If there’s a silver lining for Patriots fans after Sunday’s loss in the AFC Championship Game, it’s that the team is well-suited to make another deep playoff run next year.
All of New England’s best players are under contract for 2016, meaning the Patriots don’t have to worry about losing much in free agency. Mike Reiss of ESPN lists defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and safety Nate Ebner as the Patriots’ two top free agents, and that’s telling: Hicks played just 27.5 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps after arriving in a Week 3 trade with the Saints, and Ebner played just 4.2 percent of defensive snaps while also contributing a lot on special teams. When the best players you could lose are a backup and a special teamer, you’re in good shape.
The Patriots don’t have a lot of cap space, as they’re currently projected to start the 2016 league year at $5.6 million under the cap. But when all your best players are already under contract, you don’t necessarily need a lot of cap space to make improvements. And the Patriots typically don’t spend big on flashy free agent signings anyway.
All of which is to say that as long as Tom Brady doesn’t show his age at 39 next season, the Patriots will likely be Super Bowl contenders. As usual.