And just like that, the team-building portion of the season has commenced. We’re on to 2018.
Belichick and McDaniels staying, at least one more go-round with Tom Brady, and a bunch of really good players returning from injury. As we turn the page on 2017 and the loss to the Eagles, next fall is already looking promising if only by getting Julian Edelman and Dont’a Hightower back alone. Not to mention Derek Rivers, Harvey Langi, Shea McClellin and others like Tony Garcia, etc.
There are two places the Patriots must start — left tackle and running back. From there the dominos will fall, into external free agency and the draft.
Here are the headlines of what’s coming this offseason and an early feel on the needs.
- Re-Sign Nate Solder — After a shaky start Solder proved he’s still a very good left tackle. Finding his successor remains a priority with Tony Garcia a player to watch this summer. The Pats and Solder should be able to work something out for a couple more seasons.
- Lewis or Burkhead — I’d bet the Pats extend the same offer to both to see if either bites and that Burkhead is the more likely of the two. The Pats can save over $2 million in cap space just by cutting Gillislee, which I’d do to keep Lewis but I think that’s a pipe dream.
- Defensive Coordinator — I do wonder if Brian Flores gets the title immediately or if BB protects him like he did early on with McDaniels and Patricia. With McDaniels back now, Belichick can devote extra time to the transition on defense. I’m very excited to see how things evolve after Patricia.
- Good Bye — Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis. Never thought it would fall apart so fast as it did with Butler. Somebody’s giving Lewis more than they should.
- Contract Dumps — Likely candidates: Alan Branch, David Harris, Martellus Bennett, Dwayne Allen. With those four cuts they’d open up over $13 million in cap space.
- Internal Free Agent Priorities — Solder, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Matthew Slater. It all has to start with Solder, I think they’ll try with Lewis but he’ll take more elsewhere. Amendola seems like an easy slam dunk, especially with Edelman back. Slater’s the heart and soul of the team. Others to keep — Marquis Flowers, Cameron Fleming, Brandon King, Nate Ebner, Ricky Jean-Francois.
- Extensions — Likely candidates: Tom Brady, Trey Flowers, Shaq Mason. Brady can reduce his cap hit a bit as well with a deserved extension. Flowers is only going to get harder to sign, they’d be smart to do it now. Despite giving up the Super Bowl strip sack, the Pats like to invest in their offensive line and Mason is as athletic as they come.
- External Free Agency Needs — Cornerback, Running Back, Linebacker. This will be the usual “fill-the-gaps” with injured castoffs approach but special attention should be paid to getting more athletic at the second level.
- Draft Needs — Quarterback, Linebacker, Defensive End, Tackle, Running Back. I look forward to diving into the draft as the Pats certainly could use an infusion of youth on the defensive side. I pray for any quarterback they draft because he’s in for some hyper micro analysis — is he Brady’s successor? Is he as good as Jimmy Garoppolo? Can he even beat out Brian Hoyer? — You know, that kind of thing.
- Don’t Win — Usually the final point of emphasis for the gameplans are Win, but this time, for the offseason, it’s important not to “win” the offseason with splashy moves. There’s a lot of guys coming back from injury, there’s no reason to overreact and blow the depth you’ve built. Damarius Travis and David Jones are two promising safeties who spent a full season on the practice squad. They could be ready to edge out Jordan Richards or, eventually, Patrick Chung. Find good football nerds, plug them in and there’s a good chance we’ll get into one more play-either-way Super Bowl game.