What is the deal with the New England Patriots? Since the start of free agency, division rivals such as the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets have made moves to acquire impact players, while the Patriots have been silent in the marketplace. Instead the team opted to resolve an internal issue - re-signed Vince Wilfork to a long term deal. Now, Vince Wilfork earned his big contract, but he was the least of the team's problems last year. The Patriots also inexplicably re-signed 33 year old right guard Stephen Neal to an extension. Neal underperformed last year and is injured every year, so the purpose of that signing is questionable.
The Jets acquisition of the talented Antonio Cromartie gives them the best pair of starting cornerbacks in the NFL. Cromartie may not be much of a tackler and has some child support issues off the field, but he can cover receivers. as can Jets star CB Darelle Revis. The Dolphins signed middle linebacker Karlos Dansby. Dansby is productive and would've looked great next to Patriots LB Jerod Mayo in the team's 3-4 scheme.
Do the Patriots realize that this is an uncapped year? The last five years of bargain hunting for 'value" has not worked out. Memo to the Krafts and Bill Belichick - you are no longer the smartest guys in the room. While you've been busy patting yourselves on the back for past success, the rest of the league has caught up to you.
The Patriots have both drafted poorly and misfired on free agents since 2005. I'm not asking that they turn their operation into one similar to Dan Snyder's in Washington, but a change in their philosophy needs to occur. It hasn't worked for a while now.
The team's biggest areas of need are as follows: pass rusher, wide receiver, tight end, interior offensive lineman, running back, inside linebacker.
I would like to see the Patriots put more emphasis on the offensive line. As a group, the team's OL is ok. QB Tom Brady was hit a lot last season and spent the second half of the season banged up. This group can't handle speed rushers or consistent defensive pressure. Sebastian Vollmer is a stud and Logan Mankins is a Pro Bowler and one of the best guards in the NFL I'm not a big fan of C Dan Koppen and RG Stephen Neal. Koppen can be manhandled by big nose tackles and the Patriots have difficulty running the ball, unless it is a draw play. Matt Light would be better off playing right tackle, where he'd be decent. However, Light has only played left tackle, which is where Sebastian Vollmer needs to play going forward.
Tight End is a real problem and has been a hole since Daniel Graham left. First rounder Ben Watson never met the high expectations the team had for someone so athletically gifted. The since released Chris Baker was a decent blocker, but didn't provide much of an impact in the passing game.
Randy Moss did not have a good season for the Patriots last season. WR is one of the easier positions to fill, hopefully Brandon Tate can come back from a knee injury and fill the second receiver role. Julian Edelman isn't Wes Welker, but already is a decent slot receiver. Sam Aiken is not a good WR, and is best suited for special teams where he thrives.
The Patriots have attempted to add pass rushers via free agency in the past with the free agent acquisitions of Rosevelt Colvin and Adalius Thomas. Colvin looked to be the real deal, until he badly hurt his hip during the 2003 season. He came back the following year, but was never the same player he was before the injury. Thomas, who made his bones as a pass rusher, was inexplicably used in different roles such as middle linebacker and dropped into coverage. He was not the effective player in New England that he was in Baltimore.
I sometimes believe that Bill Belichick outsmarts himself with strategy such as over disguising coverages. Do the Indianapolis Colts ever ask star pass rusher Dwight Freeney to do anything other than go get the quarterback? I'd like to see the Patriots take that same approach with the next pass rusher they get.
Despite staying healthy and getting a full opportunity to be the feature running back, Laurence Maroney has proven he's not a full time starter. However, as long as he doesn't fumble, Maroney can fill the Kevin Faulk role as the 3rd down back. Maroney can catch the ball, run in open space, and adequately pick up the blitz.
Gary Guyton is not the answer next to Jerod Mayo at middle linebacker. Despite superior athleticism, Guyton is too often chasing ballcarriers, instead of hitting them square in the mouth. There's a reason he was an undrafted free agent coming out of college. It's an uncapped year, and it would've been nice to see the Patriots get Dansby to replace Guyton next to Mayo.
The way last season ended with the Patriots being embarrassed at home by the Baltimore Ravens with a first round knockout in the playoffs, has left a bitter taste in the mouths of the team's fans. The Patriots could use some positive "buzz" surrounding the team. Last season there were lots of empty blue seats in the upper levels of Gillette Stadium and the Patriots had difficulty selling tickets to the Ravens playoff game. If the team continues their current philosophy of looking for value over talent and the economy continues to struggle, I predict the Patriots 16 year sellout streak will be in jeopardy.