Patriots Could Address These Future Needs One Year Early In 2017 NFL Draft

Many NFL teams only consider the present when constructing and fulfilling their draft needs. That’s because they have no choice.

Those teams are either bad or mediocre and have spots on their team that desperately need improvement. The Patriots typically lack those glaring weaknesses, which allows them to address future needs in the draft.

So far in the predraft process, we have highlighted what are considered current “needs” (as we’ve discussed, a very relative term) like running back, tight end and linebacker. But let’s hop in our hot tub time machine and take a look at which players are hitting free agency next offseason to see which positions the Patriots could draft with an eye toward the future.

These are what the kids might refer to as “low-key” draft needs.

Marcus Cannon is locked up long term at right tackle, but left tackle Nate Solder is set to become a free agent next offseason. The Patriots’ backup, Cameron Fleming, isn’t an ideal heir to the left tackle throne and will be a free agent in 2018.

The Patriots ideally will lock up Solder. If they can’t, they’ll need to spend a high draft pick on an offensive tackle, which aren’t exactly easy to find.

James White, Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead all are set to hit the open market in 2018, leaving D.J. Foster as the only running back on the roster locked up beyond this season. The Patriots could view Foster as their next third-down back. If they don’t, they could take a smaller pass-catching back in the draft to groom.

The Patriots also might have confidence they can sign White to a contract extension. He’s a one-faceted back that likely won’t command big money on the open market. It’s hard to see him signing a contract similar to the one Shane Vereen inked with the New York Giants. It certainly would be helpful to have White around for the long haul since the Patriots have had a rotating cast at third-down back since Kevin Faulk retired.

Julian Edelman only is locked up for one more year. The Patriots have Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell signed beyond this season, but the Patriots could look to draft a smaller slot receiver if they don’t believe they can re-sign Edelman when he hits free agency. Edelman seems like the type of player who would take a discount to keep playing with his BFF Tom Brady, however.

The Patriots’ starting center, David Andrews, is only signed for one more season. Their backup at the position is Ted Karras, a second-year pro. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Patriots drafted a center to compete with Karras for the backup role and to potentially groom as a future starter. Andrews is solid but unspectacular as a starter.

Pass rush is both a current and future need. Kony Ealy and Rob Ninkovich are entering the last years of their contracts, which means the Patriots could draft multiple pass rushers, as they did in 2015 with Trey Flowers and Geneo Grissom, later this month.

The Patriots’ two special-teams aces, Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner, both are entering the last years of their contracts. Chances are that both will stick around, but the Patriots have been known to draft players specifically to play on fourth down. It might be time for another one of those picks.

Thumbnail photo via Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports Images

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