Fair warning: this column won’t play well with the “In Bill We Trust” crowd.
This isn’t for the sake of pessimism or to be accused of trolling. Instead, I’m hoping to inject some realism and slow down the strolling.
NFL free agency is nearly a week old and New England’s off to a good start. But that’s all it is; a start. It's not "loading up," a term seemingly thrown around when only one big name is added to the fold.
In talking to and hearing from Patriots fans and even some talking heads since the Patriots’ business-model defying signing of Darrelle Revis, there’s been this notion of, “We got Revis! Aqib Talib wasn’t that good anyhow. See you in Arizona!”
That’s preposterous on numerous counts.
To start with the obvious, Talib was first on the fans’ wish list – and quite possibly that of the team – until the moment he signed with Denver. Durability was an undeniable issue in the corner’s short time in Foxborough, but he was a game-changer who absolutely altered the success of the secondary and the Pats’ ability to shut down other club’s top receivers when healthy. For the 24 hours or so before Revis Island centered in the Commonwealth, Talib’s loss was monumental.
Second, as good as Revis is – and he’s regarded as a future Hall of Famer and the best cornerback in the game, no matter what Richard Sherman thinks – there’s no way to know what to expect from him in 2014. He’ll be 29 in July and a full season removed from ACL surgery. Yes, he played a healthy 16 times for the Bucs, but he wasn’t 100 percent and certainly wasn’t the man who earned such a catchy nickname in the Meadowlands. Perhaps he blended in more to Tampa’s zone defense – lousy, though it improved from 2013 with his addition – or maybe he was still just working his way back to form. The fact remains, this belief that he’ll step in and instantly be a savior seems a bit overblown. Is he really that much better than a healthy Talib?
I had a Patriots’ reporter tell me that Revis’s addition will not only reinvent the secondary and improve the pass-rush because he can cover an entire side of the field, but he’ll also make the Pats’ offense better because it will have to face him in practice. To me, that’s asinine. I hope to be wrong, obviously, but it feels an awful lot like an unrealistic amount is being expected from one guy. He’s not Bill Brasky.
Brandon Browner is a helpful and physical addition on defense as well, but there’s already skepticism over whether he can play safety. That’s fine if he can’t – it only makes the depth at corner more impressive – but Steve Gregory still needs to be replaced by a viable option and those are scarce.
The pass-rush, if Revis isn’t all-powerful, remains a grave concern. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich need help. Jared Allen would be a perfect fit, but would cost a pretty penny to add. Julius Peppers is off the market.
Tommy Kelly’s back on a restructured deal and the finds-tackles-everywhere Jerod Mayo should be healthy, but Vince Wilfork may be leaving. If the senior member of the defense is indeed unwilling to restructure his deal and granted his release, that would create not only a leadership void but also, more important, a sizeable absence when it comes to stuffing the run. The Patriots thrived at stopping the rush early last season before the 10-year pro ruptured his Achilles and looked like turnstiles on the defensive line after he went down. The Pats don’t require an All Pro tackle if Wilfork goes, but a vet would be ideal.
On offense, fortunately Tom Brady has his binky back in Julian Edelman. Had he left, it’s as difficult to know if Danny Amendola could have filled that need as it is to determine whether Rob Gronkowski will be healthy enough to play a full season – or at least the end of it.
Brady needs more targets beyond three guys with lengthy injury histories and another three entering three sophomore seasons. Brandon LaFell may be a nice addition coming to a passing offense from a run-heavy system in Carolina, and hopefully he can replicate Brandon Lloyd type numbers. But he isn’t Emmanuel Sanders who, like Talib, went to the Mile High City. Will Lance Moore or Kenny Britt swoop in next? The Pats were unable to lure Steve Smith or Hakeem Nicks to Gillette, as both would up elsewhere in the AFC.
Another tight end would be desirable, all respect to Michael Hoomanawanui. The offensive line needs help at the guard position, too.
Some of the above needs will obviously be addressed in the draft, but the Patriots can’t take a slew of top players with one or two high picks. Prioritizing won’t be easy.
And, the most prevalent need to pump the brakes is this: While the Pats have improved, the Broncos have done more.
Denver’s bolstered its previously putrid defense with Talib, DeMarcus Ware, and T.J. Ward, and added Sanders to a record-setting offense. Sure, it’s lost Eric Decker, but that will prove far more insignificant once people see how much better Peyton Manning made him look when walk-on-by-comparison talent is throwing to him in New York. There’s no reason, on paper, to think the Broncos won’t have their horses putting up those crazy numbers again.
People should be excited about the Patriots’ offseason so far and there’s plenty of time to go. But, for now, slow down the talks of another banner because there’s still much work to be done for Bill Belichick's group and one major obstacle to overcome in their own conference, let alone a loaded NFC.
You know, unless of course Revis Island proves to be as hospitably suffocating to opposing offenses as the tropical vacation spot it’s been in everyone’s minds over the last few days.
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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