Five Ways for the Patriots To Improve in 2009

Ryan BurnsAnalyst IFebruary 18, 2009

Last night I was at a Downtown Providence bar, taking in the Bruins game, and having a few cold ones with my friend from Texas who was in town for the week.

As we watched the Bruins spoil Glen Wesley Night at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina, a group of guys my age were talking football. Naturally, I had to get involved once the Patriots came up.

We were talking about how disappointing it was that the Pats missed the playoffs with an 11-5 record and talked about how the Patriots' coaching system is the constant, the one thing above all that defines this team's identity.

Then came the bombshell, the one comment that I thought was previously reserved for idiot callers on WEEI. This guy actually said, "Dude, I'm a die-hard Patriots fan, but they should trade Brady!"

After I spit my Sam Adams out, I turned around, halfway hoping to see a smirk or some sort of facial expression that would have made it seem like he was joking. But I did not.

Him: Can Matt Cassel win you a Super Bowl?

Me: How the hell am I supposed to answer that? Maybe? You know Brady has won three, right?

Him: Well, what happens if Brady gets hurt next year and can't go for the whole season?

Me: That can happen to any quarterback for any team at any time. What happens if Matt Cassel gets hurt and there is no Brady to fall back on?

Him: *Silence*

After the tumbleweed blew through the bar, I started thinking about real offseason upgrades that need to be made, the ones that keep this team competitive year in and year out, not this sensationalistic nonsense like "trade Brady." 

Here are five things the Patriots can (and probably will) do in order to regain that championship swagger in 2009.


5. Take a Long, Hard Look at Free Agent Halfbacks

Running back was a productive position for the Patriots this season, surprising a lot of fans (but not me; my first BR article was about the team's depth at the position). However, the Patriots were bit by the injury bug midway through the season and at one point had to start an undrafted free agent named BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who held his own.

Lauren, I mean Laurence Maroney, was a disappointment, and it may be time to bring in someone else to share carries with Sammy Morris and the always productive Kevin Faulk.

Who you ask? Well, there is a pretty extensive list of free agents for the Patriots to pursue, one that got more impressive as the Saints dropped a Deuce (McCalister) and the Jaguars got rid of Fred Taylor, 16th on the NFL's all-time rushing list.

Either of these guys is worth a look at least, and they would come on the cheap. With Lamont Jordan and Heath Evans as free agents, the Pats should take a veteran to replace them. Other notable free agents are Brandon Jacobs (NYG), Dominic Rhodes (IND), and Darren Sproles (SDC).


4. Improve at the Tight End Position

It seems like yesterday that the Patriots drafted a tight end every draft. They tried to find the answer in Ben Watson, but it appears that he has lost a step. He is rarely targeted and when he is thrown to he always seems to drop the ball. Not to mention that brutal phantom fumble against the Jets on the Thursday night game. 

Tony Gonzalez has been rumored to be leaving his team, but the Patriots would have to give up draft picks or players for him, a player who is in the latter stages of his career. The free agent list of TEs isn't exactly robust either, but it does feature Owen Daniels who had a decent year in Houston and longtime Eagle LJ Smith. 

I think the Patriots can best improve this position in the draft however, and they wouldn't have to waste an early pick.

I really like Chase Coffman from Missouri who had 10 touchdowns last season, and four games with at least 10 receptions. Also, the Patriots could grab James Casey from Rice, a 4.66 40 time, 13 TDs, and 111 receptions look super attractive, especially with a second or third round pick.


3. Look for a Third Wide Receiver

With Jabar Gaffney being a free agent, I think one of the Patriots' needs is a third WR. Keep in mind they run out of the shotgun most of the time with a three WR set. In 2007's record breaking campaign, one of the biggest reasons for the great deal of production was having a weapon like Dante Stallworth as your third wideout. The Patriots should look to re-energize this position through the draft.

I like Mohamed Massaquoi from Georgia, who has a 4.49 40 time and caught eight TDs last season. I would also take a look at Ohio State's Brian Robiskie, only because I am a Buckeye fan, however he has shown great production throughout his career at OSU.


2. Linebackers Please!

In one of the two obvious position upgrades, the Patriots must improve at this position in order to restore their defense to 2003-04 level. There are a few good free agents available ranging from Ray Lewis (keep dreaming) to Jonathan Vilma.

However, I think the Patriots should go after free agent Bart Scott, as the Ravens will likely part with the veteran in order to re-sign Lewis and the newly franchised Terrell Suggs. Scott has played with Adalius Thomas in Baltimore, so this could be a great fit for both parties.

In the draft, there are no shortage of prime time linebackers who I believe the Patriots will take with their first round pick. Hopefully, Rey Maualuga from USC and Ohio State's James Laurinaitis will be around in the mid-first round. Both players would fit in well with Jerod Mayo, Mike Vrabel, and Adalius Thomas, making the Pats LB corps feared once again.


1. Improve the Defensive Backfield

Clearly the most pressing issue the Patriots have to address is their putrid defensive backfield. After letting Asante Samuel go to the Eagles last year (the one and only mistake of the Pioli-Belichick regime) they were exposed due to their lack of size, experience, and intelligence.

Ellis Hobbs was okay at best, Deltha O'Neal was god awful, and Brendon Merriweather showed signs of greatness. Rodney Harrison is a free agent as well, so the Patriots have to make a move on the aging and often-injured defensive leader.

Possible upgrades are Chris McCalister, Philip Buchanon, and Brian Dawkins.  If the Patriots decide to use the draft for their DBs of the future, they should look at Vontae Davis if he is still available, although he will probably be a first round pick, which could make whether to go with an LB or a DB with their first pick a tough decision.

I also like Alphonso Smith, who qualified for first team All-American and tied the ACC record for interceptions with 20. As far as the safety position goes, I like Patrick Chung, a Pac-10 first teamer who will probably be taken in the second round.

So there you have it. If you want to upgrade the Patriots, don't trade Brady. Instead, make offseason moves, because the next time I hear someone say "trade Brady," I might not be so nice.


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