The Patriots confounded their fans once again during the draft, passing on front seven players until round six. That provides a starting point for our post-lockout to-do list for the team.
1. Help the pass rush.
It won’t be easy to do via free agency, especially if we return to 2010 rules. Matt Roth, who last played in Cleveland, looks like the best fit at outside linebacker. Mathias Kiwanuka would be another interesting gamble. Travis LaBoy could be a cheap option.
With Jermaine Cunningham, Rob Ninkovich, and Tully Banta-Cain the best OLBs on the team, it wouldn’t shock us to see New England pick up a mid-level player at the position if the price is right. Expect some signing here, at least for depth.
2. Add to defensive line depth.
The team already signed Marcus Stroud, who may replace Gerard Warren in the aging one-year stop-gap role. New England isn’t as thin at DE as you think — Mike Wright, Ty Warren, Ron Brace, and Brandon Deaderick are a solid group — but Bill Belichick seemingly never has enough guys up front.
New England can work the middle of the field with Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, and two great young tight ends. But do they have enough team speed out wide? Branch couldn’t beat one-on-one coverage against the Jets, while Tate has been unreliable. Price barely played as a rookie.
Branch is set to make $2.2 million this year, but we’re not sure he’s even a lock to make the team. Considering the deep crop of free agent wideouts, we’d bet on the Patriots going for a reasonably big name at wideout before signing someone you’ve heard of on defense.
4. Patch things up with Logan Mankins.
Mankins is far less likely to hold out into the regular season this year with $10.1 million coming his way as the team’s franchise player. It wouldn’t surprise us at all if a long-term deal gets worked out.
5. Set a price for Matt Light and don’t go over it.
6. Set up a “Kevin Faulk Night” as soon as possible if Faulk isn’t in the NFL.
Bill Belichick may give Faulk one last chance to beat the odds and make the team again, but there doesn’t appear to be room on the running back depth chart. Even if Faulk signs elsewhere, it will be an uphill climb for him at age 35 coming off ACL surgery.
7. Get Belichick to pipe down.
There’s just too much bulletin board material coming from the trash talking head coach.