All dynasties must come to an end. Perhaps it already has for the Patriots.
Perhaps Bill Belichick can make up for future losses, but losses of key players could spell the end of the Patriots' dominance.
That's a lot to say for a team that has won the Super Bowl without Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren, Ty Law, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Randy Moss, Lawyer Milloy, and practically every great player the Patriots have had besides Tom Brady.
Belichick has made up for free agent losses in the past, but the Patriots free agent class of 2010 is a strong one.
Following next season, the Patriots could lose guard Logan Mankins, defensive end Richard Seymour, and linebacker Mike Vrabel.
All of them have been Pro Bowlers and no ammount of cap space can retain all of them.
Mankins was arguably the MVP of the Patriots offense this past season, as his exceptional pass protection helped Matt Cassel make decisions. Cassel started out with a very slow release and the pass protection of the Patriots offensive line gave him a lot of time in the pocket.
Mankins was the most consistent offensive lineman this season. He made the Pro Bowl in 2007 and played at a Pro Bowl level in 2008.
Wilfork has been the cornerstone of the Patriots defense for two seasons on a Patriots defensive line that is arguably the best in football.
Seymour has been nothing to sneeze at either. He sacked quarterbacks eight times in the past year, very impressive for a defensive end in a 3-4 defense.
Vrabel has aged like wine. He accomplished a career-high 13 sacks in 2007 and is still a decent pass rusher at 33 years. He can play outside linebacker, inside linebacker, and tight end.
The Patriots can franchise one of these players next offseason and it will be difficult for them to set their priorities on who they apply the franchise tag to.
Vrabel is most likely out of the equasion due to his age.
However, it will be nearly impossible to retain Mankins, Wilfork and Seymour while staying under the salary cap.
The Patriots have a history of letting go of players that will cash in on free agency, but surely they will try to retain at least two of those players.
Another reason for a possible decline in the Patriots is Brady's health.
There have been conflicting reports of Brady's progress in recovery. Some have said there's a chance he could miss 2009 completely, while other reports state recovery is going as expected.
But a full recovery is not certain for Brady, who has been the constant superstar of the dynasty, but he may never be the same.
Next season could decide the rest of Brady's career. Will he be the same player or will his injury hurt the rest of his career?
All great reigns of dominance have to stop sometime. The Patriots may be great for much longer, but next season and next offseason will be the deciding factors.
Belichick is a genius, but the possible losses of great players may be too much for even him to recover from.