Patriots Mailbag: 2016 Squad Looks Set Up For Another Super Bowl Run


January 26, 2016

The New England Patriots’ offseason started unexpectedly early, sending many of their fans into utter shock.

“Wait a gosh darn second,” they collectively gasped. “This team doesn’t make the Super Bowl every season?”

Patriots Nation understandably is not very happy its team lost in the AFC Championship Game to the Denver Broncos, and fans have many questions about why their team won’t win the Super Bowl this season. So I tried to provide some answers in an impromptu mailbag.

@DougKyed Doug, help settle a discussion please … would Solder being fit & having Vollmer at Right T have won us game yday/nullified Miller?
— @Cudge86
It certainly wouldn’t have hurt. Marcus Cannon had a ton of trouble against Von Miller at right tackle, Sebastian Vollmer is better at right tackle than he is at left tackle, and Nate Solder is a better left tackle than Vollmer.

Solder being healthy definitely would have helped keep quarterback Tom Brady upright. It’s tough to say whether it would have allowed the Patriots to win the game, but since the loss came down to so many individual plays, it’s certainly possible. Injuries definitely played a major role in the Patriots’ early playoff exit, from their struggles over the last six weeks of the season to their complete and utter lack of a rushing attack.

@DougKyed What is NE biggest necessity this offseason?
— @JimmyMakaveli
The biggest necessity is fortifying the offensive line, which really reared its ugly head against the Broncos. The issue is figuring out how to do so.

Solder coming back healthy will be huge, since he’s a solid left tackle. That also would move Vollmer to right tackle, where he’s much better than Cannon. The Patriots have to figure out who’s the better center between 2014 fourth-round draft pick Bryan Stork and 2015 undrafted rookie David Andrews. The line played better when Andrews was starting, but that could be related to a number of factors. Stork lost his temper in back-to-back games, and he was flagged for unnecessary roughness against the Broncos. That can’t continue to happen.

The Patriots will have to hope one of their rookie guards, Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason, takes a step forward in their sophomore season and that Josh Kline regains his form from earlier in the season.

The biggest need on the offensive line is a quality third offensive tackle. Patriots coach Bill Belichick seems to love Cannon, but he had nearly an entire season to prove he can be a starter and didn’t. Vollmer has a lengthy injury history, so a third offensive tackle is nearly as important as a starter in the Patriots’ offense. They also use a sixth offensive lineman frequently in the running game.

If Jackson or Mason takes a step forward, Andrews or Stork can provide solid play at center and the Patriots find a quality depth option at offensive tackle, the line shouldn’t be terrible anymore.

@DougKyed Running game: can the Patriots find some with the players they currently have on the OL?
— @sidneyvt
I believe so. Once again, getting Solder back will help. I also think they need to find a running back who fits their offensive line’s skill set. The Patriots’ line is relatively small, so they’re not the type of unit that’s built for a power rushing attack. That’s one of the reasons they were so successful with Dion Lewis at running back. Mason, Kline, Andrews, Vollmer and Solder all are solid on pull blocks, and those take some patience from running backs.

Lewis is due to be back from a torn ACL next season, but the Patriots need better depth at the position. James White is solid as a pass-catching option, but he’s shown nothing carrying the ball.

@DougKyed why does my morning suck today?
— @SillyTone12
I’m sorry, Anthony. I’m going to guess it’s related to the Patriots’ loss.

Here’s something to cheer you up: The Patriots will be just as good or better next season. All of their key players are under contract for the 2016 season, and players such as Malcom Brown, Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower and Dominique Easley will be another year older and better.

@DougKyed Do you think Patriots will add a legit deep threat. A la Josh Gordon, Megatron, Travis Benjamin? Just speed on the outside?
— @TomasKesete
Do people really want Brady throwing deep more often? If so, why?

It seems the excuse for the Patriots’ lack of success with the deep ball is that Brady hasn’t had a player who can take the top off the defense since Randy Moss left. That’s true. But Brady’s accuracy and completion percentage on deep balls to the receivers he has is, let’s say, not good.

Obviously having a talented player like Josh Gordon or Calvin Johnson would give the Patriots’ offense a boost but not specifically as deep threats. I think it makes sense to add a big fast receiver, but his main objective will be getting open in the intermediate portion of the field.

Why is our line trash, Doug? Why?
— @BlackAttack200
Injuries and inexperience. That’s all I got without being too mean.

@DougKyed what will be the fate of players such as Lafell, Amendola, Mayo etc? And, who are some players to target in free agency and draft?
— @ccovert9
Brandon LaFell is an interesting case. He lost his No. 3 receiver role to Keshawn Martin in the AFC Championship Game, which is a terrible sign.

Martin received a two-year contract extension this season, while LaFell is only on the books for next season. It’s easy to say LaFell will be gone because Martin is a cheaper option, but the latter is one year removed from a 950-yard season, and Martin has been nothing but a depth option during his NFL career. I wouldn’t be surprised if LaFell came back in 2016, and the Patriots gave him a chance to compete for a role with a full offseason. LaFell began the 2015 season on the PUP list with a foot injury and didn’t come back the same player.

Amendola and Mayo will have to re-do their contracts (again) to stick around. I wouldn’t be surprised if either player is back but certainly not on their current contracts.

@DougKyed given the Pats have now gone to 5 straight AFC Title games, and only have 1 SB win to show for it … Has the game passed BB by?
— @BlakeJM
Hey Blake, I’m not sure if you remember this, but the Patriots won the Super Bowl last year. Like, just last year. In the year 2015. There’s Blu Rays about it and everything.

@DougKyed who do you think the patriots will let go in FA
— @pjmcbride_77
I think defensive tackle Akiem Hicks will be difficult to bring back. The Patriots could afford him, but I could see him getting a deal the team won’t be willing to match, like Shane Vereen’s or Jonathan Casillas’ contracts last season. Hicks is a talented player who proved he can be a dangerous three-down player late in the season for the Patriots.

It should be relatively easy to bring everyone else back.

@DougKyed who are your biggest needs? Mine are RB, WR, OT, MLB, and CB
— @daltonringey
In order, I’d go:
1. Running back
2. Offensive tackle
3. Wide receiver
4. Linebacker
5. Defensive tackle
6. Tight end
7. Guard
8. Center
9. Cornerback
10. Safety
11. Defensive end

@DougKyed what’s the point of life
— @CStrable

@DougKyed What was with Edelman yesterday? Was his foot worse than we thought? Or was it the Broncos defense keeping him in check?
— @pcon
Edelman was spotted limping after the game and didn’t look as quick and shifty as usual Sunday, so it’s entirely possible he wasn’t as comfortable on the foot than we anticipated. The Broncos also have three fantastic cornerbacks who gave the Patriots’ offense a ton of trouble.

@DougKyed What do beat writers do in the offseason?
— @Kwadare
A lot of people ask me this. There’s actually a lot going on during the offseason, between the draft, free agency, the offseason workout program, organized team activities and minicamp — certainly enough to keep us busy enough every day, even if we’re just sitting on the couch, watching The Food Network and doing some offseason analysis.

I’ll also be going to the Super Bowl this year, even though the Patriots aren’t in it.

The real offseason for beat writers is between minicamp and training camp, which lasts from late June to late July. There’s nothing happening in the NFL world during that month, so that’s when I use all of my vacation time and rest as much as possible before all the training camp craziness.

TLDR: I sit on my couch a lot and wait for things to happen until late July.

@DougKyed what’s our cap situation like heading into next year?
— @AKortsch
Not bad. The Patriots have about $5 million in salary-cap room right now, and there are some players they could cut to create more space, including Mayo, LaFell, Cannon, Amendola and tight end Scott Chandler. I think that room should be used to sign Collins, Hightower, Butler, Ryan and possibly defensive end Chandler Jones to long-term deals.

@DougKyed How do I escape this glass case of emotion?
— @vnyand
Smash through it, Vinny. Your team won a Super Bowl last year. You’re good.

@DougKyed who’s a guy you definitely expect the pats to target in fa
— @PatsTalk1
I’ve already said it twice, but I think Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Mohammad Sanu is the most likely option. He’s similar to LaFell, went to Rutgers, has versatility and could compete for the No. 2/3 receiver role.

@DougKyed what do you think about Triple H winning the Royal Rumble last night?
— @AirLarsen
It was so predictable, but at least Sheamus didn’t win.

I think I’m going to Wrestlemania this year, and I’m not sure how excited I can get for a Triple H-Roman Reigns main event. I am pretty excited about the possibility of seeing Sami Zayn and AJ Styles, though. And if Styles is on the main roster, then Finn Balor, the rest of the Bullet Club, Hideo Itami and Samoa Joe might not be far behind.

As annoying as it is that Triple H thrust himself back into the main event, it is kind of understandable because of all the injuries, and at least he’s showing a willingness to sign some of the best guys in Ring Of Honor and the indies.

Wrestling better get good soon, because the Patriots suddenly have given me a lot of free time.

Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Jan 16, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) celebrates from the field against the Kansas City Chiefs during the second half in the AFC Divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots won 20-27. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
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