Hannable: Extensive position-by-position breakdown of what lies ahead for Patriots this offseason

Ryan Hannable
February 11, 2018 - 11:16 pm

Woodrow Townson/USA Today Sports

It’s been a week since the Patriots fell to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII and what a week it was.

There was tons of discussion surrounding Malcolm Butler and why he didn’t play in the game, which we by the way still don’t have an answer to. This was over shadowed by all of the drama with Josh McDaniels deciding to return to New England and not go to Indianapolis.

With that being said, there is still a lot of work to be done this offseason when it comes to the roster.

Here’s a breakdown by position of what to look for.

QUARTERBACK

Tom Brady will return for his 19th season at age 41, but the Patriots will almost certainly be drafting his potential replacement in April’s draft. With the Patriots unlikely to land top quarterbacks Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield, some names to keep an eye on are Washington State’s Luke Falk, Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta, Nebraska’s Tanner Lee, Marshall’s Chase Litton and Western Kentucky’s Mike White. It would not be a surprise to see them use one of their first two picks on a quarterback.

Regardless of who the Patriots draft, expect backup Brian Hoyer to be back for another season. The Patriots cannot count on Brady and a rookie, so they will almost certainly go with three quarterbacks, which they’ve done a few times in recent years.

RUNNING BACK

Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead are both free agents, and it seems unlikely the team will be able to keep both. Lewis will probably get the most attention on the open market and it feels like he will be offered more money than the Patriots will be willing to match. It feels like the shifty running back will be playing elsewhere in 2018. Burkhead, who signed a one-year deal last season, seems likely to return. Some forget the stretch he had in the middle of the season when he had six touchdowns in four games.

James White is under contract and will be a major part of the passing game out of the backfield, and even though it was a disappointing first year in New England for Mike Gillislee, it seems like he will return as well. The Patriots would only save roughly $2.2 million if they release him, so why not bring him back for another season?

Brandon Bolden is a free agent, but went almost the whole offseason last year without being signed, so if the Patriots want him back it shouldn’t be an issue at all. Last but not least, fullback James Develin is signed for 2018, so the team doesn’t have to worry about that position.

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team add a young back, either via the draft or free agency, as it needs to get a bit younger at the position.

WIDE RECEIVER

Julian Edelman’s rehab appears to be going well and he should be back on the field for training camp. It remains to be seen if he will be as effective as he was before he tore his ACL, but he should give the receiving core a boost in 2018.

Brandin Cooks is signed through the end of next season, and the Patriots would be unlikely to move him after giving up a first-round pick for him last offseason, especially given how much Brady loves him. He could be even better than he was this season with Edelman on the field with him.

Chris Hogan will be back as well, and the team certainly hopes he can stay healthy because when he’s healthy he is one of the most underrated receivers in the entire league.

Those three are locks, but then there are a few wideouts who aren’t as certain. 

At 32 years old, there will always be rumors of Danny Amendola wanting to retire, but if the Patriots give him a reasonable deal, we see no reason why he wouldn’t return, especially getting to play with close friends Brady and Edelman. Phillip Dorsett, who was acquired in the trade for Jacoby Brissett, didn’t contribute much this year, but he’s signed though next year and a full offseason in the system could be what the former first-round picks needs to contribute. Malcolm Mitchell is signed through 2019 so he will be back, but it remains a question if he will be able to get on the field due to the knee injury that dates back to college and forced him to miss the entire season. 

Special teams captain/wide out Matthew Slater is a free agent, but we see no reason why he wouldn’t re-sign with New England.

Kenny Britt is also signed through next season and he would be a good insurance policy to have in training camp to protect against an injury. Also, keep an eye on Riley McCarron, who spent most of the year on the practice squad, as he is viewed as potentially being Edelman’s replacement one day.

This position really doesn’t need much attention during the offseason, as the pieces are already in place.

TIGHT END

Rob Gronkowski of course is the biggest player to note here. He reportedly is contemplating his future in football despite being 28 years old. This could be seen by some as a ploy at a new contract, but at the same time with all the money he’s made and saved, he could call it quits and still live a good life. While we see him returning next season, the Patriots will likely need to give him a new contract, as he deserves to be the highest-paid tight end in the league and not have to depend on incentives.

Expect two players to be cut in Dwayne Allen and Martellus Bennett, if he doesn’t retire. The Patriots can save $5 million with cutting Allen and $6.2 million if Bennett is cut.

Jacob Hollister and Will Tye, who spent most of the year on the practice squad, will be given a chance to compete for a roster spot, but also don’t be surprised if the team tries to add an above average tight end via free agency or trade. New England has tried for years to find someone to play alongside Gronkowski, and hasn’t yet quite been able to.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Nate Solder is the name to keep an eye on here, as he’s a free agent, but it seems like either he will re-sign with the Patriots or retire. He doesn’t seem like a player who would want to play for another team. 

New England seems to have prepared for his potential departure with keeping undrafted rookie Cole Croston on the roster all season and then having Antonio Garcia (lost 40 pounds due to illness this year) and Andrew Jelks (hasn’t played a football game since 2014) as alternative options.

Additionally, swing tackles LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming are both free agents, but both played well in their time this season, which will likely get them interest on the open market. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Patriots bring one of them back given how well they played this season.

David Andrews, Marcus Cannon, Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason and Ted Karras will all return next season, so it doesn’t appear the Patriots need to do much at this position, especially with all it did last offseason via the draft and undrafted rookies.

DEFENSIVE LINE

There are a number of players who will certainly be returning, namely Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, Adam Butler and then injured players Derek Rivers (rookie who suffered torn ACL in training camp) and Vincent Valentine (second-year player who suffered season-ending knee injury just before regular season). 

There are also a few players who the team will have to make decisions with. These players include Alan Branch (probably not returning), Ricky Jean Francois (played well down stretch), James Harrison (seemed to enjoy New England and wants to play at least another year), Eric Lee (inconsistent) and Geneo Grissom (under contract for next year, likely will return).

This is a position that probably needs the most upgrading out of the entire roster.

One of the biggest issues all year was a lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, as well as setting the edge. The Patriots should be most aggressive in signing a top tier defensive end, who can get after the passer. When it comes to signing free agents, this should be priority No. 1.

LINEBACKER

Dont’a Hightower leads the group, but then there’s also average to above average players like Kyle Van Noy (signed through 2019), Shea McClellin (signed through 2018) and Elandon Roberts (signed through 2019). David Harris likely will be cut and the team will save just over $2 million against the cap.

Then there are several role players who could return.

Marquis Flowers is a free agent and will be interesting, as he was a core special teamer and played a good amount on defense due to injuries. Brandon King is a restricted free agent and was a core special teamer, as well. The same goes for Nicholas Grigsby, who impressed down the stretch. Don’t forget about undrafted rookie Harvey Langi, who should be fully healthy for next season.

This seems like another position that needs some upgrading. Whether it is a impact player through the draft, or a free agent, the Patriots need another player to play in the middle of the defense.

CORNERBACK

This is an interesting position, as Stephon Gilmore leads the way and had a better year than most will get him credit for. Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones will all be back next season, but Malcolm Butler will not, as he certainly will get paid by another team as a free agent.

New England will have a decision to make with Johnson Bademosi, who is a free agent, but may get offers to play a lot of defense with another team, so he may be tough to keep. Practice squad player Ryan Lewis is also a name to keep an eye on, as the organization likes what he can do after spending the entire year on the practice squad.

Realistically, the team could go into training camp with Gilmore, Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Cyrus Jones and Lewis as the corners, but perhaps a solid No. 2 is needed.

Rowe has been solid, but seems like a tough player to depend on considering all his injuries. Finding a No. 2 corner at the right value may be difficult, but the Patriots probably should look to do it, especially after seeing what happened in the Super Bowl.

SAFETY

Without question, this is the best position on the roster. Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon will all be back next season, and McCourty and Harmon are two of the biggest leaders on the entire team.

Core special teamer Nate Ebner is a free agent, but likely will return coming off a tough knee injury. Jordan Richards is entering the last year of his rookie contract and he’s struggled the last two years when it comes to playing defensive snaps.

New England could certainly get by with what it has, but maybe it is time to draft a developmental safety to replace Richards, or give practice squad player David Jones a shot.

SPECIALISTS

Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen and Joe Cardona are signed through the end of next season.

Allen had a great season and Cardona has been very dependable, aside from his poor snap on a field goal in the Super Bowl. Gostkowski will be back, but don’t be surprised if the Patriots bring another kicker in during training camp to challenge the 34-year-old.
 
COACHING STAFF

Most coaches will return following McDaniels changing his mind, but the Patriots will need to replace defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Linebackers coach Brian Flores seems to be the most logical choice, especially considering he got head-coaching consideration with the Cardinals. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Steve Belichick to promoted to linebackers coach to replace him, and then one of the coaching assistants would likely replace him as safeties coach.

Also, keep an eye on offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and running backs coach Ivan Fears, who may retire, but having McDaniels back likely increases their chances of coming back for another year.

Overall, thanks to McDaniels returning, the coaching staff is in great shape.

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