2015 NFL Offseason: New England Patriots

New England Patriots (Last Year: 12-4)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Matt Flynn, RB Travaris Cadet, WR Brandon Gibson, TE Scott Chandler, TE Fred Davis, DE/OLB Jabaal Sheard, CB Robert McClain, CB Bradley Fletcher, CB Chimdi Chekwa.
Early Draft Picks:
NT Malcom Brown, S Jordan Richards, DE/OLB Geneo Grissom, DE/OLB Trey Flowers, G Tre’ Jackson, G/C Shaq Mason. Patriots Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Shane Vereen, RB Stevan Ridley, TE Tim Wright, G Dan Connolly, NT Vince Wilfork, DE/OLB Akeem Ayers, ILB Jonathan Casillas, ILB Chris White, CB Darrelle Revis, CB Brandon Browner, CB Kyle Arrington.

2015 New England Patriots Offense:
Early this upcoming season, New England fans will get a taste of what’s to come once Tom Brady announces his retirement. That’s obviously because Brady has been suspended for four games for his actions (or rather, inactions) relating to Deflategate. Much is being made of how this punishment is too harsh, but a quarter of the season isn’t as big of a deal as the loss of a first-round pick. That seemed absurd. But as far as four games? Given that New England once went 11-5 with Matt Cassel, it’s safe to say that the team can survive with Brady missing the initial month.

Brady’s replacement will be Jimmy Garoppolo, a second-round pick from the 2014 NFL Draft, who looked decent in preseason action last August. Bill Belichick is still one of the top head coaches in the NFL, so he and the staff he has assembled will be able to coach up Garoppolo and have him perform well against the Steelers, Bills, Jaguars and Cowboys. Of those four teams, only Buffalo has an elite defense. The Pittsburgh and Jacksonville contests are at home, so a 2-2 start is very reasonable. Considering that New England was 2-2 after four games last year and still won the Super Bowl, beginning the season with such a record is obviously not the end of the world.

When Brady returns to the field, he’ll find that he’ll essentially have the same supporting cast that surrounded him during last year’s Super Bowl run. The one major difference will be Shane Vereen’s absence. Vereen signed with the Giants this offseason, so the Patriots potentially filled that spot with Travaris Cadet. Formerly of the Saints, Cadet has just 11 career carries, but that doesn’t concern Bill Belichick, who never ran the ball much with Vereen. Cadet caught 38 passes in 2014, a figure that would’ve been higher if it wasn’t for Pierre Thomas.

Cadet should fit in nicely in New England’s offense. He’ll complement LeGarrette Blount, who thrived for the Patriots in a deep playoff run once again after quitting on the Steelers. Stevan Ridley is gone, so Blount unquestionably will be the primary back. He has been suspended for the season opener, but New England will have him available beginning in Week 2.

Brady’s downfield play-makers remain the same. The two primary receivers will once again be Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell. The latter isn’t very good, yet he still managed to accumulate 953 yards and seven touchdowns while being paired with Brady. Edelman, meanwhile, proved to be the perfect replacement for Wes Welker. He logged 92 catches in 14 games this past season.

Of course, Brady’s primary weapon will continue to be Rob Gronkowski, who is absolutely unstoppable when he’s on the field. While Gronkowski’s health will always be a concern, given his history, New England’s offense is so potent when he’s 100 percent. The Patriots are also expected to receive a greater contribution from Danny Amendola, who thrived in the playoffs, especially in a victory against Baltimore.

The one concern regarding New England’s offense, when Brady returns, of course, is the offensive line. This was a huge problem area in the beginning of this past season, though Belichick worked his magic enough to make the unit work. Now, the group lost starting guard Dan Connolly to free agency. Granted, Connolly wasn’t very good in pass protection, but he had experience and opened running lanes rather well, plus he was versatile. Potential replacement Jordan Devey was part of the problem at the beginning of the year, yet he may have to start in Connolly’s spot unless either of the fourth-round rookies, Shaq Mason or Tre’ Jackson, steps up.

The rest of the offensive line figures to stay the same. Tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are the best in the group, though the two combined to surrender 10 sacks in 2014. Right guard Ryan Wendell is just mediocre, while center Bryan Stork, a fourth-round rookie a year ago, was also average. Stork will have to fend off Mason for the starting center job.

2015 New England Patriots Defense:
There aren’t many changes to New England’s offense, but this side of the ball will look radically different in 2015. Numerous key players are gone, and as a consequence the Patriots are going to have serious issues stopping most functional scoring attacks.

The headliner is that the top three cornerbacks from a year ago, Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington, have all departed. New England didn’t mind letting go of the latter, despite the fact that he played well for them in the slot. The same obviously can’t be said about Revis, as the Patriots tried desperately to hang on to him. Revis allowed Bill Belichick to scheme very brilliantly because he erased half the field. Not having him around will change everything.

New England is now so much worse at corner. The top player at the position currently on the roster is now Logan Ryan, who barely saw the field last year. Ryan is just an average defensive back, so he won’t have nearly as much success blanketing No. 1 receivers like Revis routinely did. The other cornerback spot will be manned by the winner of the battle between Bradley Fletcher, who was exiled from Philadelphia, the seldom-used Malcolm Butler, and Justin Green, who has never played an NFL snap after being undrafted a year ago. It’s not all bleak, as former Falcon Robert McClain will provide some stability at nickel.

Another key loss for the Patriots’ defense was Vince Wilfork, who signed with Houston. The aging Wilfork lost some of his pass-rushing prowess, but he was still a monstrous run stuffer. He was the only lineman who was strong in rush support, and it’s unclear if first-rounder Malcom Brown can fill his shoes adequately. Brown figures to start next to Dominique Easley, last year’s No. 1 choice. Easley was considered a reach by some because of his knee injury, and he didn’t prove his detractors wrong. Easley was pedestrian in limited snaps, but perhaps he’ll improve in his sophomore campaign. Other players who figure to rotate at this spot include Sealver Siliga, who is capable against the run, and Alan Branch, a jack of all trades, master of none.

The other defensive loss was Akeem Ayers, but he wasn’t a starter. Ayers provided solid depth at linebacker, especially when Jerod Mayo went down with a season-ending injury. Mayo figures to be back, but the Patriots won’t be able to count on him. First of all, he has on the field for just 12 games in the past two seasons, so he’s not reliable. Second, he tore his patellar tendon in 2014, which is a huge deal. He may never be the same player again.

To counter this, New England signed one of its former players, Brandon Spikes, who spent time in Buffalo this past season. The plan was for Spikes to start at some point, but that’s no longer the case because he was released for off-the-field concerns. He would’ve been surrounded by Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, both of whom are talented defenders. Hightower and Collins are among some of the top linebackers in the NFL, so when Spikes was in the fold, Mayo wouldn’t have been missed too much if he couldn’t make it back. That’s no longer the case.

The Patriots have two other positions of strength: edge rusher and safety. The former spot is occupied by the trio of Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and newly acquired Jabaal Sheard. Jones missed six games in the middle of the season last year, but returned for a strong playoff push. Ninkovich has tallied eight sacks in each of the past three years. Sheard, meanwhile, played well for the Browns in 2014. He was a solid addition.

New England is even better at safety. The duo of Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung was excellent this past season. Chung failed in Philadelphia, but excelled in Belichick’s system. McCourty, meanwhile, is one of the elite players at his position in the league.

2015 New England Patriots Schedule and Intangibles:
Since 2003, the Patriots are 94-16 at home. They’ve been a near-perfect 18-1 as hosts the past two years, with the one loss coming against the Bills when all of the backups were on the field.

Stephen Gostkowski is one of the better kickers in the NFL. He went 35-of-37 last year, hitting his only try from beyond 50.

New punter Ryan Allen had a decent 2014 campaign, ranking 12th in net yardage. He was solid in terms of placing kicks inside the 20.

Thanks to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, the Patriots outgained the opposition on both punt and kickoff returns. They scored the only touchdown on special teams.

New England has a mixed schedule. If the team is in trouble following a slow start, it can at least know that the end of the year is easier. Check out the final five games: Eagles (home), Texans, Titans, Jets and Dolphins.

2015 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.

2015 New England Patriots Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 New England Patriots Analysis: The Patriots have dealt with a lot this offseason, and one has to wonder if it will wear them down. With Tom Brady turning 38 and missing the first four games of the season, and the defense losing key players, this could be the year that New England finally relinquishes control of the AFC East. Then again, the Patriots could just as easily thrive because they have a huge chip on their shoulder to prove everyone wrong about Deflate-gate.

Projection: 10-6 (Tied 1st in AFC East)

NFL Draft Team Grade: C+ Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: Will Bill Belichick continue to draft Urban Meyer-coached players and prospects from both Rutgers and Florida State, or will he go out of his comfort zone for once? Either way, the Patriots have to upgrade the offensive line so that Tom Brady’s protection is better next year. Replacements for Vince Wilfork and Darrelle Revis must be acquired as well.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Patriots addressed two of the three areas they had to improve entering the 2015 NFL Draft. One came immediately when they selected Malcom Brown with the final pick of the opening round. Wilfork’s departure created a massive hole at nose tackle, which Brown should be able to fill right away. A replacement for Revis, however, was not found; New England didn’t even draft a cornerback until No. 247 overall.

The other spot the Patriots fixed was the offensive line. They didn’t take care of that massive need early, but they used a pair of fourth-round choices on versatile, interior linemen. Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason both have a chance to start as rookies, and they should offer better protection than Brady had this past season.

This mostly seems great for New England thus far, but the team was guilty of some questionable selections. Both day-two picks were major reaches. Jordan Richards, chosen in the second frame, was considered a Day 3 option. The same could be said for third-rounder Geneo Grissom. The Patriots made up for it with some quality prospects like Trey Flowers, but those two blemishes, as well as the long-snapper pick, simply cannot be overlooked.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

32. Malcom Brown, DT, Texas: A- Grade
I’m not as crazy about Malcom Brown as the ESPN analysts are, but there’s no denying that he’s at least a slight steal at No. 32. He was projected to go as high as No. 23 to the Lions, yet he dropped to the Patriots. Bill Belichick won’t mind, as he’ll be able to use Brown as a replacement for Vince Wilfork, who left for Houston this offseason.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

64. Jordan Richards, S, Stanford: C Grade
Leave it to Bill Belichick to select a fifth-round defensive back in the second round. He’ll probably make it work too. I guess I’m stubborn, so I’ll need to see it happen again. Jordan Richards was seen as a third-day prospect, so this is definitely a reach. Belichick does have a good track record though, so I’ll give him the slight benefit of the doubt.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

97. Geneo Grissom, DE/OLB, Oklahoma: C- Grade
If the Browns were making these picks, I would be bashing them more. I’m hesitant to do that with Bill Belichick pulling the trigger, but I don’t understand them. Much like Jordan Richards, Geneo Grissom is a reach. He’s an average athlete and football player who probably should’ve gone in the sixth round. He doesn’t satisfy a glaring need either, so I just don’t get it.

101. Trey Flowers, DE/OLB, Arkansas: A- Grade
Bill Belichick reached on some picks in Day 2. This selection would’ve made much more sense then. Trey Flowers was seen as a third-round prospect, so he provides some value for New England. The Patriots already added a pass-rusher, but Flowers was probably too good to pass up.

111. Tre’ Jackson, G, Florida State: A- Grade
An often-wrong NFL Draft analyst said Tre’ Jackson would go undrafted because of his medical. So much for that. The Patriots showed interest in Jackson throughout the pre-draft process, so no surprise that they would take another Florida State lineman. Jackson can play multiple spots up front, so he has the versatility that Bill Belichick likes.

131. Shaq Mason, G/C, Georgia Tech: B+ Grade
It’s hardly a surprise that the Patriots have now spent multiple picks on offensive linemen. With the interior in shambles, they need to shore up Tom Brady’s pass protection as the future Hall of Famer nears 40. Shaq Mason, a Combine snub, can play both guard and center. Definitely not a shocker that Bill Belichick added another versatile blocker.

166. Joe Cardona, LS, Navy: D Grade
It’s great that a Navy player was drafted for the first time in 20 years, but this is likely a wasted pick. A long-snapper can be obtained anywhere, which is why a player at the position hasn’t been chosen in six years. Joe Cardona might not even be available because of service requirements.

178. Chris Wells, S/LB, Mississippi State: C Grade
Chris Wells is one of those safety-linebacker hybrids Bill Belichick likes. Unfortunately, despite his impressive 4.4 40, he’s not a great prospect. I didn’t have him getting drafted.

201. A.J. Derby, TE, Arkansas: C Grade
Chris Wells is one of those safety-linebacker hybrids Bill Belichick likes. Unfortunately, despite his impressive 4.4 40, he’s not a great prospect. I didn’t have him getting drafted.

247. Darryl Roberts, CB, Marshall: B+ Grade
Ten more picks to go! A potential late-round steal, Darryl Roberts is very athletic, owning a 4.36 40 time. He was also productive at Marshall, so he could’ve gone a bit earlier than this.

253. Xzavier Dixon, DE/OLB, Alabama: B Grade
I had Xzavier Dixon in the seventh round, so the range here makes sense. Dixon would have gone higher had he performed better at the Combine, but that won’t matter now because he’ll get a chance to prove himself to the Patriots. The problem is that New England already obtained a couple of edge rushers in this draft, so Dixon has an uphill battle in training camp.

Season Summary:
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick won their fourth Super Bowl, but it was mired in controversy. The team deflated footballs in poor-weather games leading up to the Big Game, which helped get them there. Whether there will be evidence found that they did this intentionally remains to be seen. If so, it’ll cast yet another dark cloud over both the league and the Patriots’ dynasty.

Offseason Moves:
  • Patriots sign QB Matt Flynn
  • Patriots cut TE Tim Wright
  • Patriots cut ILB Brandon Spikes
  • Patriots sign ILB Brandon Spikes
  • Ravens sign CB Kyle Arrington
  • Patriots cut CB Kyle Arrington
  • Patriots sign TE Fred Davis
  • Jets sign RB Stevan Ridley
  • Patriots sign CB Robert McClain
  • Patriots sign CB Bradley Fletcher
  • Patriots sign RB Travaris Cadet
  • Texans sign NT Vince Wilfork
  • Patriots sign TE Scott Chandler
  • Rams sign DE/OLB Akeem Ayers
  • Saints sign CB Brandon Browner
  • Patriots sign CB Chimdi Chekwa
  • Patriots sign DE/OLB Jabaal Sheard
  • Giants sign ILB Jonathan Casillas
  • Jets sign CB Darrelle Revis
  • Patriots sign WR Brandon Gibson
  • Giants sign RB Shane Vereen
  • Patriots decline option of CB Darrelle Revis
  • Patriots re-sign S Devin McCourty
  • Patriots decline option of NT Vince Wilfork
  • Patriots franchise K Stephen Gostkowski
  • Patriots re-sign S Patrick Chung
  • Patriots re-sign RB Brandon Bolden

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Guards: The Patriots’ No. 1 priority is fixing their offensive line so that a 38-year-old Tom Brady is well protected. Both starting guards are very weak, so this is a position New England will really have to focus on this offseason. The center spot is also a concern, but perhaps rookie Bryan Stork will improve as he gains more experience.

    2. Two Defensive Tackles: New England needs multiple defensive linemen. This position had to be addressed even before the team declined to pick up Vince Wilfork’s 2015 option.

    3. Wide Receiver: Did Tom Brady seldom throw the ball down the field because he lost his arm strength, or because he didn’t have a viable deep option? The Patriots need to consider bringing in a quality receiver via free agency or spending an early draft pick on one. Signed Brandon Gibson

    4. Cornerback: The Darrelle Revis situation will have to be resolved soon. Revis isn’t technically a free agent, but New England will have to decide if it wants to pick up his $20 million option for 2015. Signed Robert McClain, Bradley Fletcher and Chimdi Chekwa

    5. Safety: Speaking of stud New England defensive backs, Devin McCourty, one of the top safeties in the NFL, is headed for free agency. A replacement will be needed if he’s not re-signed. Re-signed Devin McCourty

    6. Running Back: Both Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley are impending free agents. LeGarrette Blount proved that he can carry the load against poor rush defenses, but New England could use both an upgrade and another pass-catcher if Vereen isn’t retained.

    7. Linebacker Depth: Akeem Ayers was a solid acquisition from a depth perspective, but his contract will expire in March.

    8. Kicker: Stephen Gostkowski, one of the top kickers in the NFL, will be hitting free agency in March. Franchised Stephen Gostkowski

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Jabaal Sheard, DE/OLB, Browns. Age: 26.
      Signed with Patriots (2 years, $11 million)

      An adequate pass-rusher who is very forceful in run support, Jabaal Sheard played well last year until a foot injury, which was believed to be season-ending, hindered him in late November and December. Sheard should be better next year once his foot is repaired. He’ll be just 26 in May.

    2. Brandon Spikes, ILB, Bills. Age: 27.
      Signed with Patriots

      Brandon Spikes played well on a 1-year “prove it” deal, serving as a stout, two-down run-defender.

    3. Robert McClain, CB, Falcons. Age: 27.
      Signed with Patriots

      Robert McClain was a solid nickel corner in 2013, but regressed this past year, particularly when he was forced outside in the wake of injuries.

    4. Scott Chandler, TE, Bills. Age: 30. — Signed with Patriots
    5. Brandon Gibson, WR, Dolphins. Age: 28. — Signed with Patriots (1 year)
    6. Bradley Fletcher, CB, Eagles. Age: 29. — Signed with Patriots (1 year)
    7. Chimdi Chekwa (RFA), CB, Raiders. Age: 26. — Signed with Patriots
    8. Travaris Cadet (RFA), RB, Saints. Age: 26. — Signed with Patriots
    9. Matt Flynn, QB, Packers. Age: 30. — Signed with Patriots

    New England Patriots Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Darrelle Revis, CB, Patriots. Age: 30.
      Signed with Jets

      New England declined to pick up Darrelle Revis’ $20 million option, making him a free agent. Revis now becomes the top player available, though it sounds like he’s deciding only between the Patriots, Jets and Bills. Revis was absolutely dominant in 2014, rebounding from a relatively down season in Tampa in which he was asked to play a scheme that didn’t suit his skills. He turns 30 in July, but he’s still capable of shutting down any receiver he goes up against.

    2. Devin McCourty, S/CB, Patriots. Age: 28.
      Re-signed with Patriots

      Formerly a cornerback, Devin McCourty has been one of the top safeties in the NFL over the past few years. He has no weaknesses in his game, and he deserves a huge contract.

    3. Stephen Gostkowski, K, Patriots. Age: 31.
      Franchised by Patriots

      Stephen Gostkowski is arguably the top kicker in the NFL; he’s 73-of-78 over the past two years (93.6%), which includes 6-of-7 from 50-plus.

    4. Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots. Age: 26.
      Signed with Giants

      Shane Vereen has been a disappointment as a runner, but he has been a Kevin Faulk-type pass-catcher out of the backfield for Tom Brady. He caught 52 balls in 2014 after logging 47 receptions the year before.

    5. Vince Wilfork, NT, Patriots. Age: 33.
      Signed with Texans

      Vince Wilfork is now a free agent because the Patriots declined to pick up his 2015 option. New England didn’t effectively cut him because he played poorly last year; the team simply needed cap space to retain Darrelle Revis. Wilfork can still play well as a run-stuffing nose tackle, though his age (34 in November) is definitely a concern.

    6. Brandon Browner, CB, Patriots. Age: 31.
      Signed with Saints

      Brandon Browner’s first season outside of Seattle wasn’t a successful one, at least not on a personal level. Browner was inconsistent in coverage, but more notably was whistled for a ridiculous 19 penalties, including the playoffs, despite missing the first six games of the season. He turns 31 in August.

    7. Patrick Chung, S, Patriots. Age: 28.
      Re-signed with Patriots (3 years, $8.2 million)

      Patrick Chung was awful in Philadelphia, but he just seems to play well for Bill Belichick. Chung rebounded with a decent 2014 campaign, though he struggled a bit down the stretch.

    8. Akeem Ayers, DE/OLB, Patriots. Age: 26.
      Signed with Rams (2 years)

      Akeem Ayers proved to be well worth the sixth-rounder the Patriots surrendered to get him from Tennessee; his presence helped improve the team’s run defense.

    9. Kyle Arrington, CB, Patriots. Age: 29.
      Signed with Ravens (3 years, $7.5 million

      The release of Kyle Arrington is a surprise, given that Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner weren’t properly replaced this offseason. The 5-foot-10 Arrington struggles on the outside, but he has had success as a nickel corner.

    10. Sealver Siliga (RFA), NT, Patriots. Age: 25.
      Sealver Siliga wasn’t able to play much this year because of a foot injury, but he was an effective run-stuffer when he was able to be on the field.

    11. Brandon Spikes, ILB, Patriots. Age: 27.
      Brandon Spikes played well on a 1-year “prove it” deal, serving as a stout, two-down run-defender. Unfortunately, he is dealing with some off-the-field concerns.

    12. Stevan Ridley, RB, Patriots. Age: 26. — Signed with Jets
    13. Chris White, ILB/ST, Patriots. Age: 26.
    14. Dan Connolly, G, Patriots. Age: 32.
    15. Brandon Bolden (RFA), RB, Patriots. Age: 25. — Re-signed with Patriots (2 years, $2.32 million)
    16. Jonathan Casillas, ILB, Patriots. Age: 28. — Signed with Giants


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