One part of Patriots' offseason plans is very clear
BOSTON -- It can often be difficult to discern exactly what the Patriots are doing. This offseason, though, it's been pretty straightforward.
The defense? The defense was good enough last year. Everybody is welcome back.
The offense? Well, if you thought the removal of Matt Patricia was enough to fix things, think again. Major changes are afoot.
That's more or less been the takeaway after the initial wave of free-agent moves culminated in the signing of tight end Mike Gesicki on Friday morning.
In addition to Patricia (and likely Joe Judge) heading out of the offense, Jonnu Smith was traded away, Jakobi Meyers was allowed to leave via free agency on a reasonable deal, JuJu Smith-Schuster was immediately brought in as a Meyers replacement, James Robinson was signed over Damien Harris, and now Gesicki has been added as a replacement for Smith. There's also been no indication that the Patriots are making an effort to re-sign Nelson Agholor.
On the O-line, Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson have come aboard, which likely signals the end of Isaiah Wynn's Patriots career after five years. Interior lineman James Ferentz and offensive tackle Conor McDermott were re-signed, while an RFA offer was tendered to Yodny Cajuste. All of that tackle depth could lead to a Trent Brown trade that would free up $11 million in cap space, though at this point, that's just a speculative idea.
The overall message on offense, with Bill O'Brien entering the fold to run his offense with Mac Jones as the triggerman, is that changes were needed. And with the team reportedly pursuing the likes of Jerry Jeudy or DeAndre Hopkins, more upheaval at the receiver position could still be coming. (Don't be surprised if, say, Kendrick Bourne heads out of New England along with a draft pick in a trade for a veteran receiver.)
On defense, though, it's Bring It Back o'clock.
Jonathan Jones? Back.
Carl Davis? Back.
Jabrill Peppers, Raekwon McMillan, Mack Wilson? Back, back, and back.
Throw in an RFA tender to Myles Bryant, just for good measure.
Devin McCourty's retirement takes away the Patriots defender who played the most snaps last year. But aside from McCourty, the Patriots don't intend to lose a single player who took more than 42 defensive snaps last season.
(Update: Jalen Mills' release changes that picture slightly. Mills took 41.5 percent of last year's defensive snaps.)
In terms of outside free agents, the only defensive player reportedly linked to New England thus far has been Trey Flowers, a player who would merely be the latest to hold a Foxboro reunion if he were to sign.
The reasons for keeping it together on defense while making massive shifts on offense are multiple, but the first is obvious. The defense was pretty good. The offense was abysmal. And while Patricia and Judge no doubt played a large role in the offense's inability to do much of anything last year, the Patriots plainly identified areas where upgrades could help.
Meyers to Smith-Schuster is likely an upgrade. Smith to Gesicki is almost certainly an upgrade. And one more trade for a top-tier receiver could elevate the Patriots' pass-catching status to a legitimate level.
Defensively, it can be looked at as a twofold matter. For one, the Patriots' defense was pretty good last year. Despite lacking a true No. 1 cornerback to keep top receivers in check, New England ranked eighth in total defense and 11th in points allowed. They ranked fourth in rush yards allowed per attempt, which helps explains the Davis and Ekuala re-signings, and they ranked third in sacks per opponent's passing attempts.
The other chief reason for all of the re-signings likely relates to the loss of McCourty. There's no replacing a 13-year veteran who wore the green dot and communicated play calls to the entire defense, so it's sensible for Bill Belichick to want to keep as much continuity as possible in the secondary. That explains the re-signings of Jones and Peppers, both of whom are candidates to actually fill the positional void left by McCourty at free safety.
Questions still remain about whether the defense will be good enough to slow down the likes of the Chiefs, Bills, Bengals, Dolphins, Chargers and potentially the Aaron Rodgers-led Jets in the AFC next season. Interconference matchups with the Cowboys and reigning NFC-champion Eagles figure to challenge that defense as well. There is still a draft that can help in that regard, but Bill Belichick, Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick very obviously feel comfortable moving forward with the guys they already have.
Offensively, the need for improvement was likewise obvious, so the moves make sense in that regard. There is always an element of risk when bringing a player into a new offensive system. But with a new OC in O'Brien running the show, most everyone on the offense will be leaning together. Now would be the ideal time to integrate some new talent at the skill position. And likewise, the draft still awaits. If that Hopkins/Jeudy dream doesn't work out, and if the Patriots don't feel like paying an exorbitant price for Odell Beckham Jr. and all of the question marks that accompany him, they could select a receiver who could make a moderate impact in year one.
The offseason remains young, and roster moves -- some significant, some not so much -- still await. For now, Belichick and the Patriots have made clear their feelings on what went wrong last season and how they intend to fix it next season.
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