Hannable: Ranking Patriots’ biggest needs this offseason

Ryan Hannable
February 18, 2018 - 10:10 pm

David Butler II/USA Today Sports

It’s been two weeks since Super Bowl LII, but the Patriots and their staff have no time to rest, as the NFL scouting combine and free agency are just weeks away.

While it could be argued the 2018 Patriots will be better than the 2017 squad, as long as everyone remains healthy, there are still some holes that need to be fixed, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

Here are a few positions (in order) Bill Belichick and his staff need to make sure get addressed over the next few months.

1. Experienced left tackle

Having someone to protect Tom Brady’s blind side is extremely important and as of now there isn’t anyone on the roster capable of doing so. Nate Solder is an unrestricted free agent and cannot be hit with the franchise tag. The 29-year-old potentially could retire, but he sounded like a player who has a few more years in him towards the end of the season. With how important of a position it is, the Patriots should go out of their way to make sure he returns.

If he retires, or for some reason signs with another team, options are slim. There’s LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming, who are also unrestricted free agents. Last year’s third-round pick Antonio Garcia lost 40 pounds this season with an illness, so it is hard to depend on getting anything out of him next season. The free agent market isn’t that great either, so it really is Solder or bust.

2. Outside linebacker, who is fast and athletic

New England’s biggest weakness this past season was being slow and unathletic at the outside linebacker position. This was exposed in multiple games, including Week 1 against the Chiefs and in the Super Bowl against the Eagles. The 42 points in Week 1 were the most allowed by a Patriots team under Belichick, and the 41 points in the Super Bowl were the most allowed by the Patriots under Belichick in the playoffs.

Opponents were able to identity this for much of the year and exploited it on multiple occasions. The league as a whole has gotten much faster on offense, especially in the passing game, and the Patriots need to adjust to this defensively. It would not be a surprise to see the Patriots use their first-round pick on the most athletic front-seven player available.

3. Edge rusher, who can also set the edge

This is another area the Patriots struggled with all year and was a main reason why they went out and signed a 39-year-old James Harrison after he was released by the Steelers in December. Keep in mind, Harrison is not even close to the type of player the Patriots usually target. That is how desperate the need was. The defense just couldn’t find someone to consistently set the edge, which led to a number of big runs in the early part of the season. 

The thing with this is the team has some young players on the roster, who just haven’t had a chance to get on the field enough to showcase their talents — Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise and Harvey Langi. With 24-year-old Trey Flowers leading the group, it may make sense to go after a cheap veteran player, who has a few years left and wants to win a Super Bowl. All this position needs is a stop-gap so these players of the future can fully develop.

4. Developmental quarterback

With Brady turning 41 before the next season and Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco, it is time for the Patriots to try and find the next Garoppolo. There really isn’t any firm timeline as to when Brady is going to call it quits, so the organization needs to make sure it is ready whenever that may be.

There are several good quarterbacks coming out of this year’s draft, and that isn’t even counting the three that will likely be taken in the top half of the first round. — Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen. Replacing Brady goes far beyond talent on the field. It will take a leader and someone who can handle all the attention that will come with being drafted by the Patriots. Don’t be surprised if the team selects a quarterback with one of their first three picks (one first-rounder, two second-rounders).

5. Dependable No. 2/3 cornerback

It seems almost certain Malcolm Butler will not be returning to the Patriots, and while they could go into camp with Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Jomal Wiltz and Ryan Lewis, it may be best to add a dependable No. 2 or 3 cornerback. It’s worth noting the majority of these players have an injury history and that is something to take into account.

It’s also worth noting the cornerback group as a whole is weak this offseason, so it may take a good chunk of change to sign a decent one. This may be one of the tougher additions to find, but seems like it needs to happen given the uncertainty of players on the roster, not only from a health perspective, but talent-wise as well.

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