While the 2009-2010 season wasn't a failure for the Patriots, it definitely did not end the way anybody would have liked. After a season-long struggle on the road and against playoff-caliber teams, the Patriots were bounced from the first round of the playoffs in embarrassing fashion, losing to the Baltimore Ravens 33-14.
Thankfully, it is time to look forward. There were definitely some holes in the starting lineups on both sides of the ball that need to be addressed this offseason. With the No. 22 overall pick in the upcoming draft and three second-round picks, the draft is definitely one way the team will look to fill the holes.
One of the biggest issues last year was the defensive front seven. Sure, LB Jerod Mayo is a stud and was named captain in only his second season in the league. Obviously DTs Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren are monsters who eat running backs alive if they venture too close to the middle of the line.
But other than those two guys, there really wasn't too much to be positive about. LB Adalius Thomas virtually played his way out of the organization, even if he hadn't spoken to the media, which is another story for another day.
LBs Gary Guyton, Tully Banta-Cain, and Pierre Woods had strong campaigns for their price tags. Unfortunately, they are not exactly starting caliber, especially in the AFC East with the improving New York Jets. Banta-Cain and Woods are both free agents this year and at least Banta Cain has been given free reign to test the waters.
Don't get me wrong. These guys were not expected to start or play as much as they did. They deserve credit for how well they played especially at the bargain rates they played for. It is just tough to run a competitive 3-4 defense with them and a 40-year-old Junior Seau, whom the Pats pulled off of a surfboard and put into a uniform.
The Patriots need some leadership help and help up the middle for Mayo. Gary Brackett and Karlos Dansby are both big names that the Patriots could make a push for, along with Kirk Morrison. The snag with these guys is they are all restricted free-agents and it would cost the Patriots a draft pick each in order to sign them, that is if they are tendered a contract by their respective teams.
As far as the D-Line, there are some bigger issues. After the Richard Seymour trade that shipped him to Oakland, Derrick Burgess was the only player left on the roster listed as a defensive end. Vince Wilfork was franchise tagged again, which he said would be a "slap in the face." Thankfully it was just a precautionary measure and Wilfork and the Patriots are working towards a contract.
While defensive linemen Derrick Burgess and Jarvis Green played fairly well, but they are both free agents this year. Rookie DT Myron Pryor had a fairly decent rookie campaign in reserve but can't exactly be expected to start or play a full 16 games just yet.
Mike Wright had a career year, recording 48 tackles, but no offense to a guy that works his butt off, he can't be considered a starter if the Pats want to contend for the AFC East title.
Just in case some of you have been living under a rock or locked in your basement, I'll throw this out there: Julius Peppers is available. His price tag, however, will probably be somewhere between very high and astronomical. On top of that, it will cost a hefty sum of draft picks in order to get him under contract, and the Chicago Bears look like they are adamant about getting him signed. While crazier things have happened, do not get too excited about this guy coming to Foxborough just yet, regardless of what the rumors have been saying.
The defensive end section of free agency looks to be pretty thin outside of Peppers, so look for the Pats to address this issue in the deep DL talent in the draft. Speculation is that Clemson DE Ricky Sapp is one hybrid DE/OLB that the Patriots could have interest in. Also, Southern California's Everson Griffin and Michigan's Brandon Graham are two names the Patriots could look at.
The defensive backs have been an up and down rollercoaster since the 2004 championship team. Players have come and gone, been drafted and traded, and lost to free agency. Last year was obviously no different. Ellis Hobbs got shipped to Philadelphia for two fifth round picks and the team added Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden.
It looks like Leigh Bodden is heading out of town already via free agency and there have been whispers that Springs is unsure whether or not he is going to continue playing or retire. If those two players leave, Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite, both entering their third year in the league, would be the two most experienced CBs on the roster.
The other two CBs the Patriots have under contract if Springs calls it a career are Darius Butler, who had a solid rookie campaign last season, and Kyle Arrington who was mostly a practice-squad player.
Fortunately, the safety position seems to be pretty solid. Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders, Brandon McGowan, and Patrick Chung looked shaky at times. But with more experience and a season working together under their belts, this is one position the Patriots can relax on. That is unless something too good to be true is dropped into their laps.
The draft is very strong defensively, but the DB position is not especially strong this year. Usually finding CBs is something that Belichick does via free agency, so don't look for anything different this year. Some of the bigger names that are expected to be free agents are Antonio Cromartie, Dre' Bly, and Dunta Robinson to name a few.
This should prove to be a very interesting offseason for the Patriots as far as defense goes. Either way, the top priority should be re-signing Vince Wilfork. He was the heart and soul of the D-Line and pretty much the defense as a whole. Not to mention re-signing him will show players across the league that the Patriots are serious about talent and keeping players happy again, which is how Belichick got so many players interested in coming to New England to win three Super Bowls.
Check back soon for the offensive installment...