This season the New England Patriots made it to a third straight AFC Championship. In 2011 they went to the Super Bowl and (gulp) lost again to the New York Giants. In 2012 they lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champions Baltimore Ravens, and on Sunday they lost to the Denver Broncos. The Patriots have been a model of consistency and their fans expect them to win. But do the Patriots need to make some key offseason moves to ensure they get back to the AFC Championship game, finally get over the hump and win another Super Bowl?
As I stated in my article about Tom Brady‘s legacy, Brady has had very few top-tier pass catchers throughout this career. The Patriots signed Danny Amendola in the offseason, and while he played well when he could stay on the field, he wasn’t exactly what the Patriots had hoped for when they signed him. Julian Edelman was fantastic as a slot receiver and filled the void Wes Welker left when he joined the Broncos, but Edelman is now a free agent.
The Patriots need to figure out what to do with their receiving corps. Brady will not be playing forever and it would be an injustice not to surround him with receivers who could help get the Patriots another Lombardi Trophy.
First, the team needs to decide on whether or not they should re-sign Edelman. At first glance it is obvious the Patriots should re-sign him. Edelman was the team’s most product receiver this season and was healthy for all 18 games. Edelman had 105 catches for 1,056 yards with six touchdowns, and he is only 27-years-old. However, the Patriots front office needs to consider that Amendola, while not as productive or durable as Edelman, is due $2 million guaranteed in 2014. I seriously doubt the Patriots will cut Amendola, and it seems superfluous to keep both Edelman and Amendola on the roster in 2014. They are both slot receivers and really only function well on the field at the same time when the Patriots use a four-wide-receiver set which offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels hardly ever does. I know Amendola is injury-prone, but Edelman will command more money than the Patriots should spend on him. The Patriots should just ride out the Amendola train next season and see where it takes them.
Second, the Patriots need to sign a wide receiver to split out wide more often and not play in the slot. The best WR free agents are Kenny Britt (Tennesse Titans), Emmanuel Sanders (Pittsburgh Steelers), James Jones (Green Bay Packers), Golden Tate (Seattle Seahawks), Hakeem Nicks (Giants), Anquan Boldin (San Francisco 49ers), Jeremy Maclin (Philadelphia Eagles), Riley Cooper (Eagles) and Eric Decker (Broncos).
Some of those names will be too expensive for the Patriots to sign. I believe the Patriots should focus on Nicks and Cooper. Nicks has played well during his time with the Giants, although last season his numbers were down (56 receptions, 896 yards and one TD) from the impressive numbers he put up in 2010 and 2011. Nicks is only 26-years-old and would probably benefit from playing in New England with Brady. Plus the Patriots probably wouldn’t have to spend too much money on him. Nicks could be a very reliable receiver for Brady, and he could help stretch the field — something the Patriots desperately need. Cooper comes with some baggage — his use of the N-word in the video that was leaked in 2013 was awful — but he did seem to sincerely apologize. I believe Cooper could benefit from being in the Patriots organization. Cooper, who is 6-foot-3, had 47 receptions for 853 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013 and is only 26-years-old. Brady would love to have either Nicks or Cooper as a target in 2014.
Third, the Patriots need to sign another tight end. Josh McDaniels loves playing two tight ends. When Rob Grownkowski was healthy, it was Gronk and Michael Hoomanawani. When Gronk tore his ACL and was done for the season, McDaniels did not abandon the two tight end offense — playing Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan. Hoomanawanui is a fantastic blocking tight end, but he leaves a lot to be desired as a pass catcher. The Patriots need to target a tight end that is built like a receiver like (double gulp) Aaron Hernandez.
The Patriots need to make sure they don’t waste Brady’s final seasons, and following my advice should help.