What the Patriots have been able to do this offseason has been truly incredible. With a number of key players slated to hit free agency, many thought he Patriots may take a step back. No, I don't think anyone thought they would go 9-7 or 10-6 and sneak into the playoffs, but it was not unreasonable to think the team may not go 14-2 again and railroad their way to another Super Bowl.
However, that has all changed.
The Patriots were able to bolster up their defensive line, add one of the most prolific receivers in all of football to Tom Brady's bag of magical goodies, and now feature arguably the best secondary in all of football. What has your team done this offseason?
However, there is still room to improve, and I believe the Patriots are going to make a concerted effort to address every need as the careers of Brady and Bill Belichick start to wind down.
First and foremost, the Patriots need to address the situations surrounding linebacker Dont'a Hightower and Malcolm Butler. Hightower was the captain on defense this past season and, while his numbers may not always show it, completely changed the way the Patriots operate. His injury-plagued history is a huge concern for the Patriots, but he needs to be given a fair market deal. When talking about true inside linebackers in the NFL, the two best players that come to mind are Hightower and Luke Kuechly. Kuechley's deal puts him in the neighborhood of $12 million per season, which I think would be a great number for Hightower. If the Patriots could swing a 4-year, $50 million deal with $30 million guaranteed, I think Hightower would come back to New England to continue to win Super Bowls.
Now lets talk about Malcolm Butler. Simply put, the kid is frustrated and rightfully so. He has done absolutely everything the Patriots have asked of him, and then the team goes out and signs a Buffalo freakin' Bill to one of the largest contracts to Patriots history. Butler is a small town kid that has a rookie agent. Maybe they are demanding the moon and the Patriots are just playing it safe. Maybe Butler doesn't want to sign an extension and wants to test the waters when he becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season. Nobody knows.
This is just my two cents, but I think Butler wants to be paid like an unrestricted free agent right now, and the Patriots are trying to milk a few more bucks out of him because of that restricted tag. In his career, Butler has not made more than a couple million bucks, if that. If the Patriots were to offer him a deal similar to the one I mentioned above for Dont'a Hightower at 4-years, $50 million with more than half guaranteed, are you trying to tell me neither side would be ecstatic with that?
Nonetheless, I digress. I believe both those situations will work themselves out. Hightower should be back in New England, as I think he got a reality check when he realized his market wasn't as big as he previously thought, and Butler isn't going anywhere unless someone signs him to an offer sheet, which means they are giving up their first round pick, or the Patriots trade him, which makes zero sense for them to do.
Lets talk about the other needs surrounding this Patriots team. For me, I see four minor needs for this team as we head deeper into the offseason and the draft.
First, the Patriots need to address the running back position. I don't know if the Patriots are going to re-sign LeGarrette Blount, who many assumed was out the door, but a big bruising back is needed to compliment Dion Lewis and James White. This can be addressed in the later rounds of the draft, as these types of players grow on trees. However, having Lewis and White back there is no guarantee in a 16-game season. Just get another warm body.
Second, the Patriots need some depth at linebacker. After trading away Jame Collins, the Patriots became quite thin at the position. Even if Hightower is re-signed, I would like to see the Patriots get another player that can make a decent-sized impact on the team. Hightower's health is always a question, and I am not sure how comfortable I feel having Elandon Roberts, Shea McClellin, and Kyle Van Noy taking a ton of snaps.
Third, I think the Patriots still need some help on the edge. Now, it would be incredible if the Patriots were able to trade Jimmy Garoppolo to the Cleveland Browns for that #1 overall draft pick and New England then uses it to snag Myles Garrett, but lets stay out of fantasy land. Without a first- or second-round pick, the Patriots may make a move to slide up a little in the draft because this class is so deep at the position. However, there are veterans out there that could make an impact on this team. With $34 million in cap space, the Patriots can overspend a little on a veteran to ensure he comes to New England.
Lastly, I'd like the Patriots to draft or sign a reclamation project with their third tight end spot. I know, this isn't a big deal, but Rob Gronkowski is not getting any healthier or younger. Furthermore, the guy you just brought in to replace Martellus Bennett, Dwayne Allen, has had quite a few injury concerns for himself. I would love if the Patriots used one of their picks in the middle of the draft to grab a guy like Jake Butt. If it wasn't for the knee injury, Butt would be projected as one of the best tight ends in this draft. Like defensive end, tight end is an extremely deep class in this draft, so the Patriots can stand pat with their picks and grab a good player.