The New England Patriots have been a difficult puzzle to decipher lately. The roster is in a state of change. New faces are everywhere and surgeries have been far too frequent, while foreseeable weaknesses at wide receiver and tight end have mangled any clear vision of what this team will look like when the season starts.
As of now, other teams might appear to be further along in the building process, such as the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos. But remember: Teams that seem built to win in the summer rarely look as impressive in the winter. Offseason hype is just that: hype.
So, if you find yourself scratching your head about the cloudy state of the Patriots, don't worry. There's plenty of time here. Plus, Tom Brady is the best leader in the business. This team will find its way.
Here are grades for the Patriots' major offseason moves to date.
The scowl you see on Danny Amendola's face is indicative of how he plays the game. He's tough and hard-boiled. He's gritty and physical. He has a chip on his shoulder. He will not be intimidated. He's a game-changer.
Reports of Amendola's progress with his new team have been positive across the board. A perfect summation came from ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss, who appeared on ESPN Radio in St. Louis to discuss his first-hand observations from the field:
[Amendola] looks awesome...I see Danny right here [ahead of the pack], and then a big gap between the next receiver...It looks to me like that early chemistry that you hope a quarterback would have with a receiver has happened with Tom Brady.
Last Tuesday...you could hear Brady yelling on the field, a hundred yards away from where the media was, and he was saying, "I love it! I love it, Danny! That's the way to do it, Danny!"
It was a moment that you had to capture to be there, to say, "You know what, they're on the same page."
Amendola's talent is incredible. We've been seeing proof of it for years. He's a complex route-runner with a sharp burst and great hands. If he can stay healthy, he can accomplish wonders in New England.
Grade on signing Amendola: A-
Even if third-string quarterback Tim Tebow never throws a football for the Patriots, he still has an opportunity to contribute through his energy, his contagious positivity and his terrific work ethic.
Also, his desire to win borders on psychotic. He might be a nice guy from a personality standpoint, but when it comes to competition, this guy's got blood dripping from his jowls. That's a guy I want on this team.
Also, I just love the situation. This guy was turned away by 31 other teams (18 of which were at or below .500 last year). I love the fact that a winning team that's been to five Super Bowls since 2001 stepped-up and said, "We want you." That's awesome stuff.
If Tebow contributes a handful of nice plays through some avenue of positional versatility, or if he impacts the team's morale with a few uplifting speeches, on the way to a Super Bowl victory, this will become the stuff of legend.
Grade on getting Tebow: B
Three of New England's best offseason moves were made in-house, when the Patriots re-signed wide receiver Julian Edelman, cornerback Aqib Talib and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
Each guy is a critical "anchor piece," providing great stability to the team in the midst of great change.
Also, they're just fantastic talents.
Talib and Vollmer single-handedly boosted the credibility of their respective units last season. Edelman's the archetypal "man on the verge," with mind-blowing potential, always on the cusp of hitting his stride, always a few steps away from becoming the player he's meant to become.
Look for all three of them to have a monster season.
Grade on bringing back Edelman, Talib and Vollmer: A
Undrafted rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld has a mountain to climb before he claims a roster spot. The challenge doesn't appear to be spooking him, though, because he's been climbing this mountain hard and fast with incredible zeal.
Christopher Price, of WEEI.com, gave this observation during OTAs:
It's been hard not to be impressed [by Sudfeld]. The 6-foot-7, 255-pounder flashed positively again on Tuesday morning, standing out as the best tight end in the group. He showed a good set of hands, he maneuvered nicely through traffic (catching a few balls with bodies flying around him, including a nice tip-toe catch in the corner of the end zone) and in general, didn’t look overwhelmed by the proceedings.
ESPN Boston's Field Yates had similar praise with these observations:
Nice day of work [for Sudfeld], who continues to look like a smooth pass catcher. Colleague Mike Reiss recently identified Sudfeld as an undrafted rookie of note, and Tuesday was [another] sharp effort.
Sudfeld is in the right place at the right time. There's enough instability at tight end for him to sneak through a crack in the window and make magic happen.
In a similar boat, you'll find receivers Michael Jenkins, Kenbrell Thompkins and Lavelle Hawkins. These are quintessential underdogs who wouldn't normally have a shot, but there's enough upheaval and shakiness at the position to open unusually large doors for them. This is especially true when you factor-in Aaron Dobson's slow start and Josh Boyce's inactivity with a foot injury. These long shots have a golden opportunity to capitalize on a rare situation and steal the spotlight in camp.
Could be pretty interesting to surround the best quarterback in history with a bunch of scrappy, hungry underdogs. I like that recipe.
Grade on rolling the dice on underdogs: A-
Wes Welker is gone.
To this day, it's a source of mixed emotion for me. On one hand, he was one of my favorite players. On the other hand, I was always bothered by the mismatch between his staggering individual statistics and the lack of team championships he produced. There was something incongruent there.
Furthermore, there was another imbalance between his superstar status and his lack of leadership. There's something very machine-like about a guy who spits out 100-plus catches and 1,000-plus yards every year without possessing the emotional ability to command men or take the team to another level in the playoffs.
Now, having said all that, there is genuine sadness here. Welker was a fan favorite in New England and he was one of Tom Brady's most reliable targets. Also, quite simply, he's a wonderful player. Those are tough things to say goodbye to.
More importantly, those are dangerous things to say goodbye to.
Letting Welker walk had "danger" written all over it from the get-go. This dramatic soap opera was never going to end with Welker going to the Eagles, Cardinals or Browns. No way. He was either going to the Texans, Ravens, 49ers, Giants, Seahawks or Broncos, because those are the biggest threats to the Patriots. And now, between him and Peyton Manning, that reality has come true.
Grade on letting Welker walk: C
The acquisition of safety Adrian Wilson was a fantastic move for the Patriots. True, Wilson's 33 years old, but his tenacity is ageless. His new teammates in New England are already calling him "Incredible Hulk."
Wilson combines the very best elements of Andre Carter and Rodney Harrison, both from a leadership standpoint and from a bone-crushing standpoint. He's built like a tank and brings some much needed grit and violence to this team. He's a commander, a playmaker and a thinker.
He's the model example for where the whole team should be headed.
If Wilson helps the Patriots win the Super Bowl this year, it wouldn't be surprising to see him chosen as one of the three players interviewed for NFL Network's "America's Game: The Super Bowl Champions: The 2013 Patriots." That's how vital he could be to this team.
This is the type of move that changes everything in a very profound way.
Grade on signing Wilson: A