COMMENTARY | The NFL offseason is now in full swing, and the New England Patriots will be focused on getting their team ready for the 2014 season. That will include reviewing their roster and evaluating areas of need, which is sure to bring about a number of questions.
Here are some of the team's biggest potential offseason questions:
Will There Be Changes at Wide Receiver? After losing star Wes Welker to free agency last offseason, the receiving corps was rebuilt with the addition of three rookies (Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins) and the signing of Danny Amendola.
Amendola missed four games because of injury but also played hurt at times, finishing with 54 catches for 633 yards and two scores.
The team's top receiver was Julian Edelman, who had 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns-all career highs. However, he will soon be a free agent and there is no guarantee he will return, although team owner Robert Kraft would like to see him back, according to The Boston Globe's Shalise Manza Young.
WEEI.com's Christopher Price quoted an anonymous NFL scout as stating his belief that the Patriots have "to get more weapons for Brady at the skill position spots."
The team will have to decide if it wants to augment their receivers in 2014. Even if they bring back Edelman, they could decide to also go after a big play type, as suggested by Price. If they pursue that strategy, Eric Decker, Anquan Boldin Hakeem Nicks and Emmanuel Sanders will all be available-but likely very expensive. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Will They Beef Up at Tight End? The Patriots drafted tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in 2010. Over the next three seasons, they combined for 362 receptions, 4,619 yards and 56 touchdowns.
However, Hernandez was released last offseason following his arrest on a charge of murder, and Gronkowski missed all but seven games in 2013 because of injuries. As a result, New England tight ends combined for only 53 catches, 744 yards and six touchdowns, with Gronkowski accounting (39/592/4) for the vast majority of the production.
Could the Patriots try to find another top-flight tight end to pair with Gronkowski? If they did, there would be a number of free-agent options (Jermichael Finley, Tony Gonzalez, Garret Graham, Scott Chandler to name a few) and intriguing draft prospects (Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro and Nick O'Leary to name a few more) to consider.
Upgrading at tight end could also help the wide receivers. There would be only so many balls to go around, so getting a higher profile player at each position would likely not be necessary.
What Will Happen With the Defensive Line? Injuries devastated the defensive tackle position for the Patriots this past season, as veterans Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, who began as starters, played in only a combined nine games. Rookies Joe Vellano (undrafted) and Chris Jones (sixth round) did most of the heavy lifting in replacing them but it is unclear if they are the long-term answer as starters.
Wilfork, who will turn 33 in November, is coming back from a torn Achilles tendon, and will make $7.5 million in 2014, the final year of his contract, according to Rotoworld.com. As one of the most productive and respected players in team history, he should always have a home in New England but it wouldn't be a surprise if the team tries to restructure his deal.
The Boston Globe's Greg Bedard reported that Kelly is signed through 2014, and will count $3 million against the 2014 cap. Since he is 33 and coming off an injury, his return is far from assured at this point.
Impact defensive tackles are not easy to find. The Patriots already have two excellent veterans on their roster, but they come with a lot of questions. The time could be now to address this unit through the draft or free agency.
Will Tom Brady's Successor Be Identified? The 36-year-old Brady threw for 4,343 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2013, but his 87.3 QB rating was his lowest in a full season since 2003. Signed through 2017, the end of the great signal caller's career is starting to come into focus.
Although Brady is still playing at a high level, identifying his potential replacement will become more pressing with each passing year.
Ryan Mallett was selected in the third round of the 2011 draft but has thrown just four passes (with one completion for 17 yards and an interception) in three years since, operating as Brady's backup. The 25-year-old will be a free agent following next season but will he be allowed to leave?
As recently as last offseason, there were trade rumors concerning Mallett. Ultimately, he stayed put but hasn't gotten the opportunities to show what he could do on the field during an actual game.
NESN.com's Doug Kyed wrote that drafting a quarterback like Alabama's A.J. McCarron could make more sense than hanging on to Mallett, who would be 29 by the time Brady's current contract expires.
If the Patriots decide Mallett is the successor they want to groom, he will command a raise on his next contract. If he isn't their man, he could be traded in order to recoup some value on his development.
The team could go a number of ways when it comes to finding a successor to Brady. If it doesn't happen this offseason, it's something that will come up again before long.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written extensively for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports (particularly the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots). He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
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