Football season is finally here. The 53-man rosters are set and ready to go. We have a snapshot of what the team will look like for 2019. The Patriots are sporting one of the strongest lineups we’ve seen from them in a while. And yet, there will be much turnover once the season has ended.
Way Too Early New England Patriots Needs for 2020
With the loss of Rob Gronkowski, the most glaring need on the Patriots roster is easily a true number one tight end. Heading into the 2019 season, the Patriots are sporting a revolving door of players and hoping that they can get serviceable play.
Among the four tight ends on the roster, Lance Kendricks and Ben Watson—both of whom are suspended for the beginning of the season—are set to hit free agency next year. Watson, in particular, came out of retirement to play this season; chances are he doesn’t play another. Kendricks finds himself on the wrong side of 30 as well. Unless Matt LaCosse has a breakout year, the Patriots long-term outlook at the position looks weak.
A few notable tight ends will be hitting free agency at the end of this season. These include Eric Ebron, Austin Hooper, Tyler Higbee, and Hunter Henry. The Falcons are projected to only have a little over $1 million in cap space to start free agency. The Patriots might, therefore, try to make a run at Hooper. However, it seems more likely that they’ll look to the draft to answer this need.
Likely Critical Needs
Unfortunately, there’s a good chance Devin McCourty hangs up his cleats at the end of this season; he considered it after this past Super Bowl victory. McCourty’s presence has been vital to the Patriots’ success over the past decade. The leadership and talent he provides at the position will be hard to replace if he truly does move on. Moreover, the Patriots are lacking depth at the position—there is no true free safety on the roster outside of McCourty.
The Patriots should look to draft a free safety regardless of whether or not McCourty retires or not, as they need to add depth at the position and will eventually need to develop an heir to McCourty in any case. A pair of safeties are coming out of Bill Belichick’s friend Nick Saban’s program at Alabama. Maybe Shyheim Carter or Xavier McKinney can be the answer that Belichick is looking for.
Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, and Jamie Collins are all going to be free agents at the end of the season. This is a case where all of them or none of them could return and it wouldn’t be surprising. Assuming the worst case, the Patriots will need to add at least one linebacker to make up for their losses. They may need to add two if they truly switch back to a base 3-4 scheme.
This is a position where free agency may hold some answers. It’s a long shot, but Jadeveon Clowney is going to be a free agent next season; Seattle cannot give him a contract extension, which means Clowney will hit the market. The Patriots will have well over $20 million in cap space, assuming Tom Brady returns. It might be a little difficult, but the Patriots could compete for Clowney in free agency. He certainly has some experience in a Patriots-like system, having played under former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel while with the Texans. More realistically, the Patriots could bring back edge defender Jabaal Sheard. They may be able to sign him cheap as he will be 31 to start the 2020 season.
If they continue to play 3-4, they will need to add an inside linebacker as well. Panthers’ linebacker Shaq Thompson is an option in free agency, although it’s likely that the Patriots will bring back Van Noy. Still, this is a position to monitor as the season progresses.
Interior Offensive Line
Even if Dante Scarnecchia is able to develop 2019 fourth-round pick Hjalte Froholdt into a starting-caliber guard, the Patriots depth on the interior line will need to be addressed. The Patriots had to pull off last-minute trades for guard Jermaine Eluemunor and center Russell Bodine because they lacked confidence in their depth to start the season. While Eluemunor will at least be a restricted free agent, Bodine will be an unrestricted free agent to close the season.
Joe Thuney will likely garner a huge contract in free agency next season. Hopefully, David Andrews is able to make a full recovery from his blood clot issue. At this stage, however, it must be taken with some uncertainty. The Patriots should have the leeway to draft a developmental prospect at this position.
Nice To Have
The Patriots interior pressure in 2018 was abysmal. As a whole, the Patriots were tied for the second-lowest number of sacks on the season at 30. Among them, pass-rush specialist Adam Butler had only three, Lawrence Guy had one, and both Malcolm Brown and Danny Shelton had none at all. Adam Butler will be a free agent at the end of the season. If the Patriots decide to be a 4-3 team in 2020, they should look to add more presence to the defensive interior.
Shelton will also be a free agent at the end of the season. Unless rookie Byron Cowart has a breakout season, if the Patriots want to play 3-4, they may look to add another nose tackle.
Demaryius Thomas, Josh Gordon, and Phillip Dorsett will all be free agents. Similar to the linebacker situation, it is possible that all or none of them return for 2020. Thomas has had his fair share of injuries, Gordon’s sobriety is uncertain at best, and Dorsett has been a reliable but unspectacular option for the Patriots. It seems that N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers can be impact players. However, a speedy receiver, someone who can truly take the top off of defenses, could really open up the Patriots passing attack.
Of the three times that Brady has won the MVP, twice he’s had one of the fastest receivers in the league, namely Randy Moss and Brandin Cooks. Basically, give Brady a vertical option, and he can smoke opposing defenses. An interesting, albeit unlikely, free agent for the Patriots to consider in 2020 is Robby Anderson. An even less likely option is drafting TCU receiver, Jalen Reagor.
Last Word on Patriots 2020 Needs
The Patriots will certainly need to find a true number one tight end for the 2020 season. If they lose Devin McCourty or any number of linebackers, they will also need to seek help at those positions. The interior offensive line has shaped out to be shakier than expected after center David Andrews had to be put on injured reserve. The Patriots interior defensive line and wide receiver group might need to be upgraded for 2020 as well, but they are not as big priorities as other position groups will likely be.