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Patriots Offseason Priority List

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The Patriots season only ended three weeks ago, but their priority list is already long, and could be growing.

There are a couple of high-profile free agents, a couple of veterans with contracts that need to be restructured, a couple of young studs with contracts who need to be extended, and a few needs on their roster to address otherwise.

The way I'm talking about this team right now, you'd think they just went 4-12 and have the No. 1 pick, not 12-4 with a Super Bowl win.

Nonetheless, if the Patriots want to get back to the promised land in 2015, they will have to get back to work to keep their roster intact and build it even further. Here's a look at some of the things that need to be on the front of their mind this offseason.


Devin McCourty and Darrelle Revis

The Patriots' primary strength on defense in 2014 was the secondary. With defensive backs like Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty set to become free agents in 2015, their continuity could take a hit unless they take some measures to avoid that hit.

Revis, on the one hand, will only hit the open market if the Patriots fail to pick up the $12.5 million roster bonus and subsequent $25 million cap hit. The Patriots and Revis' representation could still restructure the contract to keep Revis in New England in 2015 and beyond, but they will have to pay top dollar to do so.

As for McCourty, the Patriots have another option. Since he is a free agent, they could sign him to a long-term deal, let him hit the open market, or use the franchise tag on him to keep him around for at least one more year. The franchise tag would pay McCourty around $9.53 million for the 2015 season in a fully guaranteed lump sum, but he would be a free agent again unless the Patriots can get him to sign a long-term deal before then.


Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork

In order to bring back both Revis and McCourty, the Patriots will probably have to restructure some of their contracts with higher cap hits. Jerod Mayo ($10.6 million cap hit) and Vince Wilfork ($8,933,333 cap hit) seem like the most likely candidates to be restructured.

Wilfork may not be too thrilled about the idea of going back to the negotiating table just 12 months after he did it the last time, and he proved he could still play by hitting every single one of the incentives in his contract, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Who knows if the Patriots would ask him to do that again, but he could make a case that he has already earned his pay through his play.

As for Mayo, the subject is a little touchier. The seven-year veteran has landed on injured reserve in Week 6 of the past two seasons — a torn pectoral muscle did him in in 2013, and a torn patellar tendon ended his 2014 season. He will be 29 years old by the start of the 2015 season, and is due $21 million against the cap the next two seasons. The Patriots could give him more guaranteed money to lower the cap hit, but they will have to pay the piper eventually.


Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower

The Patriots made a rare, bold move in the 2012 NFL draft, trading up twice to select both Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower in the first round, fortifying two key spots in the front seven. Now, thanks to a provision in the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Patriots have the option to add a fifth year to the contracts of both players.

This is pretty much a no-brainer, as the salary for each would be the equivalent of the average salary of players ranked third through 25th at their position, which is a relative bargain for both Jones and Hightower.


Offensive Line

For the first four weeks of the regular season, the offensive line was the Patriots' biggest weakness behind a revolving door of players filling in at various positions. In Week 5, the Patriots finally found a starting unit that works for them.

But in the process, they exposed their lack of depth on the interior of the offensive line. Add in the impending free agency of left guard Dan Connolly, one of the most versatile players on the line for the past seven seasons in New England, and the offensive line is needing a minor overhaul.

This is less than one calendar year after the Patriots added three offensive linemen in the 2014 NFL draft. Only two — offensive tackle Cameron Fleming and center Bryan Stork — made it onto the final roster. The early-season trade of left guard Logan Mankins created a hole on the inside, but Connolly filled it once again, as he did in 2010 during Mankins' holdout.

The early news out of the 2015 Scouting Combine indicates that the Patriots are looking closely at a number of the offensive linemen. Namely, Florida State offensive linemen Bobby Hart and Tre Jackson, as well as Duke offensive guard Laken Tomlinson, according to Phil Perry of CSNNE.com.

With offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia helping the Patriots' scouting of offensive linemen, expect an infusion of toughness to be prevalent through this year's draft selections up front.


Depth

The best way to improve a championship team is to add to the depth. The Patriots are loaded at a lot of the starting positions, but there are a few positions where the Patriots should be looking to upgrade their backups — namely, tight end, offensive line, running back, and cornerback.

The Patriots depth was tested in ridiculous ways in 2013, but the team stayed mostly healthy in 2014.

Chandler Jones was lost for several weeks in the middle of the season; and Jerod Mayo and running back Stevan Ridley were both lost for the year; but the team responded well to those injuries with the emergence of linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower, as well as the trades for running back LeGarrette Blount and linebackers Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas. They also had to deal with the absence of cornerback Brandon Browner for four games to start the season.

Other than that, they stayed relatively healthy at all the key positions. Rob Gronkowski played the first fully-healthy season of his career since his rookie season. Julian Edelman missed only one game.

Building depth will not only allow the Patriots to be prepared for injuries this year, but also to be prepared for departures from the roster in future years.

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