New England Patriots: Weighing Value vs. Need in 2014 NFL Draft

Mike DussaultSenior Analyst IMarch 14, 2014

Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel (3) scrambles away from New England Patriots' Vince Wilfork (75) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in Orchard Park. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)
Gary Wiepert/Associated Press

Ask any New England Patriots fan or pundit what the team's biggest need is and you'll get a variety of general answers ranging from "pass-rusher" to "weapons for Tom Brady."

Yes, the Pats have been on an unprecedented run of success in recent years, but each offseason those who follow the team seem to forget how the Pats built their dynasty. When Aqib Talib signed with the Denver Broncos for $57 million, many Patriots fans were apoplectic, but the Pats have never done business by handing out record amounts of guaranteed money.

Revis filled a big need.
Revis filled a big need.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Then the Pats signed Darrelle Revis to a manageable deal in the kind of move that has become their calling card and everything is back to being right in Patriots nation.

The Patriots will fill every need they have via free agency, and locking up Revis is just the first step in the process. It might not be with more big names, but they'll make sure they're protected at every spot.

This will then open the door to drafting for value and taking players who fit the program.

Some of the free agents the Pats have hosted give evidence to this fact. Players like Matt Shaughnessy (who already re-signed in Arizona), Wesley Woodyard, Brandon LaFell and Shelley Smith aren't sexy, but they're affordable and would reinforce the middle class of the Pats' roster, the foundation for the Patriots' culture of winning.

The needs that the Pats must fill before the draft? We can start with interior offensive line, where they are currently without their starting center of the past two seasons, Ryan Wendell, who is a free agent. 

Pats will fill their needs on the offensive line so they can draft for value there in April.
Pats will fill their needs on the offensive line so they can draft for value there in April.Stew Milne/Associated Press

Starting right guard Dan Connolly is also due to make $4 million this season and could find himself a cap casualty, broadening the Pats' needs on the interior line.

In the worst-case scenario, the Pats could re-sign Wendell, keep Connolly and roll with the same offensive line they've had the last two seasons. They are a solid group, but it would certainly leave the door open for the Pats to strike on an offensive lineman in the draft, especially one with interior flexibility.

They also need a third defensive end who can spell Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, who together played the most snaps by any two defensive ends in the NFL in 2013, while also serving as a designated pass-rusher in the sub-package. The Pats were in their sub-defense close to 60 percent of the time the last four seasons so this would be a significant role and one that could be attractive to a veteran like Jared Allen or Julius Peppers.

Peppers has been on the Pats' radar before.
Peppers has been on the Pats' radar before.Matt Rourke/Associated Press

With Vince Wilfork's request for a release, defensive tackle might become the biggest need of all. Despite Tommy Kelly re-structuring his contract, the Pats still have two big question marks inside their defensive line. There is some young depth there, with Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones and Armond Armstead, but the Pats should get active in the free-agency market once Wilfork is released, and they'll likely draft a defensive tackle as well.

Elsewhere on the roster, there is still room to improve some of those currently atop their depth chart and the Pats very well might do so in the coming days. However, there's little doubt they'll be able to attack the draft board in search of the best-value picks that fit their team and not have to reach on players because they have big needs left to fill.

The problem with needs is that they are always fluid and needs in April are "very needs" in December, when things matter most.

Instead, the Patriots are about maximizing value on players who fit their system in the draft, regardless if they are pressing needs at draft time or not. Eventually every position will be one of need, but players who fit the Patriots system and style of play are not always easy to come by or find, especially midseason when injuries strike.


Mike Dussault is a Patriots Featured Columnist and writes