New England Patriots' Remaining Post-Draft Priority List

Kristopher KnoxFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2017

New England Patriots' Remaining Post-Draft Priority List

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    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    The New England Patriots only made four picks during the entire 2017 NFL draft. Those selections yielded two developmental pass-rushers and two developmental offensive linemen.

    That doesn't seem overly impressive, but when you factor in what else the Patriots got through the draft, it's hard to say they didn't hit a home run.

    Instead of drafting players who have yet to play in the NFL, New England used its high draft picks to acquire players with proven pro talent. Essentially, the team's 2017 draft class also includes wideout Brandin Cooks, defensive end Kony Ealy, tight end Dwayne Allen, tight end James O'Shaughnessy and running back Mike Gillislee.

    These are players who can contribute immediately. When you add in free-agent additions like cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, it seems the Patriots' roster is set up well for another Super Bowl run.

    Of course, this doesn't mean New England is finished with offseason work. There are still things to do to prepare for the upcoming season and beyond. We'll examine that to-do list here.

Sort out the Receiver Depth Chart

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    The addition of Cooks gives quarterback Tom Brady perhaps his first true home-run threat at wideout since the days of Randy Moss. However, it also gives New England an abundance or riches at the position that could be difficult to sort through.

    Cooks will be one of the team's starting wideouts on the outside. Julian Edelman will likely be the other—except for when the team is in three- and four-receiver sets. Edelman will likely kick inside to the slot when multiple receivers are on the field.

    So where do the other receiver roles fall? The team also has Chris Hogan—last year's deep threat—Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Matthew Slater at the position. This is without considering the use of running backs Dion Lewis and James White at receiver.

    My guess is that Hogan and Mitchell will both see their fair share of playing time when Edelman is in the slot. Slater will remain a core special teams player, and Amendola will be freed to focus more on his role as the team's returner.

    Every receiver on the roster is going to have a role in 2017, but defining them is something the Patriots will need to do between now and September.

Extend Malcolm Butler

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Malcolm Butler wasn't happy early in the offseason when the team chose to give a five-year, $65 million free-agent contract to Stephon Gilmore rather than extend the starting cornerback.

    For a while, it seemed like Butler was on his way out of New England, either via trade or manipulation of his restricted free-agent situation.

    Butler has since signed hit RFA tender with New England and, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, he has shown up for voluntary workouts. This suggests that the player isn't all that unhappy with his current situation after all.

    If Butler is all-in with the Patriots for this season, the team should really consider getting an extension done before the season opens in September. This is a guy who was rated fifth overall among cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus last season. It makes a lot of sense to keep him around for the next several years.

    Getting a deal done now would prevent any sort of contract cloud from hanging over Butler during the 2017 season. It would also give New England one less thing to worry about heading into next offseason.

Get a Handle on Jimmy Garoppolo's Future

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    The Patriots made it through the draft and Jimmy Garoppolo is still on the roster. The most coveted backup in all of professional sports should now spend the 2017 season in New England.

    The next step for the Patriots, however, is to figure out if he is worth keeping around beyond 2017 and at what price. The team has already decided he is valuable—hence the fact he wasn't traded away during the draft—but is he worth keeping next season on a high-dollar deal or the franchise tag?

    This is something New England may be able to determine over the next few months, based on Garoppolo's work and performance in OTAs and training camp. His continued development will be key here.

    "He's getting better and better. I mean, he's learning from the best one (Brady), and he works hard and he's getting better," safety Patrick Chung said, per Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald. "He's always been good. Now, he can be a guy. Hopefully he keeps that going."

    Many might not see this as a priority because the Patriots have a whole year to figure this out, right? Well, getting a handle on Garoppolo's future now would yield many benefits.

    For one, the team would be able to tailor its offseason to fit the future. If Garoppolo is the future at quarterback, use training camp and the preseason to develop him. If he isn't, focus on preparing Jacoby Brissett to take over the backup role.

    Figuring things out now would also allow the Patriots to potentially trade Garoppolo before the start of the season if there is an injury elsewhere in the league. The Philadelphia Eagles got a first- and a fourth-round pick for Sam Bradford before the start of the 2016 season. What might New England get for a guy who seemed to be worth a first-rounder during the draft?

    Assuming Brady stays healthy and Garoppolo doesn't see the field during the regular season, the next few months might be the only chance the Patriots have to determine if Garoppolo should be handed an extension before next offseason.

Hold a Competition at Left Guard

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    The Patriots didn't select a true guard during draft weekend, choosing instead to focus on depth at offensive tackle—Antonio Garcia and Conor McDermott were the picks there. This makes sense because starting left tackle Nate Solder is set to become a free agent next offseason.

    However, the Patriots should bring in some competition for second-year guard Joe Thuney during training camp. While we have to recognize that Thuney was a rookie last season, he was also the lone weak spot on an otherwise-steady offensive line.

    Pro Football Focus rated Thuney 138th overall among all guards and credited him with allowing 32 quarterback pressures.

    There aren't a ton of options for the left guard spot, but guys like Jamil Douglas, Chase Farris and undrafted free agent Jason Douglas should be allowed to compete for the starting job. It would make sense to add a seasoned free agent to the mix as well.

    Even if Thuney ultimately retains the gig, the competition should drive him to be a better player in Year 2.

Sort out the Backfield

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    To be fair, the Patriots have taken a committee approach to their backfield for the last couple of years. However, bruising back LeGarrette Blount has held the role of primary rusher during that span. Now he is out and New England is looking at a true committee behind the line.

    White and Lewis return as New England's utility backs/pass-catchers. In the offseason, the team added Gillislee and former Cincinnati Bengals man Rex Burkhead. Now the team needs to spend the next few months carving out roles for each individual player.

    Someone is going to have to take on the role of primary rusher that was vacated by Blount. Though neither back was heavily utilized in their previous stops, Burkhead and Gillislee seem best suited to split that role.

    Gillislee knows that he can't replicate what Blount did, though he's willing to try.

    "His physicality, and what he brings to the table, is something that I bring to the table," Gillislee said, per Brendan C. Hall of ESPN.com. "But I wouldn't compare myself to him. We're just here to just better this football team and continue winning games."

    Gillislee and the rest of New England's backs can expect to win plenty of games in 2017, but sorting out the running back room will help make winning a bit easier for the team as a whole.