The 6 Biggest Keys to New England Patriots' 2012 NFL Free-Agency Strategy
While this year wasn't quite as heartbreaking as the 2007-2008 Super Bowl, it certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of the fans and the organization. They head in to free agency with some crucial decisions to make that will impact their team for years to come.
The Patriots have a considerable amount of cap space for a team that made the Super Bowl. They will have the chance to bring in some new faces and hopefully improve the team enough to win another championship.
Here are six keys to a successful offseason for the New England Patriots.
Re-Sign Wes Welker
Wes Welker has been the most important receiver in the Patriots' offense since he arrived in New England.
The chemistry Welker and quarterback Tom Brady have is undeniable. He is the perfect fit for the Patriots' offensive system and both Welker and Patriots' ownership have made it clear that they want to get a new deal done.
However, we know it isn't always that simple.
The Patriots will not overpay anyone. There was even a question about whether or not they would re-sign Tom Brady the last time his contract was up. We all remember the Logan Mankins fiasco as well.
Welker's best chance to continue putting up the numbers he has is to stay in New England. The Patriots know that it'll be difficult to replace Welker's skill set, so a new contract makes sense.
Still, the sooner this deal gets done, the better.
Acquire a Pass Rusher
The Patriots' defense has desperately needed a player that can get after the quarterback for several years now.
They found temporary improvements like veterans Andre Carter and Mark Anderson; both of these guys significantly improved the pass rush, but they are not long-term solutions.
There will be other options out there in free agency for the Patriots to pursue.
The rumor is that Mario Williams may hit the free-agent market, but I wouldn't expect the Patriots to spend that much on one player. A more likely target would be Lions' defensive end Cliff Avril. Bill Belichick has shown a fondness for Purdue pass-rushers as he has signed Roosevelt Colvin and currently has Rob Ninkovich.
Right now though, the latest is that Avril will be franchised tag by the Lions.
Regardless of who the Patriots go after, pass-rusher is a definite need on this team. A player that could attack the quarterback would go a long way towards improving their pass-coverage issues.
Improve the Secondary
There is no denying the Patriots' weak secondary was their eventual downfall.
New England patched together their secondary with undrafted free agents and castoffs from other teams. Players like Sterling Moore and Antwaun Molden had their bright moments, but neither is a long-term option at cornerback.
Devin McCourty suffered a huge sophomore slump this year. We don't know whether or not he will bounce back after showing so much promise in his rookie season. McCourty returning to his old form would be a huge break for the Patriots, but in this league you can never count on anything.
There are several quality players available such as Cortland Finnegan or Brent Grimes.
The Patriots don't necessarily need to pick up a shutdown corner, but they need to improve quality across the board.
Bring Back BenJarvus Green-Ellis
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is never going to be an elite running back.
What he is going to be is a serviceable back that you can count on not to turn the ball over. He is a great north to south runner and has a great nose at the goal line.
Green-Ellis will also come at a pretty affordable price which is perfect for the Patriots.
New England had a crowded backfield in the 2011 season with two rookies and Danny Woodhead alongside Green-Ellis. However, with Ridley and Vereen unproven, it would be a good idea to get the whole group back together for at least a few more seasons.
Green-Ellis shouldn't be looking for a very long deal so it wouldn't be a huge commitment. A two or three-year contract would be a perfect fit giving New England a chance to groom one of their young backs to take over the feature role.
It won't be the flashiest signing of the offseason, but it is certainly a smart one.
Save Money for the Draft
Once again, New England has loaded up on draft picks.
The Patriots have two first rounders and two second rounders. They have the chance to inject a great amount of youth into their weak defense. However, if they are going to do so, they need to assure that they don't overspend in free agency.
New England has been known to trade down and pick up more mid-round selections. However, with the new salary cap on draft picks it would be the perfect time for the Patriots to capitalize on all of their early selections.
As much as I encourage the Patriots to load up offensively for Tom Brady's final years, they would be better off supplying their defense with youth. They have some great young talent already on the defensive side of the ball, but a few more impact rookies could set that defense up to return to their glory days.
The Patriots always manage their money well so this shouldn't be an issue. Regardless, it is still crucial.
Acquire a a Vertical Threat for Tom Brady
The Patriots need to re-sign Wes Welker, but they shouldn't stop there.
Tom Brady is still one of the league's premiere quarterbacks, but his window of opportunity is closing. The Patriots need to load up as they did in 2007 and give him the tools to win another championship. This is one of the best free-agent classes for wideouts that we have seen in years.
The Patriots likely won't be able to afford a top-notch weapon like Vincent Jackson or Dwayne Bowe, but there are several other options out there.
Brandon Lloyd has made it clear that he would love to play for Josh McDaniels again after following him from Denver to St. Louis. He would make for a great deep option for Brady.
Veteran wideout Reggie Wayne has expressed interest in playing for New England as well. He may be past his prime, but he could still be a contributor at the right price.
With Deion Branch on the way out and the Chad Ochocinco experiment over, it is time for the Patriots to give Brady some new toys.