Sunday 7: Prioritizing Patriots’ roster needs

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1 – While the NFL playoffs are going strong, the offseason is well underway in New England. The stabilization and improvement of the coaching staff is ongoing with the team working to retain retain/extend key defensive assistant Jerod Mayo and add an experienced, competent offensive coordinator, possibly top candidate Bill O’Brien.

Coaching was certainly atop the organizational To-Do list this offseason, but it’s far from the only aspect of the team that needs addressing with an eye on returning to the postseason. Once things are stabilized in a satisfactory manner in all three phases on Bill Belichick’s coaching staff the long process of building or rebuilding the roster must be addressed. That in mind, with free agency and the draft still months away, we take a look at the top roster needs New England has heading toward the fall of 2023.

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Tackle: The tackle position was a big part of the Patriots’ big problem on the offensive line this season. Isaiah Wynn struggled in his switch to right tackle as he’s set to hit free agency. Trent Brown was lackluster, at best, in his return to left tackle. Both had way too many penalties. Wynn is almost certainly set to leave via free agency. Brown might be best served with a return to right tackle. Either way, New England probably needs to add a high-end tackle option to the line mix to solidify the group in front of Mac Jones moving forward.

Cornerback: While rookies Marcus Jones and Jack Jones brought hope for the future of the cornerback spot, New England was undermanned at the position in 2022. J.C. Jackson’s free agent departure left the team without a true No. 1 option. Jalen Mills did his best to fill the void, but then missed most of the second half of the year to injury. Jonathan Jones did his best to bump out from the slot, but got exposed at times late in the year by elite foes and the veteran is set to hit free agency. Maybe Jack Jones is a future No. 1 cornerback and maybe Marcus Jones is the future in the slot, but it still feels like New England must at the very least add a more competitive veteran option to the mix moving forward in a pass-happy NFL that presents challenging playmaking receivers on a weekly basis.

Wide receiver: New England probably needs at least add depth at a receiver position that will likely say good-bye to overpaid veteran Nelson Agholor and will likely face competition to re-sign veteran free agent Jakobi Meyers. Even if the Patriots bring Meyers back, the need remains to find a top pass-catching playmaker for Mac Jones. DeVante Parker has his moments. Marcus Jones was a revelation in emergencies. Kendrick Bourne had a strange lost season. But in a league where rookie receivers (Justin Jefferson/Ja’Marr Chase) and trade additions (Davante Adams/Tyreek Hill/A.J. Brown) have proven to take offenses to a new level in a single offseason, the Patriots need to find a centerpiece to a passing attack that’s built around complementary options.

2 – After leading New York in receptions during the regular season, running back Saquan Barkley had just two catches in the Giants’ blowout loss to the Eagles on Saturday that ended Brian DaBoll’s team’s impressive year. Barkley (tied with WR Richie James with 57 catches), Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson (69) and Chargers star Austin Ekeler (107) were the only three running backs to lead their team in receptions this season.
To be fair, 49ers’ running back Christian McCaffrey’s season total of 85 receptions were enough to lead either San Francisco or his previous team, the Panthers. The running back had 52 catches after joining the 49ers via midseason trade. Stevenson was the first New England running back to lead the team in receptions since Reggie Dupard’s 34 caches in 1988. It’s also worth noting that New England was one of 15 NFL teams without a 1,000-yard pass catcher this season, none of those teams is still playing at this point.

3 – The Patriots have now gone four years without a playoff win for the first time since 1995. Only 11 of the 32 NFL teams have a longer active playoff win drought. That list includes the Lions (31 years), Dolphins (21), Raiders (20), Commanders (17), Bears (12), Jets (12), Cardinals (7), Broncos (7), Panthers (7), Steelers (6) and Falcons (5).

4 – Most probably missed it, but the Patriots made a minor transaction this week in signing LB Olakunle Fatukasi to a futures contract with the team. Fatukasi is former 2022 rookie free agent out of Rutgers who spent 13 games on the Bucs roster last fall, recording six special teams tackles. He finished the year on the practice squad in Denver. Futures contracts are generally teams signing their own practice squad players to the expanded offseason roster for the following year. But sometimes, they end up being more significant. Mostly notably in New England, running back Dion Lewis signed a futures contract with the team before going on to become a key contributor on both offense and in the return game from 2015-2017.

5 – New England will have a connection in some form or fashion to three of the upcoming college football prospect bowl games. The Patriots full staff of assistants, overseen by Belichick, will lead one side of the East/West Shrine Bowl on Feb. 2 in Las Vegas. New England’s defensive line coach, Demarcus Covington, will serve as the defensive coordinator for the American squad at the Senior Bowl on Feb. 4 in Mobile, Ala. Each will give the Patriots a unique opportunity to get an up-close look at a sample of the talent available in the upcoming draft. And though neither is currently a part of the Patriots organization, New England will have a couple connections to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl on Jan. 28, as former first-round running back Robert Edwards will coach the running backs while Hall of Famer Jackie Slater, father of Matthew Slater, will coach the offense line for the National Team in that game.

6 – The Patriots’ 37 all-time playoff wins are most in NFL history. But, the Cowboys have a chance to tie New England’s record with a win on Sunday in San Francisco. The Steelers and Packers are also currently tied for second all-time with 36 playoff wins, though like the Patriots each of those franchises missed the postseasons this year.

7 – Thanks to Kansas City’s 27-20 win over the Jaguars on Saturday, Andy Reid secured his 20th career postseason win as an NFL head coach. Reid, who previously had significant success with the Eagles, became the first coach with 10 playoff wins with two different franchises. Reid’s 20 postseason wins ranks second all-time, trailing Belichick’s 31 playoff victories. To catch Belichick, and assuming the New England coach’s playoff victory drought continues, the earliest that Reid could take over the postseason wins record would be during the playoffs after the 2025 season. And even that would mean the Chiefs would have to win 12 straight playoff games – including three Super Bowls – moving forward. That puts Belichick’s postseason wins total in incredible perspective.

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