosen earlier, can play both cornerback and safety, so I like this pick.
244. Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan: B- Grade
Jeremy Gallon was viewed as being on the cusp of draftability, so it's no surprise to see him go in the seventh round. I'm sure he'll have a place on New England's special teams.
The Patriots were obviously disappointed with losing in the AFC Championship, but if you were to tell them back in June that Aaron Hernandez would be arrested for murder charges, and that Rob Gronkowski and many other key players would suffer injuries for an extended period of time, I think they would've taken that result.
Bears sign S Adrian Wilson
Patriots sign OLB James Anderson
Patriots sign DE Will Smith
Patriots cut S Adrian Wilson
Patriots re-sign C Ryan Wendell
Steelers sign RB LeGarrette Blount
Patriots sign WR Brandon LaFell
Patriots re-sign WR Julian Edelman
Patriots sign CB Brandon Browner
Buccaneers sign ILB Dane Fletcher
Patriots sign CB Darrelle Revis
Patriots cut NT Isaac Sopoaga
Broncos sign CB Aqib Talib
Patriots re-sign TE Michael Hoomanawanui
Patriots cut S Steve Gregory
Center: Tom Brady was constantly under pressure before the Patriots established their strong rushing attack in the second half of the season. The primary culprit for the poor pass protection was center Ryan Wendell, who will see his contract expire in March. Re-signed Ryan Wendell
Tight End: Rob Gronkowski can't seem to stay healthy, but even if he returns to the field and is able to play most of the 2014 season, the Patriots will need to fill the void left by Aaron Hernandez. Perhaps this can be fixed with an early selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Nose Tackle: It's going to be difficult for a big man like Vince Wilfork to completely come back from a torn Achilles at the age of 32. The Patriots should look into spending a Round 2-4 pick on a potential successor.
Right Guard: Dan Connolly was a big disappointment for the Patriots in 2013. Bill Belichick may want to find an upgrade.
Two Wide Receivers: Danny Amendola has definitely not lived up to expectations. Julian Edelman has picked up the slack, and the young receivers have shown some flashes, but the Patriots are still hurting at wideout. A veteran could be brought in to help. Edelman also needs to be re-signed. Re-signed Julian Edelman; signed Brandon LaFell
Cornerback Depth: Aqib Talib is slated to be a free agent. Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan will be the starters if he leaves, but New England will need to get deeper at the position. Signed Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner
Safety Depth: Adrian Wilson, another 30-something Patriot coming off a torn Achilles, could be released this offseason. Depth will be needed at safety. Signed Patrick Chung
Defensive End Depth: The Patriots could use another pass-rusher behind Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. A mid-rounder should suffice. Signed Will Smith
Running Back: LeGarrette Blount has been a revelation for the Patriots, but he also happens to be an impending free agent.
Darrelle Revis, CB, Buccaneers. Age: 29. Signed with Patriots (1 year, $12 million)
The Buccaneers dumping Darrelle Revis after just one season is insane considering that they traded the No. 13 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft (Sheldon Richardson), as well as Round 3-4 selection this May for him. Revis had a rocky start to his 2013 season because Tampa stupidly used him in a zone, but he was great down the stretch. Turning 29 in July, Revis still has four strong seasons remaining, making him the only five-star free agent this offseason.
Brandon Browner, CB, Seahawks. Age: 30. Signed with Patriots (3 years, $17 million)
Brandon Browner is more talented than 2.5 stars, but he'll miss four games with a suspension relating to violating the league's substance abuse policy. Another infraction could knock him out for an entire season.
James Anderson, OLB, Bears. Age: 30. Signed with Patriots
James Anderson covered well this past season, but was exposed against the run after Henry Melton was sidelined with an injury.
Will Smith, DE, Saints. Age: 33. Signed with Patriots
Will Smith was a decent run-defender but a declining pass-rusher in 2012; the last time he had more than 6.5 sacks was 2009. He looked to be a poor fit in Rob Ryan's 3-4 defense, but we never found out because he tore his ACL back in August. Smith, 33 in July, doesn't have much left in the tank and probably won't even be 100 percent, given that he's coming off his knee injury.
Brandon LaFell, WR, Panthers. Age: 27. -- Signed with Patriots (3 years, $11 million)
Patrick Chung, S, Eagles. Age: 27. -- Signed with Patriots
New England Patriots Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Aqib Talib, CB, Patriots. Age: 28. Signed with Broncos (6 years, $57 million)
Aqib Talib is awesome when he's on, but he can have meltdowns when he's struggling, which is what happened against the Panthers in a Monday night loss. He's a legitimate No. 1 corner though, provided he stays out of trouble.
Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots. Age: 28. Re-signed with Patriots
Everyone assumed Danny Amendola would take over Wes Welker's role, but Julian Edelman stepped up instead. He caught 105 passes this past season. He's also an effective punt returner.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, Patriots. Age: 27. Signed with Steelers (2 years)
LeGarrette Blount has turned his career around in New England. Tampa Bay thoughtlessly discarded him, yet Blount was able to find a home with the Patriots. He averaged five yards per carry in 2013, though he still isn't any sort of factor in the passing game.
Brandon Spikes, ILB, Patriots. Age: 26.
Brandon Spikes saw a drop in snaps this year because of his deficiencies in coverage. He's still very stout in run support, however.
Ryan Wendell, C, Patriots. Age: 28. Re-signed with Patriots (2 years)
Ryan Wendell had an excellent 2012 campaign, so his regression is a total mystery. He was so bad this year that he nearly got Tom Brady killed in several games.
Adrian Wilson, S, Patriots. Age: 34. -- Signed with Bears
Steve Gregory, S, Patriots. Age: 31.
Will Svitek, OT, Patriots. Age: 32.
Michael Hoomanawanui, TE, Patriots. Age: 26. -- Re-signed with Patriots (2 years)
Dane Fletcher, ILB, Patriots. Age: 27. -- Signed with Buccaneers (1 year, $2 million)