The New England Patriots’ early playoff exit has fans feeling discouraged, but buck up, little campers. Your offense is in great shape for 2016.
We already looked through the list of Patriots free agents, and it’s not exactly sizable. The most notable offensive player on the list is running back LeGarrette Blount. The list of free agents gets a little messy next offseason, but we’ll examine that in due time.
Let’s look at the Patriots’ offensive offseason needs in order of greatest to least:
That this is the Patriots’ biggest offensive need speaks to the overall depth of the roster. Dion Lewis will be back from a torn ACL, and James White, Brandon Bolden and Tyler Gaffney currently are under contract. Lewis, if healthy, will be the starter, and Gaffney still has upside, despite missing his first two seasons to injury. White proved to be a solid pass-catching option if Lewis goes down again.
The Patriots might bring back Blount, but they also could use a bigger boost in the “big back” category through free agency or the draft.
Running back is a bigger need than offensive tackle because at least the Patriots have their starters in place on the line. They don’t currently have a starting-caliber running back on the roster.
The Patriots’ offensive line will be better when Nate Solder is healthy and Sebastian Vollmer can move back to right tackle, but they must improve the backup spot. Marcus Cannon struggled all season, and his issues were compounded in the AFC Championship Game loss to the Denver Broncos, when he let Von Miller crush quarterback Tom Brady time and time again.
The Patriots are all set at the “Z” receiver spot with Julian Edelman and with the No. 4 role in Keshawn Martin. There’s some uncertainty at the “X” and “slot,” however.
Brandon LaFell was passed by Martin on the depth chart in the AFC Championship Game, and his salary-cap number is nearly $2 million higher. The Patriots could bring LaFell back in 2016 to see if a fully healthy offseason recharges him. LaFell began the season on the PUP list and missed all of training camp with a foot injury.
Amendola, on the other hand, almost certainly needs to restructure his contract. His cap hit is $6.8 million, which is higher than Edelman’s and tight end Rob Gronkowski’s. That’s an issue.
Even if Amendola and LaFell are back, the Patriots could use some competition at the Nos. 2 and 3 roles. Turning to free agency would be the safest bet, though the Patriots could take another shot in the draft.
Obviously we’re not talking about a starting-caliber player here because the Patriots have Rob Gronkowski, but Scott Chandler didn’t exactly pan out as another pass-catching option in the offense. Michael Williams is a solid blocker but isn’t athletic enough to be productive as a receiver. A.J. Derby, drafted in the sixth round in 2015, missed all season with an injury and isn’t a sure-thing in 2016.
Ideally, the Patriots would find a tight end who can coexist with and serve as depth for Gronkowski.
The Patriots are bringing back Josh Kline, Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason at the position. Kline was fantastic early in the season but struggled coming off a shoulder injury. Jackson and Mason were up and down. The Patriots should be set at guard, but they’ll need additional depth in training camp. It wouldn’t be unheard of for a second-year, fourth-round pick to be passed on the depth chart and cut out of training camp — it happened to offensive tackle Cameron Fleming in 2015.
Bryan Stork is the incumbent starter and David Andrews proved to be solid early in the 2015 season. Kline also has experience at center.
The Patriots will need to add a third quarterback for training camp, but with Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo on the roster, that likely will be a low-level free agent or undrafted rookie.
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