A slightly updated post-Senior Bowl variant of my Blueprint, which tries to balance short and long term competitiveness with cap considerations:
The Next 3 Months:
1. The secondary:
- Re-sign Aqib Talib if possible (under $7M/year). Continuity is good, but don't break the bank. If Talib can't be re-signed, Keenan Lewis would be a good alternative
- Re-sign Kyle Arrington if cheap (under $1.5M/year).
- Assess whether Ras-I Dowling is likely to make a full recovery in 2013, and whether he fits better as a press-man CB or as a hybrid CB/S
- Keep Devin McCourty at FS and don't move him around
- Sign UFA FA SS Kenny Phillips. Around $4-5M/year. He would provide the physical safety complement to McCourty that we need, while still being good in coverage and not compromising the deep threat. Phillips is only 26, and played very well in combination with Antrel Rolle. Phillips' injury history will hopefully keep his price down.
- Let Patrick Chung walk
- If Phillips is signed, consider trading Steve Gregory if the Pats can get anything for him. Gregory is a solid veteran with good versatility, and should have some value. But he is not worth is cap hit as a backup safety for the Pats. I don't know if they could get anything for Gregory, but I'd try.
2. The DL:
- Armond Armstead has already been signed. The Pats' still have Myron Pryor's rights for 2013, and Marcus Forston has been promoted from the PS. Those 3 alone will be a significant infusion of talent on the DL.
3. The OL:
- Let Sebastian Vollmer walk. I'm a huge Vollmer fan, but it just doesn't make sense to pay big money to a 29 year old tackle with a history of back injuries. With one (maybe too much) big money contract already tied up in Mankins, over-spending on Vollmer would be crippling to the team. A tag and trade deal could be an option - maybe we could get a 3rd round pick for him? But I doubt it's very likely.
- Re-sign Donald Thomas. He arguably outplayed Dan Connolly last year, is younger, and should be signed quickly before someone overpays him.
4. The WRs and RBs:
- Let Wes Welker walk. As with Vollmer, it hurts, but the team just can't afford to invest in the kind of long term deal Welker will want. They need to get younger and cheaper at the position, having tied up a lot of money in Gronk and Hernandez. I don't think a "tag and trade" deal is an option with Welker.
- Re-sign Julian Edelman. If possible, re-sign Danny Woodhead.
- Possible extensions for Brady and Wilfork that might free up some cap space
- Sign RFAs Dane Fletcher, and Jake Ballard and possibly Michael Hoomanwanui. If the latter, consider trading Daniel Fells if the team can get anything for him, though that may be unlikely.
- Possibly sign a veteran QB like Matt Cassel or Brian Hoyer, if the price is right
Cleveland trades #6 to St. Louis for #16 and 22. Rams trade up for Eric Fisher. Not a trade directly involving the Pats, but ...
Cleveland trades #22 and a 2014 3nd round pick (upgradeable to a 2nd depending on Mallett's performance) to New England for QB Ryan Mallett. A last minute draft day trade, with the Browns deciding they don't like the available QB options. They still have a 1st round pick at #16.
22. Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio St. 6'3" 320#. Currently NFL DraftScout #28.
Hankins slipping would be like Vince Wilfork in 2004 - a top 5-10 talent who drops. With BB's connections to Urban Meyer and Mike Vrabel he will be all over this kid, and I think he would pounce if the opportunity arose. Hankins can play in 4-3 and 3-4 schemes, and outside in a 3-4. A base DL of Armstead-Wilfork-Hankins-Jones would be dominant - by far our best line since 2008 - and would allow easy conversion between 3-4 and 4-3 schemes with Jones standing up at times. Rob Ninkovich could play both at OLB (helping our coverage, along with the return of Dane Fletcher) and at DE, with Armond Armstead moving inside as an interior pass rusher.
29. DJ Fluker, OL, Alabama. 6'5" 350. Currently NFL DraftScout #29.
Fluker plays RT for Alabama, but would probably move inside to RG, with Dan Connolly moving to center. An OL of Solder-Mankins-Connolly-Fluker-Vollmer would be incredibly powerful. Fluker has the power of Chance Warmack, but he is nimble footed enough to get out in space. He also has incredibly long arms, and the versatility to move to RT in a pinch.
59. Justin Hunter, WR, Louisiana Tech. 6'4" 200#. Currently NFL DraftScout #65.
Hunter is the kind of big, physical WR that the Pats have lacked for a long time. Along with Brian Hartline, he would give the Pats' WR corps a very different look from what they have had over the past 3 years. They would still have the TEs and the move-based weapons (though with much more explosiveness), but also legitimate outside receiving threats who can move the chains and work the sidelines in Hunter and Hartline. Hunter would also be an excellent red zone threat.
This pick could also be Quinton Patton (NFL DraftScout #55) or Da'Rick Rogers (NFL DraftScout #74). I favor Hunter because of his upside, and because I think we can get a Patton-like option later.
91. Marquise Goodwin, WR, Texas. 5'9" 179#. Currently NFL DraftScout #87.
A world class sprinter and 2012 Olympian in the long jump, Goodwin showed surprising WR skills including good route running and excellent hands at the Senior Bowl. He would combine with Jeff Demps to provide an amazing speed package that would be very difficult to defend, with the ability to take it to the house at any time.
The Pats trade Daniel Fells to Chicago for #149 overall. The Bears need TE help, and Fells is a good blocker who could help with their weak OL. The Pats dump Fells' salary.
146. Chris Harper, WR, Kansas St. 6'1" 228#. Currently NFL DraftScout #144.
Sleeper Stud Horse!
Harper is an Anquan Bolden/Chris Carter kind of physical WR who can dish out some punishment to DBs and move the chains, but who has surprising speed and deceptive breakaway capability. He is a terrific blocker. Where Hunter adds size and playmaking and Goodwin adds speed and home run capability, Harper adds physicality to the WR position. A "WR by committee" group of Lloyd-Hunter-Edelman-Goodwin-Harper would be very nice, IMHO, especially when combined with the TE and RB options, and very cost effective.
New England trades S Steve Gregory to Detroit for #161 and a conditional 2014 pick. With Kenny Phillips signed and Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner hopefully making a leap, Gregory is expendable. The Pats dump his salary. With Louis Delmas a FA (and always injured even if they keep him) Detroit needs FS depth, and gets a veteran for an early 6th round pick.
161. Kyle Juszczyk, FB/H-Back, Harvard. 6'1" 248#. Currently NFL DraftScout #158.
Sleeper Stud Horse!
Juszczyk is a big dude who can clear out the pile as a blocking fullback but who also has soft hands and is a nice receiver out of the backfield, or in motion. There are rumors he may have close to 4.5 speed, and he could be a good depth option as a backup "move TE" given that Aaron Hernandez has yet to play a full 16 game season. He would help the running game in short yardage situations and running inside against tough lines, and provide depth at TE.
NE trades #202, 219 and a 2014 6th round pick to Tampa Bay for #171.
171. Tyrann Mathieu, DB, LSU. 5'9" 178#. Currently NFL DraftScout #181.
The Pats trade up to get the "Honey Badger", who will add toughness and attitude to the secondary along with Talib and Alfonzo Dennard. He can play a nickel/dime slot CB role, and will excel on STs. Talib, Dennard, Dowling, Arrington and Mathieu would be a very good CB group. McCourty, Phillips, Wilson and Ebner would be a very good safety group.
Note that the Pats would have an extra 2014 3rd round pick, in addition to their full complement of draft picks.
The 2013 Team:
QB(2): Brady, veteran/Kafka
RB(4): Ridley, Vereen, Bolden, Demps; possibly Woodhead
TE(3): Gronkowski, Hernandez, Ballard, [Juszczyk]; possibly Hoomanawanui
WR(6): Lloyd, Rogers, Edelman, Goodwin, Harper, Slater
OT(3): Solder, Cannon, Zusevice; Fluker can also play tackle if needed
OG/C(6): Mankins, Fluker, Connolly, Wendell, Thomas, McDonald
DT(5): Wilfork, Hankins, [Armstead], Love, Deaderick, Pryor/Forston
DE(6): Jones, Ninkovich, Armstead, Cunningham, Francis, Bequette
LB(5): Mayo, Hightower, Spikes, Fletcher, Tarpinian Ninkovich can also play LB
S(4): McCourty, Phillips, Wilson, Ebner
CB(5): Talib/Lewis, Dennard, Dowling, Arrington, Mathieu
ST(3): Gostkowksi, Mesko, Aiken
That's 53 players, assuming no Woodhead or Hoomanawanui.
That team saves a bunch of money by letting Welker, Vollmer and Woodhead walk and dumping Fells and Gregory (assuming they can do it). I assume some contract restructurings would also be likely for guys like Gostkowski and Connolly.