Coming off a Super Bowl LII loss that was highlighted by Malcolm Butler’s benching and coming up just short in a 41-33 loss to the Eagles, the New England Patriots’ team needs probably would have focused on the defensive side of the ball. Clear holes at defensive end and linebacker were atop the wish list.
But free agency — and some swirling uncertainty about the futures of quarterback Tom Brady and All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski — have certainly altered the list of needs approaching the draft.
The biggest change and loss came with left tackle Nate Solder jumping to the Giants on a $60-plus million contract, leaving a massive hole on Brady’s blind side with really no worthy replacement options.
Butler moved on to the Titans on his own $60 million contract, as did running back Dion Lewis, while clutch veteran receiver Danny Amendola got paid to take his talents to Miami. Add in the recent Brandin Cooks trade to the Rams — after topping 1,000 yards in his one and only season in Foxborough — and New England now has a handful of questions on offense to add to the defensive retooling.
Things did get bolstered a bit on defense thanks to separate trades with the Browns for former first-round defensive tackle Danny Shelton and veteran cornerback Jason McCourty, twin brother of Patriots safety Devin McCourty. The free-agent signing of solid veteran defensive end Adrian Clayborn certainly adds a dimension to that spot that was lacking mightily throughout 2017.
And with Brady’s somewhat ominous, future-pondering comments in his “Tom vs. Time” Facebook documentary, the need to add a developmental quarterback as the future heir has only grown since Jimmy Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers last fall.
Though New England remains the Vegas favorite for Super Bowl LIII, there are holes that remain and a tumultuous offseason has ensured that head coach Bill Belichick’s squad will have a much different look as it vies to advance to its eighth straight AFC title game or beyond next season.
Here is a closer look at where the Patriots are, how they got here and a shot at what they should do with their first pick in the draft.
2017 finish: 1st AFC East (13-3)
TOTAL OFFENSE: 394. 2 (1st)
RUSHING: 118.1 (10th)
PASSING: 276.1 (2nd)
TOTAL DEFENSE: 366.0 (29th)
RUSHING: 114.8 (20th)
PASSING: 251.3 (30th)
- Tackle: Left tackle Nate Solder’s free-agent departure and the fact that 2016 top pick (third round) Antonio Garcia missed his entire rookie season on reserve/non-football illness with blood clots in his lungs has left New England with no real options at the most important line spot. It’s not a great class of tackles, but the Patriots might need to find one who can step in and play as a rookie on one of the NFL’s top passing attacks.
- Pass rusher: Adrian Clayborn is a solid defensive end addition, but not an impact pass rusher. It’s not a strong class of edge talent, but finding a guy with at least rotational pass rush ability is a goal in Foxborough.
- Quarterback: The 40-year-old MVP Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger and there is now doubt he’s still driven to play till he’s 45. In a top-heavy quarterback class, the Patriots could have strong interest in finding the developmental heir after trading away impressive young backup Jimmy Garoppolo last fall.
KEY PERSONNEL TRACKER (As of April 6)
–RB Brandon Bolden: Potential UFA; $880K/1 yr, $60K SB/$170K guaranteed.
–RB Rex Burkhead: UFA; $9.75M/3 yrs, $5.5M fully guaranteed/$3M SB.
–S Nate Ebner: Potential UFA: $5.2M/2 yrs, $1.2M SB.
–LB Marquis Flowers: UFA; $1.7M/1 yr, $200K SB.
–WR Matthew Slater: UFA; $5.25M/2 yrs, $1M SB.
–T LaAdrian Waddle: UFA; $1.5M/1 yr, $200K SB.
–C Luke Bowanko: UFA Ravens; terms unknown.
–DE Adrian Clayborn: UFA Falcons; $10M/2 yrs, $5.5M guaranteed/$4M SB.
–RB Jeremy Hill: UFA Bengals; $1.5M/1 yr, $150K SB.
–WR Jordan Matthews: UFA Bills; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–CB Jason McCourty (trade Browns).
–TE Troy Niklas: UFA Cardinals; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–WR Cordarrelle Patterson (trade Raiders).
–DT Danny Shelton (trade Browns).
–T Matt Tobin: UFA Seahawks; $815K/1 yr.
–WR Danny Amendola: UFA Dolphins; $12M/2 yrs, $6M guaranteed/$3M SB.
–CB Johnson Bademosi: UFA Texans; $6.25M/2 yrs, $3.25M guaranteed/$1M SB/$1M RB.
–TE Marcellus Bennett (released; subsequently retired).
–CB Malcolm Butler: UFA Titans; $61.25M/5 yrs, $30M guaranteed ($6M injury only at signing, $10M SB).
–WR Brandin Cooks (traded Rams).
–T Cameron Fleming: UFA Cowboys; $2.5M/1 yr, $1M SB.
–RB Dion Lewis: UFA Titans; $19.8M/4 yrs, $8.25M guaranteed ($2.5M injury only at signing, $2.25M SB/$1.5M RB).
–LB Shea McClellin (released/failed physical).
–WR Bernard Reedy (released).
–T Nate Solder: UFA Giants; $62M/4 yrs, $34.8M fully guaranteed/$16M SB.
*NFLDraftScout.com analysts suggest (No. 31 overall)
Rob Rang (April 5 mock draft):
–Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa. With Malcolm Butler now in Tennessee, Bill Belichick will be on the lookout for another playmaking cornerback with Jackson — who led the country with eight interceptions in 2017 — a logical candidate for the perimeter.
Dane Brugler (April 6 mock draft):
–Kolton Miller, T, UCLA. The Patriots have serviceable offensive tackles on the roster, but Miller could be the next Nate Solder in New England and grow into the left tackle role.
Agree? Disagree? Still shopping?
Based on the team’s current status, those are our suggestions for that first pick. To double check or find another candidate see full mocks and ratings at NFLDraftScout.com.