The offseason is a time for reflection. It's a time to think about the players and situations that put your team in a position to win, and the things your team did wrong that left them a play or two away from winning the Lombardi Trophy.
Football is a game of emotional inches. You win some Super Bowls by a few points, you lose some Super Bowls by a few points. A safety in the first quarter ends up determining the entire conclusion of the game. A receiver catches a potential game-winning football, but can't hold on to it. The little quick hits of pain in the hearts of Patriot Nation are the emotional inches that we'll reflect on.
The concept of counter-expectation is key. When you begin a new season, you expect to play well. When you advance to the Super Bowl, you expect to win. When your expectations are ultimately thwarted, that's when counter-expectation sets in. You begin thinking of the weaknesses in your team that finally got exposed to sunlight.
This is a very special offseason for teams and fans alike. The free agency pool is loaded with guys who have the ability to complete teams that are a piece or two away from a title, and the draft is stacked with players who will dramatically alter franchises all across the league.
Will Bill Belichick use this opportunity to fix the inches of daylight that came between him and the trophy?
The Giants were able to rely on their third option receiver to make the biggest play of the year. Think about that. It's startling. A defense can successfully shut down the Giants' two most elite receivers, and Eli Manning can still count on another guy making a 38-yard catch in smothering coverage.
That's how good the Giants are. Their strengths ended up defining our weaknesses. They have a third option receiver who can make that catch, but we didn't have a first option receiver who could make that catch. They could hurt our quarterback's shoulder, but we couldn't affect their quarterback at all. They could force us to play at their tempo, but we couldn't force them to do anything.
So what now? Free agents? The draft? Yes and yes.
How about trades? Possibly. The NFL really isn't a trading league. Franchises generally build themselves up through free agents and draft picks. But the trade list is still vital; it gives an impression of what your team lacks, and your dream scenarios for filling those holes.
These are the 6 non-free agents that I would most like to see on the Patriots.
In exchange for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the Patriots give up: two draft picks, or Devin McCourty and one pick.
The Patriots should be paying very close attention to what's happening in Philadelphia right now. Like the Giants, the Eagles were absolutely packed with talent in 2011. The difference is that the Giants won the Super Bowl and the Eagles sucked.
Citizens of Philadelphia have been praying for Andy Reid to get the boot, but Reid is a highly-respected coach within the league and his job was always safe. Well, until now. This season, Reid is definitely in the hot seat.
The people of Philadelphia gave the Eagles a slight pass last season because the team was so incredibly unsuccessful, it almost seemed like an aberration when you consider their wealth of talent. When you asked Eagles fans about it, they'd simply shrug because there was nothing to say. Their season was over before it ever really got started.
The Eagles now have a chance for the ultimate redemption, but the stakes are higher than ever. This is it for the Eagles. If they don't perform well this season, the people of Philadelphia will absolutely lose their minds. The entire Eagles team would be stripped from the floorboards to the ceiling, and the team would be in a state of rebuilding for years.
This high level of pressure makes them vulnerable right now. Essentially, Reid has to make perfect decisions throughout the entire offseason. One mistake can lead to another season of bad chemistry.
The Jets are in a similar position, which is why the prospect of acquiring Peyton Manning continues to be so interesting. One more season of mediocre production from Mark Sanchez will break the franchise for years. It's 2012 or nothing.
For the Eagles, DeSean Jackson continues to be the major issue. He's a great player, but the Eagles are struggling with the possibility of another year with his antics. Another mediocre season would be dreadful beyond belief. Hence, the reason they'll probably tag him and trade him. Right there, you're seeing their willingness to part with big talent in exchange for good chemistry.
I suspect the entire Eagles roster is up for grabs right now. It has to be. There's too much riding on this season to be locked-in to a plan or a method. Guys like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie wouldn't normally be up for discussion, but I have a feeling they'd listen to offers.
Knowing how vulnerable they are should make their players a prime target for other teams. The Eagles have a wealth of riches in terms of talent. However, after last season's debacle, those riches don't seem so priceless. If anything, there are more questions on that team than there are answers. It could make them ripe for the picking.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would look good in a Patriots jersey, don't you think?
In exchange for Chris Gamble, the Patriots give up: two draft picks.
Guys like Gamble are really difficult to come by. I'd rather take him than roll the dice on a rookie corner. At least two of our picks will be spent on trying to find a guy who can do what Gamble already does.
The Panthers are in a very early stage of forming. They're in the midst of a five-year plan to become serious contenders. 2012 will only be their second year into that plan, so they have some time.
With Gamble already being 28, I wouldn't be surprised if they start trying to bring the age of their team down to meet that of Cam Newton.
Newton is only 22 years old.
In five years, they probably want all of their best players somewhere around 25-28 years old. It's the only way they can realistically beat elite teams in the playoffs. I see the Panthers basing their style on the Oklahoma City Thunder, whereby they overpower teams with their youth and their speed. The Lions are also following the youth trend.
Gamble might fit better on a team that's ready to compete for a title right now. A team like, say, the Patriots. Likewise, the Panthers would benefit from jam-packing their team with draft picks and young players who can grow with their quarterback. Somewhere in there, a trade could be made.
I'd love to have Gamble on the Patriots.
Aaron Rodgers will never let go of Jordy Nelson, but it's not out of the question to think that one of his other receivers could be moved at some point.
In exchange for Greg Jennings, the Patriots give up: two draft picks.
In exchange for James Jones, the Patriots give up: Sebastian Vollmer and one draft pick.
In exchange for Donald Driver, the Patriots give up: Sebastian Vollmer.
Despite the fact that Driver is 37, I'd take him in a heartbeat. He provides leadership and poise. With him, the Patriots would instantly become better. It's like adding another Andre Carter to the team. Yeah, Carter and Driver are older guys and they have some injuries, but I look past it because I want the presence of those guys to be felt on the team.
When I watched NFL Network's Sound FX on Super Bowl XLVI, I was disturbed by the fact that Tom Brady seemed to be the only leader of that team. Nobody else seemed ready to give a big speech like Charles Woodson did for the Packers when they won it all in 2010.
Tom Brady can't do it by himself. I love Vince Wilfork as a leader, but I see Andre Carter as our second most inspirational player in the locker room. We need more guys like that.
Any one of these guys can help with our chemistry, especially Driver. I'd love to have Driver working with Julian Edelman and Danny Woodhead, helping to improve their games. Any of those three Packers would be welcome additions in my eyes.
The Packers are loaded with offensive weapons, which naturally guarantees them a terrific record in the upcoming season. Ultimately, though, their weakness on defense will be exposed again in the playoffs.
When it comes to a sudden death game against an elite team like the Giants, their glaring soft spot will cost them another season. They probably know that, which is why they might be willing to part with one of their receivers in exchange for a boost on defense.
What would you trade for one of their receivers?
In exchange for Trent Cole, the Patriots give up: one draft pick.
How much is Cole worth to you on the trade market? He's worth a lot in my eyes. Grabbing him would be a major coup for the Patriots.
It's always difficult dreaming up these scenarios and wondering what pieces you're willing to part with. We all know the odds of these decisions working out. But for a guy like Cole, I'd be willing to take some big risks. Players, draft picks, I'd weigh it all.
Again, I think it would be wise for the Patriots to poke around the Eagles' nest and see what eggs are up for auction. Andy Reid is in no position to be stubborn. Just feel him out, see where his head's at.
With a clear chemistry problem in Philadelphia, it's not out of the question to think that changes could be made. They're probably willing to hear out offers that they would probably ignore in happier times.
In exchange for Nnamdi Asomugha, the Eagles receive: anything they want (except Tom Brady).
Do whatever it takes, just get that man in a Patriots jersey. I want this guy on the Patriots so badly, I think about it every single day.
Can you imagine Nnamdi Asomugha, Patrick Chung and Sterling Moore all hitting their prime at the same time? Granted, Asomugha is already 30, but I don't think he's hit his peak yet. On the right team, in the right system, he would absolutely prove his once-in-a-generation status.
If I could add one player in the NFL to the New England Patriots, it would be Nnamdi Asomugha.
In exchange for Brandon Flowers, the Patriots give up: two draft picks.
It'll be interesting to see what the Chiefs look like when the season starts. They have some key free agents up in the air, and they also have a ton of cash to spend. This team is in good shape to have a successful year.
I'd love to get Brandon Flowers in a Patriots jersey. He's one of those guys that you keep until he retires. Unfortunately, that's probably what the Chiefs will do. I just can't imagine how they'd let him go.
Unless, for some reason, the Chiefs don't have a good season in 2012. Personally, I think they'll be really good. But, as the Eagles and Giants proved in 2011, you never know what you're going to get from any team. He's only 25, and his best days are ahead of him.
Brandon Flowers on the New England Patriots. I love the sound of that.