Are the New England Patriots in Serious Trouble for 2013?
An outside observer, naive of the winning constants that define the New England Patriots, could probably be tempted to think a regression of sorts is in store for the franchise in 2013.
Yet at the very least, several of this offseason's events could be viewed as steps backwards for the mighty, ever-standing franchise.
Receiver Wes Welker, the slot weapon who caught a staggering 672 passes for the Patriots over six seasons, bolted New England when he got fed up with the Patriots' cheap offerings.
Former St. Louis Rams receiver Danny Amendola was quickly signed to replaced Welker, but he's missed 20 games over the last two seasons due to various injuries; Welker missed three games in six seasons.
Along with Welker's departure, the Patriots also cut receiver Brandon Lloyd, who had 74 catches for 911 yards and four scores as a starter last season.
To help fill the rather bare receiving cupboard, New England has signed veterans such as Donald Jones and Michael Jenkins in free agency, although there's a fairly good chance neither could make the Patriots' 53-man roster in September.
New England also lost Danny Woodhead, who gave the Patriots offense three strong years of versatility as both a runner and receiver. He's now in San Diego. Former second-round safety Patrick Chung and emerging guard Donald Thomas will also play elsewhere in 2013.
There's also uncertainty surrounding tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Arguably the game's top tight end when healthy, Gronkowski underwent three different surgeries on the arm he broke twice last season.
According to ESPN Boston, Gronkowski is hoping to be cleared in the "next few weeks."
Still, anytime your star offensive weapon has three surgeries in one area, there's reason for concern.
For some franchises, these kinds of changes and worries could begin the start of a free fall from the NFL's peak.
But not the New England Patriots; the beat will go on around Boston.
As long as Brady and Belichick are in town, the Patriots will be a plug-and-play franchise capable of withstanding widescale changes and losses.
This Patriots team shouldn't be any different next season.
Additions such as Jones, Jenkins and offensive tackle Will Svitek certainly aren't game-changers, but New England did bring in Amendola, veteran safety Adrian Wilson and returner Leon Washington during free agency.
If healthy, Amendola could replicate Welker's production. Wilson, at his very best, was one of the game's top all-around safeties. Washington has field-shifting return skills.
Maybe more importantly, the re-signings of Sebastian Vollmer, Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington were strong moves that helped keep most of the previous framework intact.
Add in one or two potential starters coming out of the 2013 NFL draft, including at receiver, and the Patriots are going to be looking at another AFC East title and playoff berth next season.
Brady and Belichick simply won't have it any other way.
The Patriots haven't had a losing season since the two combined forces in 2001, with just one season under 10 wins. That year came in 2002, or 11 seasons ago.
The two have continued to win, and win big despite free-agent departures, offensive changes and injury worries.
Only the naive could take the full picture of the Patriots offseason and see a regression in the offering next season. With Brady and Belichick running the show in New England, the Patriots are as immune to regression as any team in the National Football League.
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