Looking Ahead: What the Future Holds for the New England Patriots
I don't really know why, maybe I like football better than baseball, maybe I couldn't stand the morbidity towards the Sox that existed among some older relatives before '04.
But I digress, the Pats were near perfect last season and have retained many of their starters from last season's team. However, the team is getting older and some holes still exist in the roster. Although the LB core seems to be aging like a fine wine, the same can not be said of guys like Rodney Harrison, who seems to be on his last legs, or Junior Seau, who is contemplating retirement.
For an 18-1 team, the Pats will face an inordinate amount of scrutiny in regards to their off-season moves if they don't make a deep playoff run next year, as the shoes of recently departed pro bowl CB Asante "butterfingers" Samuel have yet to be filled, despite the addition of veterans Fernando Bryant, Jason Webster, and Lewis Sanders. The Patriots also lost backup safety Eugene Wilson and underrated, albeit inconsistent, nickelback Randall Gay.
Although Tank Williams has been signed by the team to replace Wilson, he is only here on a one year deal and could find a nice payday somewhere else if he plays to his potential. A reunion with Ty Law may be on the horizon and the wily veteran still has something left to contribute.
If youth isn't added to the secondary, the Patriots could have problems with faster receivers, who should be able to outrun the aging secondary. This problem may be rectified through the draft however, because of Belichick's aptitude in drafting gems in the later rounds. The team has held a private film session and interview with Nebraska's Zack Bowman, whose medical history makes him a second day pick despite his first round talent.
The Patriots' linebacking corps could also use a jolt of youth, since soon to be 31 year old Adalius Thomas is the youngest starter on the Pats' payroll. However, Belichick loves his old linebackers, as we saw when he pursued former Dolphins mainstay Zach Thomas, who eventually signed with Dallas. Established veterans Jeremiah Trotter, Takeo Spikes, and Al Wilson are still available and any one of them could at least momentarily fill the hole on the inside of the Pats' defense.
Some depth at the running back position would also be welcome, since backup Sammy Morris suffered a chest injury known as a sternum-clavicle separation. In other words, a bone in his shoulder was torn away from tissue connecting it to the sternum. Kevin Faulk will be 33 next year and it is hard to tell whether Laurence Maroney can carry the load for a full season.
The defense may still be questionable in its ability to contain a top flight offense, but the Patriots have retained every major component of the exciting passing game that led the team to an NFL record 71 TDs in '07. Donte Stallworth may be in Cleveland, but he lost his spot on the depth chart to Jabar Gaffney in mid-season and has proven to be expendable despite his athleticism.
All in all, the year ahead is laden with promise and could lead to another Super Bowl run, especially considering the ease of a schedule that features only four playoff ready opponents and four games against either the Dolphins or the Jets.
Barring an injury, the Patriots have the tools needed to make it to Tampa next year. I can't wait until October rolls around and we get our shot at redemption.
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