With the season long gone and free agency and the draft coming up quickly, it makes sense to examine the needs of the Patriots.
This team was exposed as quite flawed as the 2009 season progressed, and filling its numerous needs is a daunting task indeed. However, should things go well this offseason, the Patriots could position themselves for a solid run at the Lombardi.
To this effect, each unit of this team must be examined for deficiencies—small cracks that could become huge problems as the 2010 season wears on.
Tom Brady is, of course, the entrenched starter here, and it wouldn't be sensible or even sane to argue otherwise. Although he did come down quite a bit from his otherworldly highs of 2007, his past campaign was a relatively good one, especially considering the extent of his knee injury.
The real need here is depth. Brian Hoyer played remarkably well in spot duty throughout the season (doubly so, considering he was an undrafted rookie). If Brady sustains a serious injury, though, it'd be nice to have a QB with more than garbage time on his NFL resume.
Recommendation: Sign a low-cost veteran during free agency to provide a viable option at backup.
Though the multi-headed hydra of Laurence Maroney, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor and BenJarvus Green-Ellis didn't garner much attention, they combined to give the Pats a fairly decent year-end total. New England finished 12th in the league in terms of rushing yardage, a fairly decent total considering this was a pass-first team.
The problem here was the tough yardage—the Pats had no back who could be relied upon to pick up third and one situations. It's no surprise, then, that the Pats chose to pass on their most memorable play of the season: the Indianapolis fourth-and-two.
Maroney remains a question mark. He again showed his promise in 2009, and again screwed everything up by failing to hold onto the ball. However tantalizing Maroney might be, it's time to look at a more permanent solution at running back.
Recommendation: Look for a back in the draft, but not necessarily in the early rounds. If a talented back's draft stock slips, the Pats would be an excellent landing place.
Looking back, the failure of the Joey Galloway experiment probably hurt the Patriots more than it seemed at the time. The fact that he was unable to integrate himself into the offense really left the team without a viable option for a third receiver.
Add that to the fact that Welker (perhaps the second-most valuable man on the offense) has been seriously injured and may not start the season, and receiver looks more and more like a position of need for the Pats.
Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate are intriguing young talent, but counting on production from both is rather iffy. David Patten is at the other end of his career and cannot be depended upon to be a regular contributor.
Recommendation: There are a number of free agents out there that could help. Even some of the restricted free agents (Brandon Marshall, Vincent Jackson, Miles Austin) could be tempting, depending on the tenders offered them.
Ben Watson had a decent, if not especially memorable year. Often, he served as the third option in the Pats' passing game, a role that shouldn't be forced upon him. He's an unrestricted free agent, and the Patriots will have to decide if they want to re-sign the former first rounder.
Chris Baker didn't have much of an impact in the passing game, but he brought a run-blocking presence that had been missing ever since Daniel Graham went to the Broncos.
Recommendation: Status quo. It would make sense to sign Watson, and continue with the position as is.
Stealthily aging, this unit seemed to have some serious issues in the 2009 season.
Of course, it's difficult to tell if defensive players were getting to Brady because of poor protection or quarterback indecision, but bolstering the line makes sense. Guard Logan Mankins and tackle Sebastian Vollmer are the only starters under 30 years old, so youth would be nice.
Vollmer, a second-round pick last year, looked excellent when playing in relief of Matt Light, and it seems likely he'll start at right tackle.
Recommendation: Seek help in the draft.