The New England Patriots have certainly had a busy 2013 offseason, but for many fans it simply does not feel that way.
One factor that has possibly led to fans yearning for more is the loss of Wes Welker, which has overshadowed many of the Patriots' re-signings and free-agent pickups. Losing Welker in the fashion that they did was somewhat mind-boggling, especially due to the fact that he signed with the Denver Broncos for only two years and $12 million in what many consider to be a bargain basement deal.
Welker was viewed by many, including his own quarterback, as being the heart and soul of the team. He endeared himself to fans with his consistency and his scrappy style of play. Standing at only 5’9” and weighing in at a modest 185 pounds Welker defied many odds by becoming the first wide receiver with five 100-reception seasons in NFL history. And despite having a key drop that could have clinched Super Bowl XLVI against the Giants for the Patriots, he was still a beloved member of the team.
The loss of Welker will not soon be forgotten. And signing with a conference rival quarterbacked by Peyton Manning only amplifies the situation and places even more of an emphasis on replacing his productivity.
Enter Danny Amendola. The former Rams receiver signed a five-year, $31 million deal in New England with $10 million guaranteed. He has often been compared to Welker and was clearly brought in by the team to replace him. He also has some familiarity of playing within an offense run by Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, which certainly helped in the decision-making process of letting Welker go.
Now there is no question that Amendola can be a productive wideout in the NFL. The one knock against him is that he has had trouble staying on the field, a problem which eluded most of the career of the man he is replacing.
But beyond supplanting Welker’s productivity Amendola will have to endear himself to an entirely different locker room and a whole new set of hometown fans. He is already on the right track in regards to the latter, pledging to donate $100 for every catch and $200 for every dropped pass to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings.
The harsh reality, however, is that his production will ultimately determine how New Englanders view him. And also replacing a guy who once danced drunkenly sitting courtside at a Celtics game will certainly not be an easy task as well.
One positive that has come through free agency has been the shoring up of what has been one of the worst secondaries in the league. Re-signing cornerback Aqib Talib was a key component to the Patriots' offseason plans.
The acquisition of the often embattled corner through a trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers midway through last season paid great dividends instantly. The defense immediately improved with Talib on the field, and his absence due to a hamstring injury was badly felt during a lopsided loss in the AFC Championship to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
With the return of Talib on a one-year contract, the Patriots are getting a highly motivated player who has the ability to shut down some of the game’s best receivers. Lining up alongside second-year player Alfonso Dennard will hopefully solve the enigma that has been the cornerback position in New England.
Also receiving an honorable mention in the re-signed corners category is Kyle Arrington. Arrington will be primarily used to cover slot receivers and certainly adds more depth to one of the most important positions in today’s NFL.
Another free-agent acquisition that will make an immediate impact in the secondary is the signing of veteran strong safety Adrian Wilson. Wilson was a staple for the Arizona Cardinals, making five Pro Bowls in 12 seasons and becoming the sixth player ever to record 25 sacks and 25 interceptions. He will provide a physical and experienced presence at the safety position that has been lacking from the team since the departure of Rodney Harrison.
Wilson will also be a valuable tutor to young safties Devin McCourty and Tavon Wilson. His style of play will also allow McCourty to play more of a free safety role, utilizing his ball skills and athleticism.
On the offensive side of the ball the Patriots re-signed tackle Sebastian Vollmer, a key cog in the protection of Tom Brady. The pairing of Vollmer and Nate Solder provides the team with two behemoth-sized men on the offensive line that should be a force to be reckon with for years to come.
And then there were the less talked about free-agent acquisitions of wide receiver Donald Jones, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, offensive tackle Will Svitek, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, and kick returner/running back Leon Washington. All of these players will certainly have a role, but these signings lack the star power that New England fans were so desperately waiting for.
Many fans are still waiting for that big splash, and as we approach tonight’s draft it is still unclear which direction the Patriots may go. One name that has been tossed around and would surely have an immediate impact is John Abraham. Some find it perplexing as to why he is not on the roster already. Abraham recorded 10 sacks in a tough NFC South and would be a great compliment to a rising star in Chandler Jones.
But the one area many fans will fall back on is the receiver position. It feels like the Patriots have been looking for that consistent deep threat ever since the team parted ways with Randy Moss. And it is unclear at this point how the team plans to remedy this.
They could certainly draft a wide receiver, but the team’s history of developing players at that position is spotty at best. At this point, though, it may be the only option they have barring a blockbuster trade on draft day. The Patriots have clearly made this a point of emphasis as they tried and failed to sign Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Emmanuel Sanders. And the departure of Welker as stated previously has fans paying extra close attention to what they do at that position.
To say this offseason has been a failure would be unfair. The Patriots have made some solid additions and kept some pieces that will continue to make them a force to be reckoned with in the AFC. But fans are still waiting for that one addition that will put this team over the top. It may very well come in this year’s draft or there still may be another move to be made down the road.
One thing is clear. As good as this team is, it still feels incomplete leading many to look to this weekend as a key component in the offseason. And for Pats fans to actually embrace the pain that is watching this team draft, you know there is feeling of wanting to see more added to this roster. With so many directions to possibly go in, these next 72 hours will at least be very entertaining. Let’s just hope they provide some closure for New England fans as well.