The New England Patriots didn’t get a crack at the Super Bowl this season, but there’s a very good chance they venture a bit farther in 2015. The oddsmakers list them at 12-1 to win Super Bowl XLIX, which means they’re fourth in line behind San Francisco (5-1), Denver (5-1) and Seattle (5-1).
Before the Patriots can focus on building on their success from 2014, they’ll have to turn their attention to some very important pending free agents. Here are the top free-agents-to-be the Patriots must re-sign this offseason:
1. Aqib Talib
It’s true that the Patriots’ offense — and more specifically, their wide receivers — were the biggest reason New England did not win the AFC Championship Game against the Denver Broncos. However, the Patriots’ first priority in free agency will be to hold onto Talib, the cornerback who has meant so much to the team’s success over the past two years.
When Talib gets injured, the secondary falls apart. In last season’s AFC title game against the Baltimore Ravens, Talib couldn’t play for most of the second half, and the Ravens’ passing offense engineered a runaway victory. In this season’s AFC title game against the Broncos, Talib’s injury in the second quarter left New England’s back line bereft of options. The Patriots simply have to bring Talib back. He has proven his worth to the team.
2. Julian Edelman
The Patriots might not have high-quality receivers, but Edelman was the best of the bunch. He had a Wes Welker-like ability to get open in the middle third of the field and find pockets in a defense. He has above-average speed and became a target Tom Brady could rely on. He is an essential component of this team — one who deserves to stick around and see if he can help this team get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 2011.
Edelman was still pretty successful even after the Patriots lost tight end Rob Gronkowski to injury late in the regular season. He has earned the trust of this coaching staff and should be kept aboard.
3. LeGarrette Blount
The Patriots developed an effective running game, which helped minimize the weaknesses of their passing attack. Blount, who delivered 166 yards and four touchdowns against the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs, really answered the call for Bill Belichick and Brady.
Blount provides a powerful build and presence on the field, but his open-field speed, honed at the University of Oregon with its up-tempo offensive system, is still considerable. He is an important player to lock up.
Even if Edelman is brought back, the Patriots need some help at wide receiver. They’ve had a number of whiffs at the position in recent years, and this has to be a priority. Sure, Gronkowski is going to get well at some point, and there are high expectations for Aaron Dobson, but the Patriots can’t expect to compete with offenses like Denver’s when their wide receiver cast is a revolving door. That’s why Denver is at 5-1 to win the Super Bowl next season while New England is at 12-1.
Now, if the Patriots can add a proven playmaker who can stretch the field, the dynamic of this offense will change. However, there’s a very real chance that Gronkowski takes a while to heal, Dobson doesn’t pan out, and the passing game is hit-or-miss for a second straight season. That won’t bring this team another title.