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.
Cullen Jenkins would probably cost too much. Signing Pat Williams or Jamal Williams for a very limited run-stopping role as Vince Wilfork’s backup would fit what the Patriots do.
3. Decide if Deion Branch, Taylor Price, and Brandon Tate are enough.
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.
Steve Breaston, Santana Moss, and Mike Sims-Walker all sound like better options than signing Chad Ochocinco or bringing back Randy Moss. A stealth run at Santonio Holmes would piss off the Jets.
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.
With Sebastian Vollmer in place and first round pick Nate Solder aboard, we suspect free agent Light will get more money to play elsewhere, ending a terrific run with the team.
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.