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Ask any Patriots fan what the Patriots need to improve on and about 90 percent will tell you the defense. The other 10 percent will continue to live in the fantasy world that was 2001-2007.
In 2010, the defense definitely struggled to find veteran leadership after they shipped off Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel and lost Rodney Harrison and Teddy Bruschi to the desks of NBC and ESPN, respectively. That leadership was sorely missed and at times it seemed that the Patriots were making more mental mistakes than usual.
It was a rebuilding year, which is a phrase we have been hearing too much in Boston these days, but you can’t lose four major veterans in the locker room and expect the team to just move along like everything is OK. The Patriots have a lot of decisions to make this off-season in regards to their defense, and with four of the first 53 picks in the draft they have the opportunity to build a nice foundation for the future. Let’s take a look at the decisions the Patriots are faced with this off-season:
Will return in 2010: Ty Warren, Mike Wright, Myron Pryor, Ron Brace
Free Agents: Vince Wilfork, Jarvis Green
Situation: Ty Warren continues to be one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the NFL and Mike Wright is very reliable when it comes to rushing the passer. However, Myron Pryor and Ron Brace have yet to show that they can be relied upon by the coaching staff so a lot is up in the air when it comes to this group of athletes. The Patriots have a very good track record when it comes to drafting defensive lineman so hopefully they will be able to beef up this group with a couple of early draft picks.
What I think the Patriots should do: Obviously the big question of the off-season is what the Patriots should do with Vince Wilfork. The business man inside of me says the Patriots should franchise tag him, but the fan inside of me says they should re-sign him to a long-term deal. However, for that to happen it will have to be a relatively team-friendly contract because it makes no sense for the Patriots to shell out a lot of cash when they don’t have to. They haven’t done it in the past and I don’t think they will start to now with Wilfork. If they really want to keep him they will hash out some sort of deal as soon as possible so they two parties can get on with their lives. It is unfortunate that Wilfork will be the one making most sacrifices, but that’s how it is in the NFL.
However, if the team doesn’t have intentions on reaching a deal then it makes no sense keeping him around because having him around the locker room will just cause problems for both the team and the players. The Patriots need to make a decision right away and if that decision is to cut ties then hit him with the franchise tag and trade him away. It is a deep DT draft this year as seven of them have ratings higher than an 85, according to Scouts, Inc. If the Patriots decided to part ways with Wilfork they could definitely get a nice package in a trade and use it to draft for the future.
As for Jarvis Green, I love him, but we can get a cheaper version in 2010 so good riddance.
Will return in 2010: Adalius Thomas, Tully Banta-Cain, Shawn Crable, Rob Ninkovich, Jerod Mayo, Eric Alexander, Tyrone McKenzie
Free Agents: Derrick Burgess, Pierre Woods, Gary Guyton
Situation: Probably the weakest unit on the defense, the linebackers are headed by second-year pro Jerod Mayo and sacks leader Tully Banta-Cain. Veteran linebacker Adalius Thomas is probably on his way out and guys like Eric Alexander, Shawn Crable, and Tyrone McKenzie haven’t stayed on the field enough to prove they are more than role players on this defense. Look for the Patriots to add players through the draft and free agency in order to get after opposing quarterbacks more in 2010.
What the Patriots should do: Say goodbye to Adalius Thomas because come March 5 you will not see him on a Patriots roster. It is more than likely that the Patriots will cut Thomas because it was clear that he was not happy with the team and vice versa. By cutting him, the team will save $5 million, which could be put towards a player who actually enjoys playing for Bill Belchick and the Patriots.
As for the free agents, I would like for the Patriots to bring back Derrick Burgess and Gary Guyton. Burgess, from what I heard in several reports, did a fine job in 2009 and while he didn’t become a sack machine like we all expected, it was because Belichick asked him to serve different roles on the defense. Guyton, on the other hand, filled in nicely while Jerod Mayo was injured and is one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL, which is something the Patriots could use on defense.
Overall, this unit is fairly weak and one addition that would really beef it up is Julius Peppers. The Patriots should make a serious run at him and according to Adam Schefter, the Patriots are one of three teams likely to land Peppers this off-season. He would fit in perfectly as an edge rusher in a 3-4 defense and would really add some star power to a unit that is lacking quality players.
Will return in 2010: Shaun Springs, Darius Butler, Jonathan Wilhite, Terrence Wheatley, Brandon Meriweather, James Sanders, Pat Chung, Brandon McGowan
2010 Free Agents: Leigh Bodden, Ray Ventrone
Situation: The Patriots are especially hurting at the cornerback position as they could potentially lose Shaun Springs and Leigh Bodden this off-season. Darius Butler showed some flashes in 2009, but could use another year in the NFL before the Patriots used him as a No. 1 corner. Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley need to learn how to stay on the field so the team can view their real potential. The Patriots are doing pretty good in the safety department with Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders holding down the fort, while Pat Chung and Brandon McGowan continue to impress with their hard-nosed style on the field.
What the Patriots should do: There are a lot of questions at the cornerback position for the Patriots this off-season. First, Spring is contemplating retiring, which would be a slight blow to the team. Also, the loss of Bodden would mean Butler and Wilhite would be the starters in 2010 if the team doesn’t get some outside help. The team would be wise to re-sign Bodden, but the Patriots are tight with their money and if the price isn’t right I wouldn’t expect them to keep him for 2010 and beyond. The would be wise to do so, however, because there aren’t any great options at corner in the free agent market. Belichick always finds a way to bring in defensive backs on the same one-year deal that Bodden signed and one of those players could be Houston Texans’ corner Duntae Robinson, who is coming off a down 2009 season.