The Patriots face a crossroad after their earliest postseason exit in a decade. Tom Brady won’t start the season behind center (Deflategate suspension excepted) for the first time since 2002, their wide receiver and tight end corps are a mess, and several members of New England’s league-leading defense have left in free agency.
Bill Belichick avoided the temptation to spend uncharacteristically to keep the band together. That leaves the Pats with plenty of holes left to fill.
New England Patriots (12-4), lost in the Wild Card Round
Surrounding Brady’s replacement with receiving talent will be a priority in New England. So will figuring out what to do with a dominant defense that will be without starters like Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, and Danny Shelton.
Before free agency:
- Quarterback: The brightest star in Belichick’s constellation is a free agent. If Brady signs elsewhere, Belichick will likely target a new veteran quarterback to hold things down while he assesses whether or not 2019 fourth-round pick Jarrett Stidham can be the team’s starter of the future.
- Safety: Devin McCourty is a free agent. Patrick Chung will be 33 years old before the season starts. New England needs new blood in the middle of its secondary.
- Tight end: The team’s first year without Rob Gronkowski was a disaster at tight end. Ben Watson, Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, and Eric Tomlinson combined for 37 catches. Getting some wide receiving help is high on the Pats’ wish list, but growth from Mohamed Sanu and 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry could improve that position. There’s no such tight end potential on the New England roster as currently constructed.
What Pats Pulpit wants most this offseason: It all starts with Brady. The greatest quarterback to ever grace the gridiron will be a free agent for the first time in his career, and the Patriots’ entire roster construction and salary cap situation hinges on his status. In case he leaves, New England will have to figure out whether or not second-year quarterback Stidham is the real deal or if an outside option needs to be brought in. If Brady returns, however, the focus shifts to surrounding him with better weapons — especially at tight end — than the ones he had in 2019. — Bernd Buchmasser
After free agency:
Re-signing McCourty and inking Chargers special teams standout Adrian Phillips helped fill the team’s holes at safety. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for a Patriot team with several other questions left to answer, especially without Brady.
- Quarterback: Maybe Jarrett Stidham is the team’s future franchise quarterback. It seems more likely Belichick will take a swing at a young passer in this year’s draft.
- Tight end: See above. New England hasn’t signed anyone to address their lack of tight end help. That need is even more pressing with a new quarterback stepping into the lineup.
- Linebacker: Collins and Van Noy’s departure leaves two big holes in the middle of 2019’s top-rated defense. Former Jets LB Brandon Copeland could help, but Belichick needs someone capable of stepping into his circle of trust.
After the draft:
The Patriots had a very Patriots draft. They traded out of the first round, found a Division II diamond in the rough, loaded up on defensive players, and got a kicker. Linebacker Josh Uche (second round) and edge rusher Anfernee Jennings (third round) should help make up for the loss of Collins and Van Noy. They also targeted two tight ends, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, in the third round.
Somehow, though, the Patriots didn’t draft a quarterback. Unless they add a veteran, it’s risky going into the season with just Stidham and Brian Hoyer.