Despite winning their sixth Super Bowl, it does not stop the New England Patriots from starting to plan for another run at the Lombardi trophy.
There are many questions to answer going into the offseason, with the specter of possible retirements overshadowing the team, coupled with some free agency moves.
The depth chart at wide receiver is one that you can expect them to address with Chris Hogan –– no receptions for no yards in the Super Bowl –– likely to have played his last game in New England. Same with Philip Dorsett, who registered wasn’t even targeted. The reliance upon MVP Julian Edelman is too much and the team requires another target, one that would become essential should Rob Gronkowski retire.
The draft history of wide receivers has not been great look at the pick of Braxton Berrios last year in the sixth round, but this is the Patriots being guilty of their success, the late round picks means the talent is gone too soon for them and they will not go up and risk it for that one person. That means they are likely to wait and see, perhaps the selection of a tight end with No. 32 depending upon Gronkowski’s status, with the hole of the receiver being solved in free agency.
An option at wide receiver could be N’Keal Harry from Arizona State – 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds – has elite size and strong hands and projected to be a late first-round pick; he could fall if there is the usual panic and reach for quarterbacks and offensive linemen. Harry has big-play potential to compliment the possession play of Edelman, and the Patriots need to find a way to stretch the field.
Options at tight end, a position that saw Hayden Hurst go 25th overall to Baltimore last year (one pick before Calvin Ridley) and Miami take Mike Gesicki 42nd overall. Those two players will grow, this year sees a bit more with two options appearing in Iowa – Noah Fant is rated the best tight end and his team-mate TJ Hockenson are both great options; Hockenson’s size is closer to Gronk, but Fant has the speed to be a match-up nightmare.
Elsewhere, they will have Isaiah Wynn returning to bolster the O-line and run game with Sony Michel. And whereas the upheaval of Malcolm Butler departing led to requirements changing abruptly, there are always the unrestricted free agents (UFA) who have to be dealt with. Danny Shelton who we acquired from Cleveland Browns is guaranteed over $11m, which is a strange situation as he is second to Malcolm Brown on the depth chart and Brown is guaranteed just over half that ($6.1m) next season; Shelton is 26 years old, Brown is two years younger so one will likely seek the big payday to take them into their thirties – a situation that may influence the draft selection.
There is certainly potential at defensive tackle in this upcoming draft with established players such as Christian Wilkins of Clemson who played for the Tigers in winning the National Championship in January. Rated highly as a first round pick, he recorded four tackles in the championship in a six-sack season; but he is not rated as highly as his team-mate defensive end Clelin Ferrell and Alabama’s Quinnen Williams.