The Patriots Have Plenty to do Before Free Agency Begins

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Where do the New England Patriots go from here?  That's the question on everybody's mind after a disappointing, although not totally unexpected, 7-9 season.  Now, all eyes turn to a very important offseason. 

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Midway through the season, Pats fans seemed to resign themselves to the fact that this team, if fortunate enough to make the playoffs, was not going to make any noise.  So, the attention shifted to what the Patriots need to do this offseason to get back on track.  Find a quarterback, upgrade the wide receivers, etc.

With an estimated $50+ million in cap space this offseason, the Patriots have the opportunity to address those needs.  However, before they even think about that, the Pats have plenty to sort out with its current roster.

New England enters this offseason with 25 free agents.  If that seems like a lot, it's because it is, but it's not uncommon for teams to have that many free agents.  The thing about it for New England is that of these 25, they have many notable ones.  So, before they go out and try to address their existing weaknesses, they need to take care not to create new ones.

It starts up front on the offensive line.  Both Joe Thuney and David Andrews enter free agency this year, and based on how each player reacted in the aftermath of Sunday's season finale, their returns are far from certain.  The offensive line was one the team's few positives this year, with Andrews and Thuney key parts of that.  If one, or both of these guys are gone next year, it will leave a major hole.  You also have depth pieces like James Ferentz and Jermaine Eluemunor entering free agency.

Flip to the other side of the ball and basically the entire defensive line are free agents.  Most notably, the team's top two linemen in Adam Butler and Lawrence Guy.  I like Butler and Guy, but the fact that they are New England's two best linemen may be an indictment on the state of the defensive line as a whole.  But regardless, they are the best of what they have.  You have to bring back at least one of these two, or else you're creating even more problems.

I know Beau Allen is still in the mix, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable with letting Butler or Guy walk and replacing them with a guy who sat out the entire season.

Add into the free agency mix defensive ends in John Simon, Deatrich Wise and Shilique Calhoun.  None of these guys really move the needle all that much, but in the right role could be effective.  You can't let everybody walk.  If I had my choice, I'd like to see Wise return. 

Expect a regression in the kicking game next year.  Nick Folk was New England's best offensive player this year, but with his contract expiring and two young kickers under contract, I would be stunned if he came back.

Justin Bethel who may be the heir to the Matthew Slater special teams throne is a free agent, but I'd expect him back next year.

In the offensive backfield, James White, Rex Burkhead and Jakob Johnson are all free agents.  With the emergence of Damien Harris alongside Sony Michel, it feels like one of White or Burkhead will be gone.  I think the choice is clear in that the Pats should look to bring back White, who is the best pass-catching running back in franchise history (I won't argue anybody who says Kevin Faulk, but I still give the nod to White).

Burkhead has been valuable, but he cannot stay healthy.  As for Johnson, as a fullback, he may not feel important, but with the way they run the ball in this offense, a strong fullback is important.  I thought Johnson had a very good year this year and hope he returns. 

The strongest position on New England's defense, and probably entire team outside of punter, is defensive back.  Well, they enter this offseason with question marks surrounding their top two corners.  Stephon Gilmore will be recovering from surgery on a torn quad and J.C. Jackson will be a restricted free agent.

Jackson is one of the best young corners in the game, but is in line for a major payday; one that the Patriots typically do not payout.  Given the uncertainty around Gilmore's recovery and how he'll look next year, retaining Jackson is vital.  On top of that, Jason McCourty also enters free agency.  Obviously on the back end of his career, but a great veteran to have in the locker room, especially on a young team.

Everybody knows about the quarterback position and Cam Newton.  Though not official, all signs seem to point to he and the Patriots parting ways.  Brian Hoyer's contract is up as well.  Finding a quarterback will be a top priority this offseason.

You can see how many noteworthy free agents the Patriots will need to address.  It may seem like the Pats have a lot of holes to fill now; if they're not careful, they'll have even more when free agency actually begins.


Follow Derek on Twitter @mcvay34

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Boston Sports Syndicate: The Patriots Have Plenty to do Before Free Agency Begins
The Patriots Have Plenty to do Before Free Agency Begins
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