‘Shutdown Corner’ offseason TPS report: New England Patriots

Brian McIntyre
Shutdown Corner

Over the next few weeks, "Shutdown Corner" will pay homage to "Office Space" (TPS reports) as we take a quick look back at each team's 2012 season and a look at what lies ahead for the 2013 offseason. We wrap up the AFC East with the New England Patriots.

2012 record: 12-4

What went wrong: The Patriots came within 30 minutes of a repeat appearance in the Super Bowl, but that doesn't mean all was well in Foxboro. Health was a recurring problem as tight end Aaron Hernandez essentially missed seven games, and was visibly at less than 100 percent for much for much of the season, after suffering a high ankle sprain in Week 2. All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski missed five regular season games with a broken forearm and missed the AFC championship game after re-injuring that same forearm. In the AFC championship game, the Patriots were dealt blows when defensive tackle Kyle Love, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety Patrick Chung left with injuries.

The Patriots pass rush racked up 37 sacks this season, placing them in the middle of the pack in that category. Of course, when you go a bit deeper, seven of those 37 sacks were in the regular season finale and the team had one or no sacks in four games this season. The lack of a consistent pass rush played a role in the Patriots ranking 29th against the pass in 2012.

[Michael Silver: Young stars found spotlight during NFL season]

What went right: Despite the injuries to Gronkowski and Hernandez, the Patriots led the NFL in total and scoring offense in 2012. According to Football Outsiders' advanced metrics, the Patriots ranked first in offensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) and were the league's top passing offense when you adjust for opponents. New England were one of the top rushing offenses in the league, averaging 136.5 yards per game on the ground. 2011 third-round pick Stevan Ridley ably replaced BenJarvus Green-Ellis, rushing for a team-high 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. Overall, the Patriots defense improved significantly, ranking 15th in FO's advanced metrics where they were sixth against the run.

Coaching/front office changes: Brian Daboll rejoins the franchise after offensive coordinator stints with the Cleveland Browns (2009-10), Miami Dolphins (2011) and Kansas City Chiefs (2012). Senior football adviser Floyd Reese's contract is expiring and he is not expected back in 2013.

Estimated 2013 cap space: $16.54 million

Possible cap casualties: The Patriots currently have just four players with cap numbers over $5 million for next season: Tom Brady ($21.8 million), Vince Wilfork ($10.6 million), Logan Mankins ($10 million) and Jerod Mayo ($5.6 million). None of those four players are going anywhere, but the Patriots may look to lower Brady's cap number. Due $15 million in cash and signed through 2014, the Patriots could take his $5 million roster bonus and some of his $9.75 million base salary, convert into a signing bonus and extend his contract by a few seasons, perhaps through 2017, which will keep him under contract until he's 40.

Unrestricted free agents

Will Allen, CB
Kyle Arrington, CB
Josh Barrett, S
Deion Branch, WR
Patrick Chung, S
Marquice Cole, CB
Julian Edelman, WR
Niko Koutouvides, LB
Derrick Martin, S
Jamey Richard, G
Trevor Scott, DE
Donte Stallworth, WR
Aqib Talib, CB
Donald Thomas, G
Sebastian Vollmer, OT
Wes Welker, WR
Tracy White, LB
Danny Woodhead, RB

Restricted free agents

Michael Hoomanawanui, TE

RFA tender amounts in 2013 are:

• $1.323 million for right of first refusal and/or original draft round compensation
• $2.023 for right of first refusal and second round draft selection
• $2.879 for right of first refusal and first round draft selection

Franchise Tag candidates: After failing to reach agreement on a multi-year extension last offseason, Welker caught 118 passes for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns while playing under the $9.515 million franchise tag in 2012. Using the tag on Welker again would cost New England $11.418 million – 120 percent of last year's tender – in fully guaranteed base salary in 2013, which would bring his two-year total to $20.933 million. The Patriots may have been able to do a long-term extension for that amount of guaranteed money, which is what makes a second tag unlikely. Welker may not even be the Patriots' top free agent priority. That distinction may belong to right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who could get left tackle money (Over $8 million per season) on the open market. The franchise tag for an offensive lineman is projected to be worth $9.66 million in 2013.

[Also: Giants release Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Canty]

Talib helped improve the Patriots' pass defense after he was acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the trade deadline. Using the franchise tag on Talib would cost around $10.7 million in 2013, but Talib's off-field baggage, including concerns about his work ethic, according to Comcast Sportsnet New England, is expected to prevent the Patriots front office from using the franchise tag or offering a multi-year contract with the sort of guaranteed money that Talib will be looking for this offseason.

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