After a disappointing season’s end, the New England Patriots need to upgrade personnel in order to make the deep playoff run in 2020 they’re accustomed to.
After the New England Patriots‘ last Wild Card appearance and exit back in 2009, the team made significant personnel changes to avoid another finish like the one they had just incurred: being steamrolled by the Baltimore Ravens.
In the 2010 NFL Draft, the Patriots selected Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Spikes, and Aaron Hernandez — all significant contributors to the team. New England also signed Alge Crumpler, as well as Deion Branch for the last 12 games of the season. They re-signed Gary Guyton, Stephen Gostkowski, and Kevin Faulk.
The 2010 Patriots went 14-2, winning four more games than the year prior, attributable primarily to the reloaded team.
The Patriots’ 2013 season had another heartbreaking ending: a second straight loss in the AFC Championship Game. Similarly, once again the Patriots didn’t want their season to end the same way in 2014, especially knowing they would have to face a stretch of prolific passers that upcoming year. The Patriots knew they had to face Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, and Phillip Rivers consecutively.
As a result, they signed free agents Brandon Browner, Darrelle Revis, Patrick Chung, and Brandon LaFell. They also re-signed Julian Edelman. In the draft, they selected Bryan Stork and James White.
New England, of course, finished the 2014 season with a Super Bowl victory.
The 2019 New England Patriots broke a streak of eight straight appearances in the AFC Championship Game. They also finished the season with back to back losses at home, and they’re in a position where they need to retool once again if they want to rebound in 2020.
Free Agent Signings
New England’s demise in the Wild Card game against the Tennessee Titans could be attributed mainly to the lack of receiver talent and the inability of the receivers they had to create separation.
The Patriots’ season ended with 3:27 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, when Julian Edelman dropped a “speed out.” The Patriots then had to try and convert a 3rd down and 6 following the drop. Phillip Dorsett was targeted on the third down play, couldn’t get separation, and an incompletion resulted from the play.
A microcosm of the Patriots’ season: drops and an inability to create separation.
The Patriots should bring back an old friend, Danny “Playoff” Amendola, in free agency. The 34-year-old wide receiver just came off one of the most productive years of his career, racking up over 60 catches and almost 700 yards.
In a complicated Patriots offense, trust with the quarterback has proven to be more valuable than pure skill and athleticism. Amendola has been trustworthy throughout his Patriots career, catching 57 passes — six for touchdowns — in his playoff career.
The Patriots also struggled all season long at the tight end position. Ben Watson, the starter for most of the season, revealed that he played the 2019 season with a torn Achilles.
Signing free agent Hunter Henry would exponentially improve the talent at the tight end position. New England’s explosive offenses of years past have always featured a threat at tight end.
The Obvious One
Re-signing quarterback Tom Brady is essential for New England to be considered Super Bowl contenders. With Brady running the offense, one can slot the team in for at least 11 wins in 2020.
The Special One
Special teams ace Matthew Slater has been an essential part of New England’s special teams unit since he was drafted in 2008. Slater has accumulated eight Pro Bowl berths, and he is considered one of the premier gunners in the league. With the departure of special teams coach Joe Judge, New England needs to retain their player captain for 2020.
The Large One
Large in size and in potential new contract, left guard Joe Thuney is one of the best guards in the NFL. He has started every game since he entered the league in 2016, and he has become an essential figure in the offensive line — especially after Coach Scarnecchia left.
2020 NFL Draft
Epenesa is scheduled to be a mid to late first round draft pick this upcoming April. New England failed to stop several strong run games this past season, most notably Baltimore’s and Tennessee’s. Over the past two decades, New England’s defense has always hinged on being able to have an edge-setting defender to funnel run plays inside.
Sports Illustrated says:
“Epenesa possesses a nice blend of power, length and heavy hands.”
The NFL describes Epenesa’s strengths as followed:
• Excellent size with desired combo of length and power
• Impressive production in high-impact stat columns
• Has tools of the trade to set a strong edge
• Hips unlock for long, lateral slides down the line
Epenesa has the potential to help New England’s run defense, especially if Kyle Van Noy and/or Jamie Collins isn’t retained in free agency.
The Bottom Line: New England needs to retool as they did following the 2009 and 2013 seasons if they want to have any hope of making the deep push into the playoffs that they are accustomed to.