To say that the New England Patriots had an interesting year would’ve been a severe understatement. They lost some key guys in the offseason (Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead, Patrick Chung, etc), and they had a heavy task on hand in the offseason. They signed Danny Amendola, Will Svetik, Tommy Kelly, and a few other guys like Tim Tebow and Austin Collie who got cut from the team later on in the season. They also acquired LeGarrette Blount in a trade, and he would prove to be a huge acquisition later on in the season. In Week 1 of the regular season, it looked like the Patriots would lose to their fellow AFC East rivals, the Buffalo Bills. Tom Brady, however, mounted a comeback, and the Patriots started the season 1-0 for the 10th straight year. The Patriots ended up finishing with an impressive 12-4 record to capture the AFC’s #2 seed. Tom Brady arguably played like an MVP during the regular season, but he didn’t have the statistics that Peyton Manning had (nor the quality of players surrounding him). The Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs in a game that saw the Patriots set a franchise postseason record for most rushing yards in a game (235, 166 from Blount). The Patriots also set a franchise postseason record for most rushing touchdowns in a game (6, 4 from Blount). The Patriots would then go on to lose to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 26-16, marking only the 5th time that Peyton Manning was able to top Tom Brady. When you look back at all of the adversity the Patriots faced, it truly was impressive that they finished with a 12-4 record and made it to the AFC Championship game. The Patriots will look to continue their AFC East dominance. Heading into the offseason, the Patriots had 12 unrestricted free agents coming off the books and they face a decision on who they should bring back and who they should let walk. If the Patriots want to improve upon the momentum they have from last season, they should definitely look into re-signing these five guys.
Aqib Talib: The Patriots would be absolutely insane if they did not re-sign Talib. Had it not been for Talib, it’s highly likely that the Patriots may not have even made it to the AFC Championship games in each of the past two seasons. Unfortunately for Talib, his body failed him when it counted the most (he hasn’t been able to stay healthy for a full 16 game season in his career and he’s been forced out of the last two AFC Championship games). The complexion of the Patriots defense changes dramatically when Talib is not on the field. Take the AFC Championship game against Denver. The Patriots were down 3-0 to the Denver Broncos before Talib got injured. Talib, 6’1″, was tasked with keeping Denver’s 6’3″ lanky receiver Demaryius Thomas in check. When Talib left the game due to injury, the Patriots were forced to play 5’11″ rookie Logan Ryan on Thomas, and you can bet that Peyton Manning took advantage of that. Talib played with the type of swagger that was seemingly infectious for this Patriots defense, and it lead him to tallying 5 interceptions last season. Talib thrives matching up against top NFL wide receivers, and what he brings to the Patriots defense can not be replaced by anyone in free agency or in the draft. Change this to someone the New England Patriots must re-sign.
Julian Edelman: Edelman is what Bill Belichick envisions as the perfect Patriots with his toughness and tenacity. He doesn’t trash talk and he lets his great play on the field do the talking. If his body allows him to, he would definitely play through an injury. If his body didn’t allow him to, Edelman would do whatever it took to get back on the field. With Rob Gronkowski out for most of the season with injuries, Edelman often looked like he was the only receiver Tom Brady felt comfortable targeting. In the AFC Championship game against Denver, Tom Brady had 24 completions on 38 attempts. 15 of those attempts were to Edelman, and Edelman caught 10 of those. Edelman had 105 catches on the season for just over 1,000 yards (1,056), and he only earned just over $1 million last season. You can expect him to demand more money, but the Patriots should oblige and throw it to him as Edelman appears to be the only reliable option for Tom Brady if he doesn’t want to hand the ball off on every play. It’s not like the Patriots would break the bank for Edelman, as he could demand a 5 year, $26-30 million deal. If the Patriots fail to keep Talib, Edelman becomes a must-sign for the Patriots.
Ryan Wendell: Wendell has played in all 16 regular season games for the Patriots for the last two years. No matter what re-signings and free agent signings that the Patriots can complete, they will look to the draft for help on the offensive line. Wendell was not great last year, but his versatility and ability to play center and guard (as well as being familiar with Tom Brady) makes him worthy of being brought back, but only at a reasonable price. With Wendell ranking as the 30th best center in the league last year (according to James Ermelio via ProFootballFocus), the Patriots should be able to re-sign Wendell for relatively cheap. Ben Volin of the Boston Globe predicts that the Patriots should be able to re-sign him for $2-3 million guaranteed on a one-year deal, and that’s something the Patriots should do.
LeGarrette Blount: The New England Patriots developed an exceptional and effective running attack with the primary combination of Stevan Ridley (178 attempts for 773 yards and 7 touchdowns) and Blount (153 attempts for 772 yards and 7 touchdowns). The Patriots new-found life in the running game truly helped in balancing out their offense with their weak aerial attack, and Blount is the main reason why the Patriots made it to the AFC Championship game. LeGarrette Blount outscored the Indianapolis Colts 28-23 in their AFC Divisional Round game, tallying 166 yards on the ground to go along with four touchdowns. His big and powerful frame immediately promotes him to being a presence on the field and someone that the defense has to look into containing, but don’t let his big frame fool you; he’s got fantastic open field speed and can outrun nearly anyone in a foot race. If the Patriots want to keep their balance on offense, Blount will be a high priority for Robert Kraft and the Patriots.
Michael Hoomanawanui: With Rob Gronkowski gone for most of the season and Aaron Hernandez gone for the entire season, Michael Hoomanawanui stepped in admirably for the Patriots at the tight end position. While he didn’t boast huge numbers, Hoomanawanui contributed in other ways that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. His big body was a presence to the defense, and any time he went out for a pass, he would draw one or two of the opposing linebackers with him, freeing up the middle of the field for Tom Brady (who is a mastermind when he has the middle of the field to play with). He contributed in the running game as well, proving to be a serviceable run blocker. With the Patriots appearing to be razor-thin at tight end until Rob Gronkowski comes back (will he even be able to stay healthy after he comes back?), Hoomanawanui is a guy that the Patriots should re-sign. If Hoomanawanui does re-sign with the Patriots, you can expect to see a noticeable spike in his production.