By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
While Tom Brady remains at the forefront of the Patriots offseason discussion, the team has 52 other roster spots they have to worry about as well. With 20 players on expiring contracts, the Pats are potentially looking at a semi-thorough rebuild. Yes, the word ‘rebuild’ has a negative connotation among fans, but it may be exactly what the Patriots need to alleviate some of their woes that led to them getting bounced in the Wild Card round of this year’s playoffs. Putting Brady aside, here are five major questions the Patriots need to ask themselves heading into a crucial offseason…
1. How ‘All In’ Do They Want To Go At Pass Catcher (WR/TE)?
Yes, some of how the Patriots approach re-tooling their offensive skill positions hinges on whether or not Tom Brady comes back, but either way they are looking at a major overhaul. The question is, how major will that overhaul be? Between the upcoming draft class, free agency group, and rumored trades, there is a depth of talent available at both wide receiver and tight end, meaning it will be a buyers market. That being said, the team has limited assets to make a move with just three picks projected in the top 100, while their cap space projects to be in the bottom half of the league. So, do the Patriots want to make a splash by dealing what draft capital they have in a major deal for a guy like Odell Beckham? They could also make a rare high-price free agency signing and go after a player such as Austin Hooper or Amari Cooper (if the Cowboys don’t bring him back). Or will they use a high draft pick on a pass catcher a year after taking N’Keal Harry in the first round? Can they find a way to work in two, or all three of these solutions? Whatever the plan, there will be risk involved, but inaction is the worst action in this case.
2. Can They Avoid Another Marshall Newhouse Situation?
In 2019, the Patriots went into training camp with only one tackle who had significant NFL experience in Marcus Cannon. The slated starting left tackle, Isaiah Wynn, lost his rookie year due to an Achilles injury, which also kept him out of the offseason training program and the first few days of camp. The rest of the position group was made up of rookies or players who had spent more time on practice squads and IR than NFL 53-man rosters. The team never adequately replaced swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who had been a reliable backup on both sides of the line for four years before signing with the Bills that spring. As a result, the Patriots found themselves scrambling for an NFL ready tackle when both Cannon and Wynn dealt with injuries during the year, and ended up with Marshall Newhouse. In 2020, do the Patriots want to take a similar risk, betting on the health of Cannon and Wynn? Do they believe last year’s third round pick Yodny Cajuste, who spent his rookie year on IR, can fill the role? If they don’t, they’ll need to invest in a reliable swing tackle to avoid a repeat of the first half of this past season. Compounding the issue, Marcus Cannon will be 32 years old and entering the final year of his deal next season. The Patriots could invest in a young lineman to serve as a backup for a year or two, with the long-term plan being he replaces Cannon once his time in New England ends.
3. Is Kyle Van Noy The Real Deal, Or A Bill Belichick Creation?
In his 3+ years in New England Kyle Van Noy completely reinvented himself, going from ‘the budget replacement for Jamie Collins’ to a vocal leader of two Super Bowl winning defenses both on and off the field. After signing a contract extension in September 2017, Van Noy finds himself about to hit the free agent market for the first time in his career. While Van Noy has been undoubtedly successful with the Patriots, the question is, is that success duplicatable? The Patriots have a history of being able to move on from ‘key’ players, only to find a cheaper option who can play at the same level. After all, it’s how Van Noy ended up in New England in the first place. The question here is this…With Van Noy projected to fetch a high price on the open market, do the Patriots need to match it to keep their defense playing at the level it did last season? Or is this a spot where they can save some cap by bringing in a cheaper option than Van Noy without taking too much of a hit on the field?
4. What Is The Plan Behind John Simon and Chase Winovich?
Between Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Shilique Calhoun, the Patriots could be losing 1,893 of their 2,893 edge snaps from last season (65.4%). In John Simon and Chase Winovich, the Patriots have a legitimate starting duo, but the question becomes what the depth chart looks like behind those guys. The Patriots like to rotate at that position, so who will they have to rotate in and out? Right now, the next two up are Deatrich Wise and Derek Rivers. It’s a pair of interesting players, as it’s felt like both have spent their entire Patriots careers on the fringe of the roster. Wise, a fourth round pick in 2017, started off promising but never seemed to earn the trust of the coaching staff, with career lows in usage and production last season. Rivers, a 3rd rounder from the same draft, has played in just six games in three years around a pair IR seasons. With both players entering the final year of their contracts, the Patriots need to decide if they feel comfortable with an expanded role for each, or if they need to bring in serious competition for their roles this summer.
5. Can Stephen Gostkowski Still Kick In the NFL?
This is a question that will be answered fully in training camp, but the reality is if there is any doubt in their minds about Stephen Gostkowski’s ability, the Patriots have to act sooner rather than later. Whether it’s through free agency or the draft, if the team wants legitimate competition for Gostkowski this summer, they’re going to need to be aggressive and not leave themselves picking through the players who are left the week before OTAs. It’s impossible to say from the outside how the team views Gostkowski right now, because they’re the only ones who have seen him kick post-surgery, if he has at all. However as we saw this past season, having too many reliable options at kicker is better than not enough. Don’t be fooled, this is one of the more pressing matters of the Patriots upcoming offseason.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Let him hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth