The 2012 NFL season saw the New England Patriots fall just short of the Lombardi Trophy for the seventh consecutive year, this time at the hands of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens with a shocking 28-13 loss in the AFC Championship game.
New England hasn’t won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season but is always in the mix. The preeminent team of the 2000s has made a playoff appearance in 10 of the last 12 seasons, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t be back in the postseason hunt in 2013.
While Bill Belichick’s personnel decisions often go against the grain, he has managed to create sustainability and continuity with Tom Brady at the helm, always adding and subtracting the right pieces to make it work. Never employing the same tired strategies year in and year out, Belichick has kept his team at the forefront of the AFC.
However, this offseason was a little different in a few notable ways. Despite stockpiling draft picks in recent years, the Patriots entered the 2013 draft with only five draft picks with which to work. As always, it would be up to Belichick to make some creative moves on draft weekend to find the right pieces to bring it all together.
There was nothing particularly impressive about what Belichick did in the draft, but he almost always finds a way to develop the talent that has sustained the Patriots’ success. Part of this year’s plan was to add to a receiving corps that will look drastically different in 2013.
With Wes Welker’s contract expiring and the Patriots unwilling to offer him a large payday, the league’s best slot receiver was left to walk in free agency, signing with the AFC powerhouse Denver Broncos. He’ll no doubt find a great fit in Denver as one of Peyton Manning’s top pass-catching weapons.
But Belichick had a plan in place in the event that Welker wouldn’t return at a bargain rate. Without much hesitation, New England pulled the trigger on a five-year, $31 million contract that would bring former St. Louis Rams receiver Danny Amendola to Foxborough.
The oft-injured Texas Tech product shined in St. Louis with Sam Bradford at the helm, but he missed almost all of the 2011 campaign (15 games) and found himself on the sidelines in five more contests in 2012. If the Patriots hope to replace their iron-man slot receiver’s consistent production in 2013, Amendola has to remain healthy and on the field.
To further his plan of bolstering New England’s group of receivers, Belichick selected Marshall wide receiver Aaron Dobson in the second round and TCU wide receiver Josh Boyce in the fourth round of April’s draft. It remains to be seen how much either player will contribute in 2013, but it’s safe to say New England’s receiving corps will look much different going forward.
Perhaps the biggest story of the offseason, however, has been the health of two-time All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Brady’s favorite red-zone target has been battling injuries since the latter half of the 2011 season, and he missed his first career games last year in playing just 11 contests. This offseason, Gronkowski had additional surgery on the left forearm he broke in 2012, and his health should be a major concern for New England as the season approaches.
This offseason wasn’t all about offense, though.
To stabilize a pass defense that finished 29th in the league in total yards last season, the Patriots re-signed Aqib Talib and fellow cornerback Kyle Arrington. They also inked former Arizona Cardinals standout safety Adrian Wilson to a three-year, $5 million contract and added Rutgers cornerback Logan Ryan in the third round of the draft.
Ryan and teammate Duron Harmon (safety) join former Rutgers cornerback Devin McCourty—now New England’s most consistent safety—in a defensive backfield that needed some work this offseason.
Let's take a look at many of these offseason moves, as well as some key positional battles to watch as the 2013 season approaches.