The dust has settled. The New England Patriots are Super Bowl 51 champs and have now won two Super Bowls in three years. I know the season just ended and the duck boats have not even started their engines yet, but this Patriots team has a TON of questions, whether it be trading key guys or letting others walk in free agency. Without further ado, its on to the offseason...
Dont'a Hightower, MLB:
2016 Stats: 13 games, 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 safety, 1 forced fumble
Hightower will be back. He has to be. Regardless of the price, which will likely exceed Jame Collins' average annual value, a deal needs to get done. Hightower is the leader of the defense and has singlehandedly started the comeback in two straight Super Bowls. Even if the Patriots do not extend Hightower to a long-term deal, they still have the ability to place the franchise tag on him. Make no mistake about it, he will be back.
Martellus Bennett, TE:
2016 Stats: 16 games, 55 receptions, 701 yards, 7 touchdowns
The man is going to get his money. While Bennett may not have had his best year statistically, he showed he could play injured and be the #1 option on a Super Bowl winning team after Rob Gronkowski went down for the season. Bennett made some big catches and can block with the best tight ends in the league, which was something that was suspect in his game prior to his time in New England. The Patriots could place the franchise tag on him, which would be less than if they place it on Hightower, but Bennett wants his money and I am not sure he will get fair market value in New England.
Alan Branch, DT:
2016 Stats: 16 games, 49 tackles, 1.5 sacks
Branch had a phenomenal 2016 season and was able to stop almost any running attack that was thrown the Patriots' way. Traditional nose tackles don't get paid like edge rushers or linebackers, plus the big man is 32 years old. If I am Branch, I come back to the Patriots. They gave him a shot and he has succeeded beyond his expectations. Like Blount, the Patriots simply seem like the best fit for him.
LeGarrette Blount, RB:
2016 Stats: 299 attempts, 1,161 yards, 18 touchdowns
The 30-year-old power running back had a career-high in carries, yards and touchdowns after coming back on a short-term deal because of an injury-plagued 2015 season. However, the Patriots have let it be known that they could give a rat's ass about this position and already have James White and Dion Lewis. That being said, Blount gives the Patriots a unique blend of size and speed that I would not hate returning for the 2017 season.
Logan Ryan, CB:
2016 Stats: 16 games, 92 tackles, 11 passes deflected, 2 interceptions
Similar to Martellus Bennet, Logan Ryan is going to get PAID. However, there is a legitimate conversation as to whether he is worth the money he is likely to receive. Sure, Ryan has played a high level of football with the New England Patriots, but he is not worthy of the franchise tag or #1 cornerback money. Will the Patriots let Ryan walk and hope Eric Rowe blossoms into a #2 cornerback? Will the Patriots draft a corner high in this draft? This is one of the more fascinating storylines to watch.
Duron Harmon, S:
2016 Stats: 16 games, 29 tackles, 2 passes deflected, 1 interception
Duron Harmon has been bullied in his time in New England for not playing great, but he has been an intricate part to this team the past couple of seasons. Harmon is one of those guys on the Patriots that would be sorely missed if they let him walk. He may not get all the sexy numbers, similar to Devin McCourty, but he gets the job done. I think Harmon will be back next season.
Jabaal Sheard, DE/OLB:
2016 Stats: 15 games, 33 tackles, 5 sacks, 4 passes deflected
This is a VERY interesting player in a unique situation. Sheard was benched this season and many believe it was because he wanted a new contract. Since his benching, Sheard was playing an elite level of football, including registering a sack in the Super Bowl. I don't think the Patriots will pay out of the nose for Sheard, but if Chris Long and Rob Ninkovich retire, which is a real possibility, the Patriots will be extremely thin at this position. It may be a necessary evil to re-sign Sheard.
James Develin, FB:
2016 Stats: 16 games, 3 receptions, 18 yards
This is a no-brainer. As good as Blount played this season, he was equally as bad last season, and that is because of James Develin. The Patriots are able to run the ball effectively, especially in goal line sets, because of this player.
Michael Floyd, WR:
2016 Stats: 15 games, 37 receptions, 488 yards, 5 touchdowns
Again, a very interesting player. Floyd has the raw ability to be a #1 option, but his off the field issues has completely derailed his career. If Floyd takes cheap money, I could see the Patriots keeping him, especially if Danny Amendola isn't on this team next year.
Barkevious Mingo, LB:
2016 Stats: 16 games, 11 tackles
I love Mingo. He is a physical specimen and reminds me a lot of Jame Collins. He wasn't used on the defensive side of the football much, but he was a great special teamer when on the field. With another year of football under his belt, perhaps he could develop into a decent linebacker. This isn't an important signing, or lack thereof.
Possible Trade Targets
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB:
2016 Stats: 6 games, 68.3% completion, 502 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 INT, 113.3 passer rating
I am sure we will be writing about this later in the week, but prior to Super Bowl 51, it was announced that the Patriots believe Brady will play 3-5 more years and they will get a contract extension done by next offseason. You know what that means? Bye bye, Jimmy. Look for the Bears, Browns and 49ers to make a big push for Garoppolo before the draft.
Rob Gronkowski, TE:
2016 Stats: 8 games, 25 receptions, 540 yards, 3 touchdowns
I am absolutely not in favor of trading Gronk, especially if it is not a vast overpayment for his services. However, Bill Belichick would not be doing his job if he did not answer calls on every one of his players, including Gronk. Should they trade Gronk? Probably not. Should they explore the possibility of life without Gronk? Absolutely.
Chris Long, DE:
2016 Stats: 16 games, 35 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 passes deflected
Chris Long has let it be known that retirement is on his mind and the sole reason he signed with the Patriots was because he wanted to win a Super Bowl. Now that he has accomplished this goal, could we see Long hang up his cleats and shoulder pads for good? It wouldn't surprise me.
Rob Ninkovich, DE/OLB:
2016 Stats: 12 games, 32 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 passes deflected
Ninkovich is in a very similar situation as Chris Long. He is on the wrong side of 30 and has dealt with multiple injuries in his career. Ninkovich went from being an undrafted free agent to a two-time Super Bowl champion. Could he be thinking of retirement now?
Danny Amendola, WR:
2016 Stats: 12 games, 23 receptions, 243 yards, 4 touchdowns
Amendola has taken multiple restructured contracts and extensions. He has done his time as a Patriot and has become one of Tom Brady's most reliable targets. However, nobody would look down on Danny if he wants to get some more money as his career starts to dwindle. With the emergence of Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell, as well as the Michael Floyd question, it would not be out of the realm of possibility if Amendola isn't with the team as they hoist the banner in 2017.
Stephen Gostkowski, K:
2016 Stats: 16 games, 27-32 (84.4%), 53 long, 46-49 XP (93.9%)
You could also put Gostkowski in the Trade Targets piece. Look, Gostkowski has been one of the best kickers in franchise history. He is right in the conversation with Adam Vinateri for what he has done in the regular season. However, the difference between Vinateri and Gostkowski is the postseason. When the going gets tough, Gostkowski's sphincter tightens WAY UP. Like Gronk, I'm not saying they should do anything with Gostkowski, but missing an extra point in the Super Bowl is unacceptable.