Matt Peterson tracks the offseason needs of every team in the league. Today’s franchise, the New England Patriots [full archive here].
Season Recap: The Patriots, once again, were one of the best teams in the league, and had it not been for a dropped pass, a fourth Super Bowl ring could easily be resting on Tom Brady’s pinky finger (middle or index, for that matter). The most interesting aspect of the Patriots 2011 season is the fact they did so well while giving up the 2nd most yards allowed. With a revamped defense this offseason; New England very may be the favorites in 2012.
1. Wide Receiver: Even with the recent franchise tag on Wes Welker, New England simply needs more options. The stud duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski would be even more dangerous with a vertical deep threat to open up the outside. The Patriots have a plethora of options to solving this problem. New England has 6 picks in the first four rounds, with four selections in the first and second round alone! The best move may be to give up pick 31 for Mike Wallace, who was tendered for a first round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wallace would give Brady perhaps the best deep threat in the game. If New England decides against Wallace, they can choose from Desean Jackson, Vincent Jackson, Brandon Lloyd, Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe, Reggie Wayne, or Robert Meachem. Not too shabby.
2. Defensive End: Andre Carter exceeded expectations as a 32 year old, low-signing free agent, recording 10 sacks in 14 games. Carter is coming off a torn Quadriceps tendon, and is a scheduled free agent. Even if he does return to form, the Patriots need a difference maker. Mario Williams dominated in his first five games in the 3-4 defense before a season ending injury, and could be headed to New England. That would be scary.
3. Strong Safety: Patrick Chung is set at FS, but the Patriots need to find him a counterpart. James Ihedigbo played serviceable, but is a scheduled free agent and is better suited as a backup. Laron Landry is a free agent and when healthy is one of the better strong safeties in the league.
4. Outside Linebacker: The Patriots toiled between a 3-4 and 4-3 defense in 2011, but with All-Pro NT Vince Wilfork in the middle, the 3-4 is the better option. Mario Williams could fill this role with ease, but if New England wants a cheaper option they could fill the void in the early rounds. Andre Branch and Bruce Irvin are names to keep an eye on.
5. Cornerback: New England dealt with numerous injuries at the CB position and were forced to play WR Julian Edelman in the slot for most of the season. Waiver wire pickup Sterling Moore played brilliantly in the playoffs, but is not proven enough to be counted on for 2012. Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are the top free agent corners available. Brandon Boykin, a corner from Georgia, will be in heavy consideration for one of the Patriots two first round selections.