Yep, the Super Bowl was disappointing. Still, I’ll admit that this one was nowhere near as painful as the two losses to the Giants. This time, the Patriots lost to an honest-to-goodness better team. Tom Brady played one of the best games of his life, but it wasn’t enough to take down the triumphant Philadelphia Eagles. Malcolm Butler’s benching aside (another topic for another time), it was painfully evident how flawed the Patriots are, especially on defense.
It’s been a wild and crazy week since. Rob Gronkowski announced that he’s contemplating retirement. (To pursue a career in acting?) Matt Patricia accepted the head coaching gig in Detroit, and Greg Schiano was rumored to be his successor. To cap it all off, Josh McDaniels spurned the Colts by declining their head coaching job and returning to New England. Now that the dust has settled a bit, it’s time to start thinking about how the Pats can move forward to position themselves for another run at the Big Dance. In this article, I’ll outline my ideal Patriots offseason in five bullet points.
1. Invest in the front seven
Watching Nick Foles sit idly in the pocket and repeatedly pick apart the Patriots secondary was the most agonizing part of the Super Bowl 52 experience. The Patriots defense failed to sack Foles once and hit him a grand total of five times. Witnessing LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi shred the New England run defense for 147 yards on 23 carries wasn’t much better. The hard truth is that the Patriots are completely devoid of any game-changing talent in the front seven. Sure, Dont’a Hightower is a premier player, but he’s only good for 12 games a year.
The Patriots have an opportunity to address their defensive woes this offseason via free agency or the draft. One player I’d love to see the Patriots go after is Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence is a game-wrecking pass-rusher who recorded 14.5 sacks in 2017, which tied for second in the NFL. The Patriots would have to shell out a huge contract to get him, but with some cap space maneuvering, they could make it happen. Lawrence would give a much-needed shot in the arm to the New England pass rush. In the draft, the Patriots have the ammunition to trade up (much like they did in landing Hightower and Chandler Jones in 2012). If they do, Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans would be a prime target. At 6-3 and 231 pounds, Evans has a skill-set similar to Hightower’s; he can be a thumper in the run game, a pass-rusher, or a coverage ‘backer. Bill Belichick loves versatility (and Crimson Tide players) on defense, so Evans would be a natural fit.
2. Re-sign Dion Lewis, Matthew Slater and Nate Solder
The Patriots have a few big names up for new contracts, including Malcolm Butler (again… a different topic for another time). In my opinion, the most important guys are the three I’ve listed above. Lewis was a stud once he fully hit his stride this past season, and he should remain a focal point of the offense in the near future. Slater is one of the premier special-teamers in the NFL and has been a captain since 2011. Solder has been a solid, if unspectacular, fixture on Tom Brady’s blindside in his seven years as the team’s starting left tackle. These three guys are all “core” Patriots, and it’s important for the team to keep them around long-term. Of these three players, Solder is probably the most vital. If the Patriots let him walk, they would be forced to turn to Antonio Garcia, who didn’t see a snap in an injury-plagued rookie season, to protect the blindside of their 40 year-old quarterback.
3. Promote Brian Flores to defensive coordinator
Please, Bill Belichick, do not hire Greg Schiano to be your defensive coordinator. Yes, I know Schiano said recently that he’d be staying at Ohio State, but Josh McDaniels said he’d be coaching in Indianapolis, too. Nobody likes Greg Schiano. He’s a bully, nearly every player he’s ever coached hates him, and he had a dismal tenure as an NFL coach.
The Patriots should do what they’ve always done and promote from within. Brian Flores, the current linebackers coach and famous shouter of “Malcolm, go!“, has been with the Patriots for nearly 15 years. He knows the players, knows the system and is well-respected in the locker room. This isn’t a hard decision.
4. Talk Gronkowski out of pursuing an acting career, or whatever
Rob Gronkowski’s current situation sounds like one of the made-up player arcs from Madden 13. Remember that linebacker who always retired at 29 to pursue a career in country music? Well, that’s like this, except the player is a future Hall of Famer who probably just wants to be the Rock’s sidekick in a bunch of crappy action movies.
Look, I love Gronkowski as a person. He’s smart with his money, serious about football and considerate of life after the NFL. But… seriously? Gronk is coming off a mostly-healthy season and is in the prime of his career. Furthermore, he’s only got a few years left to play with the greatest quarterback of all time. Walking away would not only be harmful to his own legacy, but to the Patriots’ chances for success in Brady’s twilight.
5. Find a new heir apparent
Ok, I’ll admit that setting a picture of Baker Mayfield as the main image for this article was just to grab your attention. The former Oklahoma standout is all-but-guaranteed to be selected in the top-15 of April’s NFL Draft, and it’s highly unlikely that the Patriots would shell out the draft capital necessary to acquire him. But boy, would he be the ideal candidate to groom behind Brady before unleashing upon the NFL.
Now that I’ve revealed my pure, unfettered fantasy for how this offseason should go, let’s talk about a more realistic succession option: Richmond’s Kyle Lauletta. First of all, Lauletta has ties to the Naval Academy; both his dad and uncle played there. That counts for some automatic bonus points in Bill Belichick’s mind. Second, he had a big Senior Bowl week culminating in an efficient, 198-yard, 3-touchdown performance. Proving himself against worthy competition was big for Lauletta, who played in the Colonial Athletic Association. Armchair’s NFL Draft analyst Rob Paul is a big fan of Lauletta, citing his decision-making and pocket presence. Oh, and here’s the kicker: Lauletta is majoring in leadership studies. If you asked Bill Belichick to build a too-perfect-for-the-Patriots-to-be-a-real-person quarterback in his evil science lab where he keeps his clones of Tom Brady, the final product might look a lot like Lauletta.
Obviously, it will be almost impossible for the Patriots to attain all of the worthwhile offseason goals I’ve outlined here. But, as fans, we’re allowed to dream, and the Patriots should do whatever it takes to achieve their dream of winning another Super Bowl title.