What Offseason Decisions Are Next for Patriots with the Draft Complete
While June and July's decisions might not be as hard as deciding who to pick in the first round, they may ultimately play a much bigger role in the outcome of the 2014 season. Personnel groupings, roster makeup, self-scouting...these things win championships.
Here are the five most pressing decisions that will be weighing on Belichick's mind this offseason.
Is Another Veteran Tight End Needed?
Rob Gronkowski's injury history has been pretty gruesome as of late, while Michael Hoomanawanui is never going to be a dynamic presence on offense. Next on the depth chart are D.J. Williams and a few undrafted free agents.
While Asa Watson and Justin Jones—a 6'8" behemoth who looks lost on the football field—have a chance to make the roster, Zach Sudfeld's ultimate demise in 2013 should serve as a cautionary tale for counting on undrafted rookies being looked on as key players instead of pleasant surprises.
Instead, revisiting a veteran such as Dustin Keller should be a priority. He can fill the coveted "move" tight end role and has shown the savvy for picking up an NFL offense. If Tom Brady and Belichick could somehow bring Tony Gonzalez out of retirement for one more year, that would be quite the coup.
Who Starts at Safety?
The New England Patriots have a glut of talent at cornerback. So much so that rookie phenom Logan Ryan might be changing positions, moving to safety specifically, just to get him on the field.
Devin McCourty has one position filled—he can play either free or strong safety—but Ryan is no shoo-in for the second spot. Duron Harmon filled in well for an injured Steve Gregory last season and should only look better after a full offseason in the program.
Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner might have somewhat of a say in the competition, but their time has ultimately run out.
A dark horse in the proceedings is the newly re-signed Pat Chung. He didn't perform well in the previous scheme for New England, but playing behind Darrelle Revis can reinvigorate just about anyone. Cutting down the amount of field that Chung is responsible for will play to his strengths.
Who Starts Inside on the Offensive Line?
Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and even Logan Mankins have had better seasons. Wendell and Connolly were two of the worst offensive linemen in the league, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), while Mankins' pass protection wasn't up to par.
Mankins' contract makes him safe, but Wendell and Connolly should be looking over their shoulder. Marcus Cannon showed some promise at both tackle and guard in 2013, while the New England Patriots drafted two potential starters in the 2014 NFL draft. Bryan Stork will challenge Wendell for the center position, while Jon Halapio has an outside shot at challenging Connolly and Cannon for the right guard position.
Protecting Brady and opening up holes for Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen is key for New England's offense. Whomever is given the starting job will need to perform, or there are plenty of players waiting to take their job.
Who Is the Odd Man Out at Wide Receiver?
While there isn't a Calvin Johnson on the New England Patriots' roster, the depth at the position is going to create a lot of competition.
Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola have all but locked up their spots on the roster, but the next three or four—if you include Matthew Slater as a receiver—are up for grabs. Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins, Brandon LaFell, Jeremy Gallon and Mark Harrison all will have their say in who gets to catch passes from Brady this season.
LaFell's versatility—he can play "X", "Y" or in the slot—will likely earn him a spot, and Boyce's speed can't be duplicated on the roster. That leaves one more position to fill.
The decision between Thompkins, Gallon and Harrison will likely come down to the offensive scheme that Josh McDaniels wants to run, the health of the player and their progression with the playbook.
If I had to guess, I think that Gallon's return ability and football smarts will earn him the sixth spot.
Do They Have Enough Pass-Rushers?
Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich combined for nearly 50 percent of the pressure generated by the New England Patriots last season. A healthy Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly will help, but is that enough?
Andre Carter is likely hanging up his cleats after a disappointing season in 2013, Jake Bequette has been a major bust, and Michael Buchanan faded after a strong start to his rookie season.
The New England Patriots added Dominique Easley—an interior disruptor—and Zach Moore—who plays on the edge—in the 2014 NFL draft. While Easley can be counted on to bring some production when he regains his full health following an ACL tear last season, Moore has a big jump to make from Concordia College.
If Belichick can't find a way to generate consistent pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, that shiny new defensive backfield will wilt after five seconds of covering NFL receivers.
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