Patriots offseason to-do list, starting with keeping Tom Brady safe
Brady is too old to take the kind of beating he did in the AFC championship game.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
By Sid Saraf
Each day between now and post-Super Bowl Monday, we’ll roll out a get-to-the-point offseason plan for one NFL team. Today, the Patriots; tomorrow, the Cardinals-Panthers loser. After that, we’ll see. Here’s our three-point plan for New England:
The man can do amazing things in the pocket, but he's not a superhero. The 38-year-old quarterback was beaten to a pulp during Sunday's AFC Championship Game, when he was hit 23 times -- the most in the league this season. Injuries were a big reason for the Patriots' struggles up front, but it can't hurt to build some depth. According to Pro Football Focus, the only offensive lineman who graded positively for pass blocking this season was Chris Barker, and he didn't get much playing time. So, what to do? There will be some options via free agency -- Russell Okung, Andre Smith -- but the Patriots' modus operandi has been to target players like this in the draft. So, get cracking. Brady isn't getting younger, and he likely won’t remain healthy if he continues to take the kind of scary poundings he did against the Broncos.
2. Find a deep threat
Imagine how dangerous Gronkowski would be if the Patriots had a deep threat outside to draw attention away from him.
When the Patriots did throw deep against the Broncos on Sunday, it was often to running back James White on wheel routes with a linebacker covering him. Sure, it's a nice matchup, but is that what you want? The Patriots haven't had a receiver who can rip off chunks of yardage since Randy Moss left. Imagine having a threat on the outside who can demand consistent attention from defenses and combining him with the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and retuning running back Dion Lewis in 2016. That kind of offense would give defensive coordinators nightmares.
3. Regain that laser focus
The Patriots' costly Week 17 loss to Miami was proof they didn't have the focus of a champion in 2015.
The Patriots would have locked up the AFC's No. 1 seed with a Week 17 win against Miami. However, they ended up pulling Brady late and losing to a foundering team. It didn't seem like that big of a deal at the time, but that loss came back to haunt them Sunday. Would the Patriots have failed to convert two fourth-quarter fourth downs in their own building? Would Peyton Manning have played mistake-free football in Foxborough -- the site of so many of his ugliest playoff moments? Doubtful. Super Bowl-winning seasons often come down to a few key moments. That regular-season finale is one Bill Belichick and Co. would love to have back, and the Patriots likely will be hungrier this offseason and next season now that they won’t be coming off a title.