Feb. 14—The cupboard is bare in
The to-do list is long.
Outside hope is running low.
But here's the good news: the
What can be said is one bad season won't upend the Pats' front-office philosophy, especially a year
To predict how the Pats will rebuild, it reasons to view their current needs through the prism of how they've invested cap space and draft capital in the past, specifically dating back to 2013. Why 2013?
That season essentially birthed the modern era, a time when the
1) The passing boom. In 2013, the
2) By 2013,
3) That season, teams played more than 50% of their offensive snaps from 11 personnel (three wideouts, one running back and one tight end). This shift quickly forced defenses to treat their fifth defensive backs as starters, and front offices to divert resources away from the defensive front to the secondary. That trend has continued, with 11 personnel usage reaching 60% each of the past three seasons, while cornerback spending has skyrocketed, even accounting for salary-cap inflation.
This eight-year period is the clearest window into Belichick's beliefs about roster-building heading into this offseason, an extension of the modern era.
Granted, the Pats' offseason priorities varied year-to-year according to roster needs and market opportunities. And yes, they most often built around
Yet over the past eight years, the
For example, the Pats do not pay for top-end edge defenders. Since 2012, their average season ranking in edge-defender spending is 25th, having never risen higher than 18th in a single season and twice ranked 30th or worse, per Over the Cap. Last April,
A cap-strapped Belichick doubled down on his post-Brady roster strengths — the offensive line and secondary — by re-signing
The Pats' greatest weakness — a league-worst passing game — undercut their hopes of contending, just as it would any team's in the modern era. It was the return they received on investing just
(Of note: Hill's chart, an updated version of
Obviously, the Pats' level of quarterback investment will soon change. But by how much?
This is the question of the offseason, so let's start there.
Who's the quarterback?
At a time when as many as half the league's starters could change teams, it's never been more foolish to predict who will throw where next season.
A slightly more sensible ask? Picking one of three possible paths for the
To secure a blue-chip rookie, the
The problem is the Pats all but refuse to deal future picks on draft day, and the starting offer on any trade up to No. 7 or higher would require the 15th pick, a future first or second-rounder and perhaps more, following recent draft history. Last year's trade up to select
Therefore, keeping all options open, we'll set aside
That leaves us
Remember the note about edge defenders?
As much as the
Below, I've broken down how the
These totals also include capital the Pats used in trades for veterans, like when they acquired
Pick-swap trades are also included, deals the Pats struck frequently from 2016-18, fleecing other teams by sending one draft pick in exchange for a worse selection and a veteran. The net value of those picks represents the
Here are the aforementioned positional draft investment rankings:
1. Defensive tackle (476.5)
2. Edge defender (400)
3. Offensive tackle (388)
4. Cornerback (382.5)
5. Wide receiver (379.5)
6. Safety (285.5)
7. Running back (256.5)
8. Interior offensive line (181)
9. Inside linebacker (152.5)
10. Quarterback (148)
11. Tight end (117)
A few notes: The Brady/Gronk effect is clear, as the
To offset the latter, I've re-ranked all 11 positions by averaging how high rookie
1. Defensive tackle
3. Running back
4. Wide receiver
5. Offensive tackle
8. Edge rusher
9. Tight end
10. Interior offensive line
11. Inside linebacker
Again, baked into these numbers is the effect of playing most seasons with a franchise quarterback and Hall of Fame tight end already in place. It's also important to note Harry's selection in 2019 skewed the wide receiver average, which would otherwise rank dead last without him going in the first round. That said, a few things now become clear when considering total investment and average investment per pick.
Why? Over the past three seasons, the Pats have deployed a third safety in place of an inside linebacker on most defensives snap in effort to combat spread, pass-happy offenses. They also steal linebacker snaps by coaching edge defenders —
As for the O-linemen, arguably no franchise owns a better developmental track record in that area than the
There's also a cyclical element at play. Last April, the
Zooming out, all of these draft choices and trades are ultimately baked into their cap spending the past eight years, the most basic and crude accounting of what teams value based on how they build their rosters.
So, here are the
1. Safety (7th)
2. Linebacker (12th)
3. Tight end (13th)
4. Running back (13th)
5. Wide receiver (14th)
6. Quarterback (16th)
7. Cornerback (17th)
8. Offensive line (19th)
9. Defensive tackle (22nd)
10. Edge defender (25th)
Over the past five years, the Pats have increased their spending on running backs, cornerbacks and safeties, while paying significantly less for defensive tackles. Quarterbacks and tight ends experienced a massive drop-off starting in 2019, while spending on wide receivers and edge defenders has remained steady. All other positions have seen volatile year-to-year swings.
This is the eight-year backdrop of a crossroads offseason. Here's what happens next.
As mentioned, the Pats pay to retain their offensive linemen. Four of their projected starters entering last season were already on their second contract with the team, including Thuney and his franchise tag.
So step on up,
The Pats' starting center and offensive captain will hit free agency in March. His next projected contract should fall in the
While it might be wise for the Pats to cut back on their running back spending, it's reasonable to expect at least one of
Throw in a few more re-signings, to retain key backups and special teams players like
If there's one position where the Pats sign an elite player at market price next month, it will be tight end.
The free-agent name to know is
Provided he's not tagged again by the Chargers — a real possibility — Henry would provide the all-around presence the team have lacked since Gronk. Belichick sought Henry out after the Pats obliterated the Chargers last December and showered him with praise during the game's lead-up. Other players to watch include
For starters, the Pats know their draft record with wideouts is atrocious, and they can't win in 2021 with their current crop or a new stable of rookies. Thankfully, it's a rich free-agent market, and they've shown a willingness to spend on receivers, ranking in the top half of spending six of the past seven years. Currently, they rank 21st in the league in 2021 spending on wideouts.
Except unlike tight end or safety, the Pats usually take a value approach, spreading their money across several players instead of paying for a true No. 1 wideout. Therefore, look for the Pats to target multiple secondary options like
Speaking of value approach, expect free-agent edge defenders to also draw attention from
Back to the defensive line.
While it's been since 2015 the Pats invested so heavily in the position, the reasoning here is twofold: a poor free-agent market, and the cyclical nature of why they addressed tight end and edge defender last year. It's simply been too long at defensive tackle.
The Pats were literally run over at the end of last season, when they fielded the
Drafting a defensive lineman with their first or second-round pick would incur just a
In the middle rounds, the
Cornerback is another safe bet in the early to middle rounds, given how they've weighted the position in the past. Next season, it's possible the Pats' corner depth chart could be reduced to
The great unknown
Trades and cuts.
Across the league, capped-out teams will soon be forced to cut veterans to sneak underneath the new cap, projected to be somewhere between
Whether they take calls or see cuts, the upcoming market plays into the Pats' hands because the first players to go will be middle-class veterans. These vets offer Belichick what he covets most: value.
Because even if they bomb, at least they won't sink a significant chunk of the cap with them. If they over-perform their contracts (like Van Noy,
Let the bidding begin.
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