ESPN Picks Patriots’ Top Offseason Need After Early Playoff Exit

New England's defense needs a makeover

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For the majority of the 2021 season, it looked like the backbone of the Patriots was going to be the defense.

So much for that.

New England’s defense fell apart in December and January, and it saved its worst performance of the season for last. The Buffalo Bills had their way with the Patriots last Saturday night and sent New England packing without much resistance.

The sloppy showing at Highmark Stadium was jarring, and it reinforced what ESPN believes should be Bill Belichick and Co.’s top priority this offseason: overhauling the defense.

“The troubling way the Patriots didn’t compete defensively in their 47-17 playoff loss to the Bills was eye-opening,” Mike Reiss wrote. “Maybe ‘overhaul’ is too strong of a word, but the unit looked old and slow to close out the season. Bill Belichick said he’ll evaluate everything — from personnel, to coaching, to scheme — and then make decisions accordingly.”

New England might lose three of its older/slower defensive players this spring. Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty both are realistic retirement candidates, while Ja’Whaun Bentley likely will fetch a more lucrative free-agent contract outside of Foxboro. It will be interesting to see how the Patriots handle Jamie Collins and J.C. Jackson, as the former still is fairly athletic and versatile while the latter is one of the top cornerbacks in the game.

The Patriots’ offense is in pretty good shape and might be only one piece away from being legitimately formidable. As such, New England should invest the majority of its draft capital and cash this offseason on the other side of the ball.

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