After an abrupt end to the New England Patriots 2010 season, the focus of Patriots nation has now turned to the off-season. Contract situations, free agency, and the draft will occupy both the team and its fans for the next few months. A year that was labeled by many as a rebuilding year, instead ended with the Patriots holding a 14 – 2 record. A strong off-season could put the team back in the American conference driver seat when the new season begins.

Even with free agency process potentially being postponed by CBA negotiations, the draft will take place April 28th – 30th regardless. With less than 100 days to go before the 2011 NFL draft (but who’s counting) and the playoffs in full force, it may be a little early for player projection. However, there are several areas on the Patriots roster that could use improvement. The following are the areas I deem of need for the Pats this April.

  • 3-4 OLB (Pass Rusher)
  • Defensive Line
  • Offensive Line
  • Running Back / Fullback
  • Wide Receiver
  • Defensive Backs (Corner or Safety)

In my opinion, the Patriots need to keep investing in their defense. They have spent the last few seasons building a young, talented squad, and now it is time for them to add a few more pieces. I believe the team needs a defensive end to help stop the run and most importantly an outside linebacker to get after the opposing QB. Also, the patriots showed in their last three playoff exits that they cannot protect their most important asset, Tom Brady. The Logan Mankins and Matt Light situations have a huge effect on the Patriots priorities. If neither or one return, I feel offensive line jumps to the top of the list. As much I love the combination of Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, I expect the Pats to bring in a young running back in the draft. Re-establishing a more physical presence in the trenches, as well as staying more balanced in the offense with a new running attack should make the Patriots even more deadly.

Luckily for the Pats, they are stacked with picks throughout the draft, including six in the first 92 overall selections. They have the ammo to move up or down the draft boards to acquire any player(s) they desire. The following is a list of the draft picks the Patriots have going into the draft process:

2010 Patriots Draft Picks

1st Round – #17 (OAK – Richard Seymour)

1st Round – #28

2nd Round – #33 (CAR – 2010 3rd Round)

2nd Round – #60

3rd Round – #74 (Min – Randy Moss)

3rd Round – #92

4th Round

5th Round

6th Round (NO – David Thomas)

* Compensatory picks will be awarded later *

Picks traded away:

4th Round – Traded to SEA  for Deion Branch (via DEN Maroney trade)

6th Round (DEN – Laurence Maroney)

7th Round – (Traded to ATL – Quinn Ojinnaka)

Conditional Draft Pick – (KC Jarrad Page) – Unknown

2010 Patriots Free Agents

Not only do the Patriots need to continue to bring in talent from the draft, but they also need to re-sign some of their expiring veterans. The Patriots made re-signing their own veterans priority one last off-season and I feel they should do the same this season. The following is a list of the 2010 New England Patriots free agents heading into the off – season. Here is my thoughts on each players stance with the team moving forward:

CB Kyle Arrington – After Kyle Arrington played mainly special teams in his rookie season, he stepped up to play starting corner across from Devin McCourty since week 3. I certainly expect this young man to be back on a multi-year deal and play in the slot with Leigh Bodden returning from injury next season.

S Josh Barrett – The veteran safety, claimed off the Denver Broncos waiver wire during the season, was immediately placed on IR after signing with the team. I feel Belichick wants to see Barrett in camp for his league renown special teams skills, but wouldn’t necessarily expect a long term commitment with the team.

RB Kevin Faulk – After a devastating knee injury cut Kevin Faulk’s 13th season with the Patriots short, the 34 year old has been undergoing rehab trying to make a comeback for 2011. It has been understood that if Kevin wants to return next year he can, but at what point can the Patriots not hold a roster spot for the veteran?

K Shayne Graham – Graham stepped up in Stephen Gostkowski’s absence to deliver a solid effort the final half of the season. Even though Graham did not miss a field goal during his Patriots tenure, there is only  one roster spot available for the kicker. I would be surprised if Graham was not in camp with the patriots just in case Gostkowski is not ready to return in 2011.

RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis -Heading into the season, BenJarvus Green-Ellis appeared to be at the bottom of the Patriots roster. Months later, he eclipsed the 1000-yard mark for the first time in his career and scored 13 touchdowns. In almost any CBA scenario, he will end up a restricted free agent, which gives the Patriots an edge to re-sign him. While he has been a near perfect fit in New England, he might not be the future. I believe he returns to the team but would not be surprised if the Patriots drafted a younger more talented running back for next season.

OL Matt Light – At first glance, I expect the Patriots will not re-sign Matt Light and instead bring in more youth to the offensive line. Even though he had one of his best seasons, Light will be turning 33 next season and it is hard to imagine his return to the team. Second year tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who played well on the right side this season, has proven he can play from the left side as well. I expect the Patriots will  bring in more youth to the offensive line as the front is in need of roster turnover but, since the Pats have so many question marks along the front, they maybe inclined to bring him back.

OL Logan Mankins – Mankins return to the Patriots offensive line was flawless, even after a holdout at the early stages of the season. He continues to be one of the top guards in the league and will be paid as so in the coming months. Hopefully, for Patriots nation, he will remain a Patriot for years to come. With the offensive line aging and in need of a makeover, Mankins is one of the few bright spots this team has left in that unit. I have a feeling both Mr. Kraft and Mankins will hammer out a new contract but with these situations, you just never know.

S Brandon McGowan – McGowan missed the whole season with a torn pectoral muscle after a solid season in 2009. Unfortunately for him, the Patriots have several players at the safety position. Brandon Meriweather, Patrick Chung, Jarrad page, James Sanders, and serjio Brown all got reps throughout the season. It will be interesting if the Pats bring him back but a veteran minimum contract and a training camp appearance is certainly not out of the question.

RB Sammy Morris – The 34 year old contributed sparingly in 2010 and is almost a lock he will not be back with the patriots next season. Between his age, ability, and room on the roster, I do not see room for him in 2011. The only real loss the Patriots would lose in Morris’ absence is his ability to play both the full back and tailback position.

OL Quinn Ojinnaka – After trading a 7th round pick for Ojinnaka earlier in the season, the veteran added quality depth for the Pats all season. Ojinnaka is so valuable as a back up because of his versatility. He can play all five offensive line positions and has game experience in all of them. I fully expect him to be back with the Patriots next year.

S Jarrad Page – After a contract dispute forced his departure in Kansas City, Page suffered a few injuries in the first few weeks. After he was healthy, he rotated in the defensive backfield and also contributed on special teams. I think he could be back with the team but part of me is curious to see if he asks for more money than he is worth.

RB Fred Taylor – Fred Taylor tried to shed the “fragile Fred” nickname this season but the veteran had no such luck. He was hampered throughout the year with nagging injuries and when he was healthy enough to play, he had lost his job to BenJarvis Green-Ellis. Taylor talked several times about retirement this season, many of those in tears with obvious frustration and sadness in his facial expression. I expect the 34 year old not to return and possibly sign with the Jaguars to retire where his great career began.

DL Gerard Warren – Gerard Warren had a great start to the season and slowly regressed as the year went along. Never the less, I thought he did a great job replacing the injured Ty Warren for the seasons entirety. I certainly expect the Patriots to re-sign the veteran DE to help add depth and experience along the defensive front.

LB Tracy White – In early September the Eagles traded White to the Patriots for an undisclosed late round pick in the 2012 NFL draft. White played in all 16 games, finishing second on the team with 18 special teams tackles. I expect White to return with the team next season and be big part of the on special teams next season.

Unfortunately, the NFL’s immediate future is in question because the new collective bargaining agreement has not yet been constructed. Until an agreement is reached, free agency will likely be postponed and many of the usual off – season activities. Hopefully, for football fans across the nation, the NFL will resolve their CBA negotiations in a timely fashion.

In any case, the Patriots have once again put themselves in a position to reload on the fly. Bill Belichick and the brain trust have certainly positioned themselves masterfully. Another strong off – season should continue building this teams foundation. If all goes well, the Patriots could be a championship team in the near future.

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Derek Havens on Twitter – @DerekHavens