Randy Moss: Without a question, retaining franchise wideout Randy Moss was New England's highest priority. Coming off a record breaking 23 TD catches, Moss could have easily taken the big bucks in Philly to the tune of a 3 year, $30,000,000 deal.
However, Moss stayed in New England for three million dollars less. The time Moss spent on the FA market gave us Pats fans a heart attack but he came back and that's all that matters.
Handling: B- Result: A+
The PR Campaign: This issue may not have been as pressing as some of the Pats’ on-field needs, but something needed to be done about the Patriots’ image around the league.
Since Arlen Spectar’s infamous probe into spygate, Bill Belichick has apologized for his actions in front of the owners committee and has renounced stealing signals as a method of preparation for games.
Every casual fan (and some diehards out there) has his/her own Bill Belichick/ Patriots suck/cheat joke but owners and gms around the NFL seems to have moved on from spygate. Spygate, in the words of Rich Mckay, is “yesterday’s news”. In other words, mission accomplished.
Handling: A- Result: B-
The Secondary: Now to take a look at the most glaring hole on New England’s roster, the secondary. The Patriots have lost pro bowler Asante “butterfingers” Samuel and have not made any serious attempt at replacing him.
However, Samuel’s asking price was simply outrageous and the Pats had little or no chance of retaining their star corner going into free agency. The Patriots have also lost nickelback Randall Gay and free safety Eugene Wilson to New Orleans and Tampa Bay respectively.
Gay will be replaced by the veteran trio of Fernando Bryant, Jason Webster, and Lewis Sanders. As for Wilson, he lost his starting job for a reason and I wasn’t sad to see him go. Wilson's replacement going into the season is Tank Williams, who is talented but somewhat injury prone. I like the Patriots’ approach in fixing their secondary in that they eschewed big names in favor of veteran depth at a reasonable price.
Handling:A Result: C-
The Linebacking Corps: The Patriots’ linebackers are aging fast and Junior Seau seems likely to retire, so some youth at this position is a dire need. Surprisingly enough, Tedy Bruschi decided to return for ’08, and he will see most of the snaps for the Pats at inside linebacker.
The Patriots have also added former Jets outside linebacker Victor Hobson to the mix at inside linebacker. Hobson is big at 6’ 252 lbs and has shown some flashes of brilliance in the NFL, most notably a 100 tackle, 6 sack season in 2006.
Most importantly perhaps, Hobson’s signing, along with Bruschi’s return, gives the Pats two starters at inside linebacker, which will give natural pass rushers Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas the opportunity to play exclusively at outside linebacker next year. Another linebacker, perhaps a guy like Illinois product Jay Leman, will certainly be taken in the upcoming draft, giving the Pats depth at the linebacker position.
Handling: B Result: B-
Loose Ends: Other notable Patriots free agents who have not been mentioned are wide receivers Donte Stallworth, Kelly Washington, and Jabar Gaffney, long snapper Lonie Paxton, and linebackers Pierre Woods and TJ Slaughter.
Stallworth lost his spot on the depth chart during the season and has signed a 7 year, $35,000,000 deal with Cleveland. Stallworth’s exciting plays after the catch will be missed, but he was expendable.
Gaffney was a solid contributor for the Patriots who had 36 catches and 5 touchdowns in limited action last year. Kelly Washington was a special teams whiz who blocked two punts last year, he will be given more playing time at wideout next year with Stallworth playing in Cleveland.
Paxton has been a consistent, albeit unheralded, contributor to New England’s special teams since 2000 and it was nice to see him resign.
Handling: B+ Results: Hard to Tell (B-A)
Overall: The Patriots definitely had some holes to fill coming into this year and while most of the loose ends have been tied up, some questions still linger. Samuel’s replacement in the secondary has yet to be found and the Pats’ only linebacker under age 30 is the newly signed Victor Hobson.
The Patriots’ approach to finding the right guys for the team has been fantastic but no truly team changing moves have been made, so the jury is still out as to how the Pats look as a Super Bowl contender next year.
Handling: A Results: B- thus far