Current Salary Cap Situation: $18.6 million under the cap, with a $5.6 million carry over
Notable 2013 Unrestricted Free Agents: RB Danny Woodhead, WR Wes Welker, WR Julian Edelman, OT Sebastian Vollmer, RDE/OLB Trevor Scott, LCB Aqib Talib, CB Kyle Arrington, SS Patrick Chung
Notable 2014 Unrestricted Free Agents: C Ryan Wendell, LDE/OLB Rob Ninkovich, DL/OLB Jermaine Cunningham, DT/DE Brandon Deaderick, DT Kyle Love, MLB Brandon Spikes, P Zoltan Mesko
Potential 2013 Cap Casualties: CB Ras-I Dowling
Offensive Scheme: With all due respect to Charlie Weis, Bill O’Brien, and Josh McDaniels, there is no doubt that Tom Brady is the singular reason why this offense has remained explosive for the better part of the last dozen years. Regardless of the offensive coordinator or supporting cast, the offense rarely misses a beat due to Brady’s pristine preparation and execution.
New England’s diverse attack features plenty of two-TE sets and spread looks. Brady’s accuracy and ability to quickly dissect a defense make for a lethal intermediate passing attack. Brady is the ideal trigger-man for the up-tempo, no-huddle attack that keeps the opposing defense on it’s heels, and opposing defensive coordinators unlikely to blitz. The WRs and TEs must be reliable route-runners with the ability to pick up some yards after the catch.
Defensive Scheme: Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia devise the game plans, with Patricia making most of the defensive calls on game day.
Once upon a time, Belichick employed the prototypical 3-4 scheme, utilizing big, physical run-stoppers in the front seven. The defensive linemen and linebackers were disciplined veterans who controlled their assigned gaps, while the corners basically mugged receivers at the LOS. It was a dominant unit, until age set in and rule changes favoring passing attacks were enacted. (Ironically, one could argue that it was the borderline-criminal physicality of New England’s corners that necessitated the rule changes.) To keep step with the changing times, Belichick and Patricia have installed a 4-3 scheme designed to create more pressure from the defensive line.
While the Patriots now operate out of a 4-3 set, Belichick and Patricia are still known to scheme according to an opponent’s strengths/weaknesses, so versatile defenders able to oscillate from a variety of looks are essential.
In the War Room: This is one situation where the cook clearly buys his own groceries. Senior Football Advisor Floyd Reese and Director of Player Personnel Nick Casario will offer their two cents, but it’s Bill Belichick who has the final say on personnel decisions. Belichick prepares a relatively small, select draft board featuring prospects who fit New England’s schemes, and he’s more than willing to trade up or down for his targets. Belichick moved up twice in the first round of the ’12 Draft to acquire Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower, but don’t be surprised if he’s looking to trade down in the ’13 Draft, as the Patriots have only five picks, and the greatest value will reside in the mid-rounds.
Belichick and Co. are masterful handlers of the salary cap and roster turnover – you will rarely find a bloated contract or an aging starter without a viable successor on this roster…The Pats prefer proven, big school prospects – only one non-Div. I prospect (Markell Carter) has been drafted since 2000…Belichick has never drafted a WR in the 1st round…With the exception of Logan Mankins, B.B. has never drafted an interior lineman higher than the 4th round – the “coaching-up” abilities of legendary O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia may have something to do with that…B.B. and “Scar” demand intelligence and a healthy dose of nasty from their O-line prospects …Belichick loves to draft CBs, LBs, and TEs…Belichick’s affinity toward versatile prospects, especially on defense, is well-chronicled – one-trick ponies need not apply…The safety position is usually addressed early – B.B. has only drafted one after the 4th round…Safety prospects must be equally adept in run support and coverage…CB prospects who struggle in run support will not be found on Bellichick’s board…While Belichick is often linked with Nick Saban and Alabama prospects on draft day, he has drafted only two Crimson Tide prospects during his tenure. If anything, there’s much more evidence of a Belichick/Florida Gators connection. Belichick has pulled the trigger on six Gators since arriving in New England.
2013 NFL Draft Picks: (5) 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 7th
1. Wide Receivers
This could be a crucial need by the time the draft rolls around. It’s hard to imagine the Pats without Wes Welker, but if Welker’s salary demands become too outrageous, I’m guessing that Belichick would let him walk – B.B. is not one to overpay, and has never let sentiment overrule business when making personnel decisions. Julian Edelman, who hasn’t quite lived up to the “poor man’s Welker” role, is also a free agent. To top things off, Deion Branch is cooked and Brandon Lloyd is approaching 32.
Belichick has always preferred veteran WRs, so I could see him targeting F.A. Danny Amendola to serve as a younger, more economical version of Welker. However, if the Pats decide that they want a slot receiver with more speed, the second day of the draft will provide plenty of valuable options. Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Markus Wheaton, and Denard Robinson are just a few.
Retaining F.A. Aqib Talib should be Belichick’s #1 offseason priority. He’s New England’s best cover corner since Ty Law. After Talib, there’s a steep drop-off to marginal starters like Alfonzo Dennard and F.A. Kyle Arrington. Ras-I Dowling has proven too fragile to be relied upon.
Belichick drafts a corner every year, and 2013 will be no exception. As with the 2013 WR crop, there will be excellent value at CB in the 2nd to 4th round. Jordan Poyer, Logan Ryan, Will Davis, and Jamar Taylor should all be on Belichick’s draft board.
3. Pass-Rushing Defensive Tackle
The Patriots need to locate a knifing gap-shooter to complement stalwart run-clogger Vince Wilfork on the interior D-line. Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick bring very limited skill-sets to the table, and both are going into their contract year.
Florida’s Sharrif Floyd would be the ideal fit in New England, but he may not be available to the Pats in the 1st round. The more likely scenario has Belichick trading down into the second round, perhaps with a target like LSU’s Bennie Logan, UNC’s Sylvester Williams, or Purdue’s Kawann Short in mind. FSU’s Everett Dawkins and Penn State’s Jordan Hill could be 3rd round options.
4. Nickel Linebacker
The starting trio of Hightower/Spikes/Mayo is set in stone, but the Pats have no depth at LB, and have struggled to get off the field on third downs this season. An athletic linebacker who excels in coverage could be targeted in the mid-to-late rounds. South Carolina’s DeVonte Holloman and Florida’s Jelani Jenkins would be ideal fits. Oversized safety-types like WVU’s Terence Garvin and Maryland’s Kenny Tate could be intriguing late-round upside prospects.