Following their disappointing loss to the Jets this past weekend, Bill Belichick and the Patriots haven't hesitated at all in the face of the looming lockout to start gearing up for what is sure to be a very busy off-season in New England. With 6 picks in the first three rounds of the draft, several expiring contracts, and holes to fill, there's certainly a lot to follow. I hope the next few paragraphs help to break it down for you. In the coming weeks and months we'll take a closer look at specific needs, players the Patriots might target, and specific free agents and needs the team has.
The Patriots have a few key players whose contract is currently an issue. We'll take a quick look at a few of them here, and give you a list of the rest who we'll look at in the next few weeks as free agency gears up.
Logan Mankins-Mankins is arguably the most important expiring contract on the Patriots' books. Beyond the 3 pro bowls he's been selected to (including this season, a season in which he only played in 9 regular season games) and the reputation he's earned in the league as one of the toughest, nastiest linemen in the NFL, he's clearly also part of the glue that holds the New England offensive line together. This is evidence by the fact that following his return the Pats averaged nearly 20 yards more per game on the ground (112 to 131.5), and a quarter yard more per carry (4.2-4.45). Mankins is an essential part of this line, who wants to be here in New England. Belichick clearly wants him as well, I've never seen him give as much praise to a player as he gave to Mankins when Mankins returned to the lineup. Look for him to be a fixture in the middle of the line for many years to come.
Matt Light-Clearly, Light is one of the most integral parts of the offensive line here in New England. Not only has he protected the blind side of Tom Brady for the past 10 years (9 seasons-remember in 05 he was injured), earning 2 pro bowl selections and an all-pro selection along the way, he has also endeared himself to the community, becoming one of the most loved members of the team. Granted the latter half of that has proven to mean nothing to Belichick in years past (Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law, Deion Branch will all attest to that), but the fact that no real suitable replacement on the market exists will likely keep Light here. If he's let go look for second year tackle Sebastian Vollmer to step up and take his place on the left side.
Running Backs-Yes, all of them. Okay seriously, almost all of them. Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis, and Fred Taylor are all scheduled for some form of free agency this off-season (BJGE is an RFA, the others are unrestricted). Following the second one-and-done in the postseason many people have cited the running back spot as a position of weakness, talking about the need to replace the "Law Firm" as our feature back. In my opinion, BJGE is a very serviceable back on a team that doesn't feature the rush too often. He doesn't drop the ball, and he gets the yards he should. While I see the benefit in picking up a back like Mark Ingram late in the first round, I think there are bigger needs on this team. I would expect to see Sammy Morris back, and Fred Taylor either retire or try a season as a backup-likely with the Jaguars. As for Faulk, we'll get into that on another day.
A complete list of Patriots' free agents:RB Kevin FaulkRB Ben Jarvus Green-EllisRB Sammy MorrisRB Fred TaylorK Shayne GrahamOT Matt LightOT Quinn OjinakaG Logan MankinsDL Gerard WarrenLB Tracy WhiteCB Kyle ArringtonFS Josh BarrettFS Brandon McGowan