After an unprecedented two-decade run of dominance, the New England Patriots finally need to rebuild their roster. Coming off of a disappointing 7-9 season, this team has plenty of holes but does have the means to fill them. Armed with over $60 million in cap space and a 68-year old coach that probably has no interest in a long rebuild, New England can be a legitimate AFC contender if they make the right moves in the offseason.
How the New England Patriots Can Rebuild
Find the Quarterback
The most important part of any rebuild is finding the right quarterback to run your offense. Quarterback has always been the most important position in the game, but it’s more important than ever in today’s pass-happy league. Cam Newton wasn’t as bad as his detractors say, as he had to overcome a shortened offseason while playing with arguably the worst supporting cast in the league. However, there is certainly room for improvement.
Right now, New England’s top two targets should be Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. As the top two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft, both quarterbacks have shown promise throughout their time in the NFL. Winston is simultaneously the best and worst quarterback in the league, as he has the ability to make some of the most amazing and head-scratching throws you’ll ever see. This volatile style of play can be infuriating at times, but the good outweighs the bad with Winston. From 2015 to 2019, Winston ranked 15th in EPA/play and 12th in completion percentage over expectation. He’s no superstar, but he’s a solid starter that deserves another chance.
If the Patriots want a safer option, then they should go after Marcus Mariota. While he’s currently under contract with the Raiders, leaguewide reports say that Vegas would trade the passer for as little as a fifth-round pick. Mariota played well in a bad system early in his career, but injuries appeared to slow him down during his final years in Tennessee. If he’s actually healthy, he could experience a Ryan Tannehill-esque rebound with New England. He only carries an $11.25 million cap hit in 2021, and any and all incentives earned would be carried over to the 2022 cap. Considering the minimal investment, this is well worth the risk for New England.
Deleted a prior tweet because it was incorrect. If Marcus Mariota were to earn all of his incentives, he would have earned a total of $22.1M while leading his team to a Super Bowl. $11.35M would be on the 2021 cap while the 2022 cap would be debited $10.75M.
— 2021 Cap Space = $63,561,690 (@patscap) February 16, 2021
Unfortunately, it won’t matter who the quarterback is if the Patriots bring back the same supporting cast. Julian Edelman is clearly slowing down, and Jakobi Meyers is the only other receiver on the roster to show any signs of consistent play. N’Keal Harry, Devin Asiasi, and Dalton Keene are all still young, so there is a chance the trio improve in 2021. However, the Patriots shouldn’t bank on that happening.
Fortunately for the Patriots, this is a good year to need offensive weapons. Several big-name players are set to hit the market, including some genuine studs in Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, and Kenny Golladay. The last time New England’s offense looked this bad, Belichick added Randy Moss and Wes Welker in the offseason, so it’s not like the head coach is opposed to bringing in elite receiving talent.
Even if the top names return to their respective teams via the franchise tag, there are still plenty of good mid-tier free agent options for the Patriots. Will Fuller would give New England a fantastic vertical threat, while Curtis Samuel is a versatile chess piece that can make plays all over the field. Everyone knows about Bill Belichick’s well-documented affection for Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith might be even better.
Obviously, the Patriots shouldn’t sign every single one of the aforementioned players. However, bringing one or two aboard would go a long way in giving 2021’s starting quarterback a fair shot at success.
Find Cost-Effective Defensive Pieces
The Patriots should devote most of their resources to fixing the offense, as that side of the ball needs more help and is more stable on a week-to-week basis. However, that doesn’t mean the Patriots should completely ignore their defense. The secondary is getting older, with Jason McCourty and Stephon Gilmore both closer to the ends of their respective careers than the starts. New England has a few young stars in J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones, but they could probably use another body in the back end. Considering the importance of coverage, don’t be surprised if the Patriots invest a third-round pick in a cornerback.
As far as the front seven goes, the Patriots should do everything they can to bring Adam Butler back to New England on a fair deal. According to reports, both Butler and New England are interested in a reunion, so this shouldn’t be an issue. Butler can’t do it alone, and the Patriots should add another cost-effective interior space eater like Chris Wormley. Alternatively, New England could go to the draft and select someone like Tyler Shelvin in the middle rounds.
There’s mutual interest between the #Patriots and Adam Butler in orchestrating a return. I’m told the Pats want Butler back.
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) February 19, 2021
Generally speaking, New England should use their leftover building blocks to fix their defense. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Linebacker is a crucial position to Bill Belichick’s defense, and he shouldn’t turn down the opportunity to gain a truly elite three-down player. If Lavonte David leaves Tampa Bay, the Patriots should be very interested in his services. Alternatively, Micah Parsons would be a solid choice at 15 if the quarterbacks and tight end Kyle Pitts are already off the board.
Embed from Getty Images