Because he asked, here’s what I would suggest Bill Belichick do with the Patriots this spring when he is building his roster for a run at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.
1. Go long for Tom Brady
This offense needs one thing and it needs it badly -- a deep threat. The Patriots had that with Randy Moss and they thought they had that with Chad Ochocinco (soon to be Gigantic Johnson on July 4 -- or so he says on Twitter). But Brady never clicked with Ocho and it showed, only one touchdown pass to No. 85 and it came in Week 15 on a broken coverage and was just 35 yards. Sure, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were amazing over the middle and powerful with the ball in their hands. And obviously, Wes Welker had another outstanding season as the best slot receiver in the NFL. But just as much as Brady occasionally forced it too much to Moss when he was in New England, Brady looked away from the downfield routes this season, even when there were chances to be had. There will be free agent options. Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne, Mario Manningham, Stevie Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, Dwayne Bowe and Marques Colston lead the list of potential names in a wide receiver class never seen before. Wayne and Lloyd are the names you hear the most, but Vincent Jackson in this offense is intriguing.
2. Franchise Wes Welker and then make up your mind on whether he’s a true long-term option as your slot receiver
Forget the drop in the Super Bowl, Welker is Brady’s most trusted receiver and has been since 2007. He led the NFL in receptions in 2011. He wants to be in New England because he knows it’s best for his career to be here and he almost certainly wants a chance at redemption in a franchise-tag season. He has plenty to prove and he’s one of the most dedicated players in the locker room. The $9 million cost is more than worth it for the piece of mind for Brady and new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. There’s a chance here that Welker, Ochocinco and Deion Branch could all be gone next year, so the need to address this area is fairly urgent.
3. Draft a pass rusher
The loss of Andre Carter to a quadriceps injury near his left knee was the single biggest blow to the Patriots in their march to the Super Bowl. Carter, who needed season-ending surgery, was having a career year while Mark Anderson also reached double figures in sacks. But after that, there was a huge fall-off, and Jermaine Cunningham has been a bust. Rob Ninkovich provided decent pressure, but what’s missing is the ability to consistently get after the quarterback the way the Giants did in their Super Bowl run. Quinton Coples from North Carolina and Whitney Marcilus from Illinois won’t be there, but another, Melvin Ingram from South Carolina could be at No. 27. Florida State's Brandon Jenkins would have been appealing for Belichick since he played both OLB and DE for the Seminoles but he declared in January that he is coming back for his senior year.
4. Find a shutdown corner
The secondary truly matured into a very respectable group in the final weeks of the season and its play in the postseason was a big reason the Patriots came within 57 seconds of a Super Bowl title. Sterling Moore came into his own. Devin McCourty struggled in a sophomore slump, but there’s too much talent there to think he won’t bounce back. Kyle Arrington had a tremendous game against Victor Cruz. Patrick Chung and James Ihedigbo were solid at safety. Now imagine a lockdown corner back there. Belichick spoke this week at Pebble Beach with Nick Saban about a number of his players from Alabama's national championship team, and no doubt cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick’s name came up. Should Kirkpatrick still be available to No. 27 or 31, Belichick likely would pounce. LSU’s Morris Claiborne won’t be available, and if Kirkpatrick is gone Belichick might be tempted to look at Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard, North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins and the most intriguing, Chase Minnifield from Virginia. Belichick coached Chase’s dad, Frank, during Belichick’s first two seasons in Cleveland in 1991-92. There is loads of top-end depth in the secondary in this draft and the Patriots could use it.
5. Rebuild and reinforce the defensive line
Another stud DT next to Vince would be a great start. Much like the Lions have Ndamukong Suh next to Corey Williams and Nick Fairley, the Patriots still have a window with Wilfork to maximize his devastation on offensive lines. Kyle Love had a breakthrough season and figures to be a contributor going forward but this unit needs to get younger, with Shaun Ellis and Gerard Warren on the final legs of their careers. Dontari Poe from Memphis -- at 6-foot-5, 350 pounds -- might fit the bill.
THE READERS WEIGH IN
We go to the TragsBag for your input, and we’ll forward them on to the HC of the NEP.
@ErikFrenz Draft a pass rusher. Because for once in my life, it would be nice.
As mentioned above, when Carter and Anderson were in there, they were more than effective. They were a force. The best example came in the road game against the Jets, when Carter tied a franchise record with four sacks in a game. If only Carter were healthy in the Super Bowl, Eli Manning may not have had that passing lane to Manningham on the first pass of the final Giants drive.
@PatsFansRadio get a downfield threat
@Farmstrong27 not waste having one of the best QBs of all time. Add a tall WR with big hands!
Points well taken, but it’s one I’m not sure is all that high on the priority list of Tom Brady. Let’s face it: This offense runs through one person, and as we found out in Washington, it’s not the offensive coordinator. If Brady feels most comfortable going downfield, he will. But his thinking is if Gronk and Hernandez are open over the middle, why do you need to go deep? That all changes if Welker, Branch and Ocho are gone next season.
@BeaconHillWine dear God people are being incredibly oversensitive to all of this. It's not 2007 and it wasnt a perfect season. JMHO
No, it wasn’t. But it ended just as painfully. This is New England and it’s a birthright to be oversensitive and overreact. Fact of the matter is this offense still has at least three good to highly productive seasons left with Brady at the helm. And at least three more seasons for fans to second-guess one of the greatest quarterbacks and best offenses in NFL history.
@Ed 1) I sure hope @WesWelker stays. 2) The Giants fan who yelled at Gisele without Tom there, is Coward Loser of the Year 3) Boycott @PawnGo, @Groupon, and @5W_PR for dumping on @WesWelker -- They're Giants fans
As much as we all feel for Welker, my colleague Chris Price pointed out this type of needling was bound to happen. We shouldn’t be surprised it happened. Just shrug, look the other way and move on. It’s all any Pats fan can do at this point.
@AliWeitz 2012 patriots should use draft picks. it's time.
They will. With age a concern on the defensive line and receiving corps, this is the perfect chance. More to the point, the salary cap on rookies in the new CBA makes drafting picks much more valuable now. Why? The new rookie wage scale is supposed to cut top rookie contracts by more than 50 percent. First-round picks get four-year deals in which the club holds a fifth-year option. There are slotted four-year deals from Rounds 2 through 7. The new system is designed to prevent long holdouts. At some point in August, unsigned draft choices lose their leverage if they aren't signed. There is another clause that prevents draft picks from holding out after they sign. If a player holds out during the deal, he is prohibited from renegotiating his contract. In other words, the teams have more control, just what Belichick loves.
@GriffinMorrow build a power running game to take the stress off the passing game
That, my friend, is totally up to the quarterback. This offense is designed to be pass-first and pass when the chips are down. The Patriots would rather pass on third-and-2 than run. And that’s because of Tom Brady. I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for the run, but they sure could’ve used it in the fourth quarter, trying to protect a 17-15 lead against the Giants.
From Mike Zavota directly to the TragsBag at weei.com:
The most tragic thing about the Pats SuperBowl loss is that EVERYTHING broke in their favor for an improbable championship. In this regard they were very similar to the Stanley Cup champion Bruins. Both teams were mostly healthy during the playoff run. Both teams benefitted from injuries on teams that were potentially better -- Crosby, Pronger, Roethlisberger, Schaub to name a few. And both teams had survived a too close for comfort conference championship that very easily could have ended in heartbreaking fashion on home turf (people forget how close Game 7 against the Lightning was).
It’s not an apples to apples comparison but ultimately the Bruins won the Cup because their best players -- Thomas and Chara – were immense, and the Patriots lost the Super Bowl because their best players -- Brady, Welker, Wilfork -- were less than immense.
Opportunity, and Paradise, Lost
That comparison is truly intriguing. My only addition and point would be that the Giants are FAR MORE mentally tough than the Canucks proved to be -- in their own building, no less. The Giants were playing on a neutral surface and were fighting a huge tide of momentum after the Patriots scored at the end of the second quarter on a 96-yard drive and a drive to open the third quarter. Those drives would typically take the heart out of any team. The Bruins were able to seize the opportunity and bury the Canucks. The Patriots were simply up against a much more mentally tough opponent.
ONE FINAL RANT
I don’t care. I don’t care what Gisele says in private to her entourage about defending her husband. I don’t care that people blame Wes Welker for losing the Super Bowl on a drop of a catch that was far from routine. And I certainly don’t care that Steve DeOssie cheers for his son to win a Super Bowl with a franchise for which he once played, a team that helped him through personal and private off-field turmoil. And I don’t care that Rob Gronkowski and Matt Light were dancing the night away in the hours after leaving it all on the field in their final game of the season, blowing off steam and -- as Light put it -- “toasting the greatest franchise in the NFL.”
The three days after the Super Bowl loss to me was a reflection on what matters to many fans these days. I’ve always understood the superficial will get attention. I was in Indianapolis in the staging area of Lucas Oil Stadium when Tom and Gisele embraced. I was there outside Victory Field and could hear the music as Gronk and Light went all LMFAO on the Super Bowl. I wasn’t there for the “Butterfingers” toss and dump and the DeOssie speech at the Giants rally.
But please, people, focus on what matters. I’ve been hammered in the past -- and justifiably so -- for not being the most hip to pop culture. (You know who you are.) But pop culture had nothing to do with the Patriots losing Super Bowl XLVI. Nothing. The Patriots came up short because they couldn’t make key stops on defense (especially on third down), the Giants made more clutch plays -- again -- and Gronk was three feet short of a miracle ending. Leave it at that. I don’t care about all the noise.
Somewhere Belichick is nodding his head.