Patriot Pat says--
Updated after the Jay Cutler trade.
"Just do your job!"
Bill Belichick will be saying that next season, a lot.
The general sentiment of a New England Patriots fan this offseason is that they need to get younger on defense.
Of course the team will always be looking for future talent, but this years roster is full of young, physically capable players.
That is a fact, and that is the problem.
These young players lack the experience experience needed to excel in a typically difficult to understand Bill Belichick 3-4 style defense.
Here is a look at the New England Patriots defensive depth-chart, updated as recently as March 20, 2009.
Left Defensive End
1- Ty Warren - 28 - Seven years experience.
2- Le Kevin Smith - 26 - Four years experience.
1- Vince Wilfork - 27 - Six years experience.
2- Mike Wright - 27 - Five years experience.
Right Defensive End
1- Richard Seymour - 29 - Nine years experience.
2- Jarvis Green - 30 - Eight years experience.
3- Titus Adams - 26 - One year experience.
Left Outside Linebacker
1- Pierre Woods - 27 - Four years experience.
2- Tully Banta-Cain - 28 - Seven years experience.
3- Vince Redd - 23 - One year experience.
1- Jerod Mayo - 23 - One year experience.
1- Tedy Bruschi - 35 - Fourteen years experience.
2- Eric Alexander - 27 - Five years experience.
2- Gary Guyton - 23 - Two years experience.
3- Bo Ruud - 24 - One year experience.
Right Outside Linebacker
1- Adalius Thomas - 31 - Ten years experience.
2- Shawn Crable - 24 - One year experience.
3- Angelo Craig - 23 - One year experience.
1- Jonathon Wilhite - 25 - One year experience.
2- Shawn Springs - 34 - Thirteen years experience.
3- Terrence Wheatley - 23 - One year experience.
1- Ellis Hobbs - 25 - Five years experience.
2- Leigh Bodden - 27 - Seven years experience.
3- Mike Richardson - 25 - Three years experience.
1- Brandon Meriweather - 25 - Three years experience.
2- Antwain Spann - 26 - Three years experience.
3- Tank Williams - 28 - Seven years experience.
1- James Sanders - 25 - Five years experience.
2- Ray Ventrone - 26 - Four years experience.
After really taking a look at who the Patriots have on their roster, I've come to some conclusions.
Tedy Bruschi is close to retirement, and Mike Vrabel has departed. With the recent signings of veteran cornerbacks, their most glaring needs are at inside and outside linebacker (not exactly a shocker).
Rodney Harrison may still not return, so if he doesn't, they may draft another safety or sign another free agent. I think they will address this with free agency this year, and then long-term with the draft next year.
As much as I like safety Louis Delmas out of Western Michigan, I am aware there will be players like him in the draft next year. They won't be able to draft him if they go after this trade for the players I'm suggesting.
They really need players to recreate a pass-rush that was non-existent last year. They need a prolific pass rusher, and they need another player who will be able to chase downs plays, as Jerod Mayo can, and Tedy Bruschi used to.
That prolific pass rusher may be Julius Peppers. He will cost a lot, though, and a trade with Carolina would more than likely be a significantly larger package than just the 34th pick, as NFL.com reported earlier last week. Keep this in mind.
They may still sign free-agent Jason Taylor—but only for the right price.
With all this in mind, I do not think that they will use this draft to bring in a fleet of new, inexperienced players. I think that Belichick will put together together a draft-pick bundle he will use to move up into the middle first round, where talent, ability, and price match perfectly (Mayo).
Now I know that in saying this, the criticism will be "then why did the Patriots not go for this with the Matt Cassel trade, and why did they trade Vrabel, too?"
Well, the Matt Cassel trade yielded what it could, and if there really was a mid-first round pick that came to the table from another team, then it came to the table after New England and Kansas City had agreed to the trade in principle.
Bill Belichick would not have wanted to create a rift with Kansas City, to go for a conditional three-team trade that may or may not have happened. If the other trade fell through, the Kansas City trade would most likely not have still been on the table.
Belichick also knew that Vrabel was an example of why the Patriots' critics thought they were getting too old on defense. Even though he was a fan favorite from Super Bowl championship Patriots' teams, it was time for him to go.
The financial handicap Matt Cassel's franchise tag had placed on the teams ability to resign players, and make offers to potential free agent acquisitions, was a key factor as well.
Freeing up the aging Vrabel's cap hit, was also key in the ability to sign players, and keep enough room under the cap to pay new key players from this years draft.
So this is what I expect.
If the Patriots don't make a trade for Julius Peppers, they will trade this draft-pick bundle to Denver (Josh McDaniels) to move up to the 12th overall pick, as well as for probably one or two later picks in 2010's draft. They then use that pick to draft Rey Maualuga (quick, fast, reacts quickly to situations) from USC to play inside linebacker.
If they decide outside linebacker truly has the priority, they draft either Brian Cushing or Clay Matthews (both versatile every down type, hybrid pass rush / cover players) from USC. I think they will pick inside first, because they think they can, and plan on, drafting Connor Barwin with the 34th pick.
They then use the 34th pick (they would not make this trade with this in the draft-pick bundle) in the draft to get Connor Barwin (my favorite player in the draft for the Patriots) from Cincinnati to play outside linebacker.
If they did not pick Maualuga with the 12th, and went with an outside linebacker, they will draft James Laurinaitis (I have him still on the board here) from Ohio State to play inside.
Some people may think that Denver will want to use this pick to draft a quarterback in light of the Jay Cutler fiasco, but I feel like Kyle Orton is a serviceable quarterback who will excel in an offense like Denver runs.
He ran a similar offense his senior year at Purdue, and threw for 31 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions.
If they do trade for Julius Peppers, you can pretty much count most of this out. They would have to sacrifice at least three, of their four, day-one picks to make it happen, not to mention that it would make resigning Seymour, Wilfork, and Mankins much more difficult economically speaking.
Trading for Peppers would be in line with the philosophy behind my plan towards approaching the draft this year, though.
Now back to the Patriots defense.
If they sign a whole fleet of new, inexperienced players, when would these players get the experience they need? This year the defense is going to experience some growing pains, but it is going to do just that, grow.
The young players on the roster now, will continue to get the experience they need to play well in Belichick's defense.
When it comes to the draft this year, the Patriots will follow the timeless principle of quality over quantity. With letting the players play, and making a move to draft some serious talent, the Patriots will solidify their defensive front-seven for years to come.
Andrew Cahill is a true Boston Sports fan. Check out footage of Connor Barwin on his website, "Patriot Pat's Patsies."
Also, be sure to join in on the awesome discussion below!