When the Patriots traded Jimmy Garoppolo for a second round pick, days before the 2017 trade deadline, there were many unanswered questions. However, one thing that was answered for certain was “Jimmy G” was not the quarterback of the future for the Patriots.
Left with no quarterback for the future, the Patriots put their trust in the same man they have trusted for 18 years. With the many reports of Tom Brady insisting he would be around for at least another 4-5 years, New England chose to go all-in and focus on the present, not the future. As the free agency period begins, it seems New England is doing the complete opposite.
Within the first two days of the negotiation period of free agency, the Patriots have lost Dion Lewis, Nate Solder, Danny Amendola and Malcolm Butler, all of whom were critical pieces in the success of New England over the past 4 years. Meanwhile, they have signed three special teams members back and have remained quiet.
It was made clearly evident during the playoffs, and especially the Super Bowl, that the secondary and pass rush needed major help. The entire NFL world saw what a Butler-less Patriots defense looked like, and it was not pretty. Back-up quarterback Nick Roles was easily able to put up 41 points on the former reigning champs.
The off-season plan seemed clear. Find another cornerback to compliment Stephon Gilmore, find a major pass-rusher, and retain your main core of players that Brady trusts. With the loaded cornerback class available in the off-season mixed with some pass rushers who were already interested in New England, it didn’t seem like a hard fix.
Since then Aqib Talib, Richard Sherman, Patrick Robinson, Marcus Peters and Trumain Johnson have all came and went to different teams, none of them going to New England. While it is evident that Sherman and Robinson signed contracts that the Patriots were not willing to offer, Talib and Peters both were traded for a very small cost. With most top-tier cornerbacks already off the board, New England must get creative, or build through the draft in what should have been a win-now off-season.
As for as pass-rushers go, the free agent class is much weaker. Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah who were considered the two top pass-rushers were both franchised. This left Trent Murphy, Adrian Clayborn and Alex Okafor as the top pass-rushers. Murphy has just signed a very reasonable 3 year/$30 million deal with the Bills if the contract is maxed out, which the Patriots could have easily afforded. Clayborn may help the defense, but his impact is not nearly enough to be considered a top-notch passer.
They did however make a move on Browns defensive tackle Danny Shelton. The former first round pick in 2015 will certainly help their defensive line in the interior, but is known for his run defense rather than his pass-rushing.
As the off-season stands right now, the Patriots have major holes in three of the four most important positions on the football field. They have no pass-rush, no second cornerback and with the loss of Nate Solder, no left tackle with any NFL experience. It was clearly evident in the Super Bowl the Patriots defense was due for an upgrade. It has also been evident over the years that Tom Brady’s numbers drastically drop when he has no one to protect his blindside (as most quarterbacks do.)
As it stands right now, the Patriots are trending towards filling these holes with draft picks and Bill Belichick’s famous “value pieces” which usually consist of undrafted players who were unsuccessful with previous teams. With the losses of Lewis, Solder, Butler and Amendola, the Patriots should be stocked with compensatory draft picks. Filling these holes shouldn’t be a problem for New England in the future, however unless a big splash in free-agency is made, it will be tough for them to fix the problems this year.
The problem then goes back to the Jimmy Garoppolo trade. If the Patriots were really all-in on Tom Brady, then shouldn’t they be doing everything they can to build the team around him? If the Patriots were more concerned about their future, then Jimmy Garoppolo should have been the quarterback of the future. Now that they have stuck with Brady, the Patriots are forced to go into win-now mode.
There are other available names in the free agency market that New England can go after. However, as of right now, the Patriots seem to be stuck in the middle between rebuilding and winning-now; a place that many teams do not want to be in.