One day, we hope this little rant will be remembered by the history books as the post that kickstarted the Pigskin revolution. OK, perhaps that’s being a bit optimistic, but every blog has to start somewhere. The obvious place for me as I seek to draw a line between my day job writing about smartphones and tablets and this new labour of love is to offer up my personal New England Patriots off-season wish list. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the top five things the New England management should be doing while Tom Brady works on his tan.
1) Re-sign Sebastian Vollmer
The beefy German tackle (pictured, above) is a huge question mark for the Patriots this off-season and rounds out a trio of key free agents most New England fans would like to see suiting up against in 2013/14. So far, the Pats are rolling with a 50 per cent success rate (UPDATE 24/3/13: the Patriots have resigned Sebastian Vollmer) The player they brought back, Aqib Talib, was the one many thought would be packing his bags; Wes Welker’s departure to AFC rival Denver has divided Patriot Nation and will likely go down, for better or worse, as a real inflection point for the organisation. Vollmer is still out there and the Patriots should do everything they can to resign him, dodgy back and all. At 28, he’s got his best playing years still to come and is a very capable offensive lineman. He’s also a leader and someone who has struck me as really buying into the Patriot philosophy. When Logan Mankins dusts off the golf clubs and makes for retirement in the not-too-distant future, the Patriots offensive line will lose its spiritual leader. Vollmer is an obvious candidate to assume the mantle so his return should be the Pats’ top priority going forward.
2) Draft talent at the WR position
Some members of Patriot Nation would probably say that bringing back Wes Welker was the organisation’s top priority and should have been achieved at at all costs. But coming back he’s not and, while part of me is sad to see him go, I’d also grown tired of his drops in the clutch. The Patriots’ offensive system makes superstars out of solid talent and, while there’s little doubt that Welks was a cut above the average slot WR, there’s no saying that he can’t be replaced. Danny Amendola is a good enough place to start, but I ultimately see him being burdened by trying to fill Wes’ shoes. What the Patriots really need to do is draft a couple of top-drawer WRs this year. Ex-WVU star Tavon Austin is the one that sends shivers down my spine. Austin can be deployed as a HB or WR: he can run the ball, catch, and return kicks. He’ll make you miss in open space and, being a tad on the undersized side, looks like a more dynamic version of Welker. You can’t help but feel Belichick and McDaniels would have a field day with a talent like his. USC’s Robert Woods (pictured, above) in another intriguing prospect. He’s a real deep threat talent that could slip to the second round because he was overshadowed by Marquise Lee at college. But he’s big and fast and exactly the kind of down-field threat Tom Brady needs going forward.
3) Sorting out the secondary
In that frankly embarrassing AFC Championship game loss to the Ravens, many of the Pats’ defensive problems were laid bare. But none was as glaring as the lacklustre play of its secondary. As soon as Aqib Talib (pictured, above) went down, the cracks started to show; soon enough, they had become gaping wide holes ripe for exploitation. All the talk of whether or not Joe Flacco merits the “elite” QB tag has to be taken in the context that he got very lucky with his heave against the Broncos, and came up against a New England defence that even Matt Schaub was able to manipulate at times the week before. The loss of Alfonzo Dennard to the US penal system is a quiet blow, as he looked good at times last year and started playing with some real swagger when paired with Talib, whose return is a real relief. New signing Adrian Wilson’s best games are behind him, but he should provide some solid leadership and a reliable presence up top. Formerly of the Seattle Seahawks, Marcus Trufant is currently a free agent and would give the New England secondary some real depth. Younger brother Desmond has just hung up his boots at the University of Washington and is a likely first-round in this year’s draft. Should he still be available when they are on the board, the Patriots will give him a serious look – as they will Matt Elam, a hard-hitting safety on his way out of Florida.
4) Let Gronk be Gronk
The Patriots have plenty to worry about this off-season, but the Gronk’s commitment and work ethic isn’t a pressing concern for me. Yes, the beastly tight end has a real penchant for losing his shirt and migrating to the nearest keg as soon as the season is over, but do you really think a bit of partying is going to slow him down when the season rolls around? The monstrous physique that often finds its way on to the gossip pages isn’t the result of constant over-refreshment. Gronk (pictured, above) is quite obviously a gym rat to the extreme and, when healthy, he simply can’t be stopped. He’s a force of nature like the TE position has never known and New England is very lucky to have him. And, if we want to get the best out of the 23-year-old, we need to cut the kid some slack and stop with the nanny routine.
5) Whisper it softly: start planning for the post-Brady era
Tom Brady has indicated a desire to play until he’s 40. Given the way he’s fond of ducking out of contact these days, there’s no real reason why he shouldn’t – though a fourth Super Bowl ring would no doubt change his outlook. But the fact remains, he’s now 36 – like it or not, the Patriots need to start planning for the post-Brady era. Ryan Mallett (pictured, above) has a big arm and will have a hell of a lot of grooming under his belt in a few year’s time. In fact, he’s already started attracting serious interest this off-season and many are tipping him to be the Browns’ next QB via a trade. Should he stick around and try to fill Tommy B’s shoes down the line? I’d like to think he’s capable of that and I definitely think the Patriots have invested enough in him that they should try to ensure he stays put. That said, you also feel that schemers like Belichick and McDaniels would have a field day with a mobile QB. Their back up plan should definitely involve working the draft over the next few years to position the team to be able to trade up high enough to nab the next Russell Wilson, if and when someone that dynamic comes along again.