Hindsight Is 20/20: Grading the New England Patriots' 2009 Offseason

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IMarch 26, 2010

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on from the sideline during the second quarter of the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Gillette Stadium on September 27, 2009 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

People always say that it's impossible to tell how a team performs in the offseason through trades, free agency, and the draft until the season's over.

2010 is no different, so there's no purpose in discussing that now.

Instead, let's take a look back a year at the New England Patriots' offseason moves in 2009 and see how they did.

Trade: D

The Patriots traded away Richard Seymour for the Raiders' first-round pick in 2011. They'll finally reap the benefit of that trade next year, but they sorely missed the pass rush he provided in 2008 and the veteran leadership he's provided for a long time.

They'd hoped that there would be some gas left in the 31-year-old tank of Derrick Burgess, but he didn't translate well as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme, and they only got five sacks in 14 games out of the former pass-rush monster.

The Patriots felt they could afford to waste a 2010 third-round draft pick on Tampa Bay tight end Alex Smith, but having cutting him before Week One of the 2009 season, I'm sure that's one pick the Pats' front office wishes they could have back.

Likewise, they gave up a fifth-round pick for Greg Lewis, a receiver they cut before Week One, and a 2010 seventh-round pick.

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Free Agency: B

The Patriots picked up former Jaguars running back Fred Taylor in day one of free agency in 2009. He was kept out by an injury for much of the season but ran for four touchdowns in six games, two in the finale at Houston, so he could be back with a vengeance next year if he can stay healthy.

Brandon McGowan, safety, was all over the field with 71 tackles, 51 of them solo, and three forced fumbles. McGowan will likely fight for time with second-round pick Patrick Chung in 2010 but is much more stout in run defense than Chung is.

Tight end Chris Baker contributed to New England's passing attack, though not mightily. His 14 receptions and two touchdowns were good stats by his standards, but not good enough for New England; they cut him on day one of roster moves in 2010.

Mike Wright was re-signed and brought in five sacks in 16 games, nine of which were starts. That was tops among defensive tackles. He started nine games, some of which were at defensive end, so he has the flexibility to play from anywhere on New England's line. He'll be asked to do that again this year.

Of course, when former Pats outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain hit the free agent market last year, Bill Belichick was eager to reacquaint himself with the former seventh-round draft pick.

The Patriots certainly made a wise choice here; can you imagine the questions there'd be about the pass rush without Banta-Cain's 10 sacks last year? They showed exactly where they'd be by giving him a three-year contract worth $13 million.

Where would they be without Leigh Bodden's five interceptions? The seventh-year corner also played his way into a nice contract from New England.

The only factors that drag down New England's "score" are Joey Galloway and Shawn Springs. Galloway was brought into New England as a complementary option to stretch the field opposite Randy Moss. He left New England two weeks into the season as a washed-up receiver with a bad case of the drops.

Springs, meanwhile, was exposed for his age and history of injuries. He only played in 12 games and split starts with Jonathan Wilhite. He may not even be back for 2010.

Draft: C

The Patriots traded out of the first round in an effort to add inexpensive young depth to their aging roster. Although they could have used that pick to land Clay Matthews, OLB out of USC, who racked up 10 sacks on the quarterback, the draft doesn't look entirely bad in the rear-view. They got a lot of talented situational backups that could catch on.

They picked up safety Patrick Chung, defensive tackle Ron Brace, defensive back Darius Butler, and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer in the second round. All prospects developed nicely down the stretch, but none (less Vollmer) appear ready to accept a starting role, with noticeable gaps and weaknesses in each player's game.

Chung needs to step up in run defense. His small frame makes him susceptible to power backs. If he can bulk up a bit, he'll be a good safety in all situations, but until then, he's not a three-down safety.

In stark contrast, Brace played in only five games last year and may need to trim his enormous 334-pound frame before he sees serious time on the line. The flexibility displayed by Wilfork last year (the Pro Bowler played end in several games) could mean more snaps for Brace.

Butler tallied three picks and a touchdown but also had no starts and played mostly in nickel situations. He'll get a chance to step up this year, though, with Springs likely to be cut.

Vollmer started eight games protecting Tom Brady's right side and played in 14, as he filled in for the oft-injured Nick Kaczur. Many suspected Vollmer would supplant him as the starter, and that could be the case, but New England still owes Kaczur three years at $4 million per year.

The rest of their selections were plagued by injury or pushed down the depth chart by incumbent starters. The only exceptions are long snapper Jake Ingram and wide receiver Julian Edelman. Ingram was the team's designated long snapper after the departure of Patriots staple Lonnie Paxson.

Edelman, the college quarterback, played in the slot while Wes Welker was injured at both the beginning and end of the season. He flashed brilliance with an admirable two-touchdown performance in an embarrassing 33-14 defeat by Baltimore in the Wild Card round.

There are a few bright spots to look forward to this year, and others that could develop down the stretch, but many players may wind up as backups for the foreseeable future.

Overall: C-

The Pats looked a bit shakier in the 2009 offseason than in years past, when they dominated all three phases with straight-A's. They seemed to have the key to never-ending success.

Their talent evaluation was second-to-none in those years, and they seemed to replace the parts to their machine just as quickly as they lost them.

They found a lot of talented depth in last year's draft and a couple of legitimate starters in free agency.

The Patriots were an anomaly all year long, though, and proved they didn't belong in the playoffs this past year. They need to stay on the right track this offseason if they want to get back to where they once belonged.

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