Patriots Have Some Decisions To Make

This offseason, there are some valuable players to the Patriots who are on the free agent market. With each year, New England is one more step removed from their incredible run at three Super Bowl championships. There are some glaring issues that need to be addressed within the organization, and there are different avenues that the Patriots may be able to take in order to fulfill these needs.

In the NFL, the offseason is just as busy a time as is the actual season itself. Whether it be thru re-signing players, looking at free agency, or acquiring the next young stud in this year's draft, New England, just like every other team, must deal with some of the holes they have on either side of the ball.

Asante Samuel, CB (FRANCHISED)

Asante Samuel breaks up a pass intended for Colts receiver Reggie Wayne (AP Photo)

The Story
This is the No. 1 priority for the Pats, and probably the most complex situation. The secondary has been a concern for New England over the past few offseasons. Since the departure of Ty Law, the cornerback position seemed to be a pressing need for the Pats. Every expert has pointed to this area as a weakness and begged for an upgrade. Yet, after the 2006 season, it now seems like the Pats knew something we didn't - that Asante Samuel can be a stud. After a league-leading 10 interceptions, the Pats were confronted with the difficult task of resigning this burgeoning star.

The Free Agent Alternatives
Samuel is one of the marquee names in this free agent crop. I personally believe that Nate Clements is a far better cover corner, but you cannot discount Samuel's newfound playmaking ability.

The Draft Pick Alternatives
This year's crop of cornerbacks is rather poor. Historically, corners can come in and contribute early, but you may have to really do your homework this year to find that specific guy (especially where the Pats will pick in the draft). In my opinion, there is better value that taking a cornerback in Round 1 at their two picks, and they should look to upgrade elsewhere.

The Plan
So far, so good. I think the Pats are in the driver seat right now. The two sides seem to be worlds apart on a long-term contract. In Samuel's eyes, someone will pay him big time money… and he's right. In New England's defense, he tore it up for one season (a contract year). It might be foolish to sink a ton of money in a guy that has played at a Pro Bowl level for only one year. Applying the franchise tag buys them some time, and puts the ball in the Patriots' court. Since they will need to shell out an excess of $7.8 million to sign Samuel, they might as well throw their hat in the ring for Clements (their $25+ million in cap space and their winning pedigree makes New England an option for any player on the market). Spending their cash on a better player with a long-term deal makes more sense financially. If they are successful, maybe you trade Samuel for a discounted rate. I don't think anyone is crying over Nate Clements and a high second round pick.

Troy Brown, WR

New England Patriots WR Troy Brown (AP Photo)

The Story
One of the most glaring weaknesses on the 2006 Pats was their lack of a solid WR corps. While Reche Caldwell started to come on at the end of the regular season, his dropoff in the AFC Championship game reminded everyone why the WR-starved Chargers let him walk. The same can be said for Jabar Gaffney… glimmers of solid play, but nothing spectacular. Chad Jackson was New England's No. 1 pick last year, however injuries prevented him from hitting his stride in '06 (and who knows how he will bounce back from a torn ACL suffered in the AFC Championship game). When it was all said and done, and the game was on the line, Tom Brady stepped back and hit old, reliable Troy Brown multiple times. While he is 35-years-old, Brown is a veteran in every sense of the word and his value to this team is unmatched.

The Free Agent Alternatives
The Free Agent WR crop isn't outstanding. Donte Stallworth probably headlines a lackluster group, yet he is injury prone and, at times, one-dimensional. Drew Bennett is an interesting name, as he has the size to be a go-to WR and the athleticism to go up and get jump balls. The rest of the pack are middle-of-the-road at best, and probably won't dramatically help this club.

The Draft Pick Alternatives
In sharp contrast to the free agents out there, this is a strong WR draft class. As many as six wide receiver could be selected in Round one. It is conceivable that a big name like Dwayne Jarrett could fall New England's way at 24. In any event, the Pats could easily select a nice wide receiver with either of their two first round picks.

The Plan
There is no doubt that the Pats need Troy Brown. His price tag will be rather low and he is valuable to this team. While Tom Brady continues to build a relationship with new receiver, it is important to have a veteran presence like Brown. Nevertheless, the Pats need some more talent at this position, and depending on their draft board, they could and should land a skilled pass catcher in the Draft. Even with Chad Jackson healthy, they need to upgrade the overall talent level at this position, and the value will definitely be there come April.

Daniel Graham, TE

New England Patriots TE Daniel Graham (AP Photo)

The Story
Tom Brady relies on his tight ends probably more than anyone else in the league. One could argue that his emergence as an elite passer was helped along most by the solid play of his TE's, with Daniel Graham leading the pack. Graham's numbers have dipped over the last two seasons (only posting 470 yards receiving in the past two years), but he is still solid and has developed into one of the better blocking tight ends around. The problem here (or lack thereof) is that the Pats are pretty stacked at the position. Ben Watson has Pro Bowl potential and is just waiting for his chance to be "the guy". Also, New England took two TE-type players (you could argue they are more like H-Backs) in the 2006 draft - Garrett Mills and Dave Thomas. With that being said, it doesn't seem likely that Graham will be in a Pats uniform come training camp.

The Free Agent Alternatives
There isn't much. Eric Johnson has shown flashes of being a threat as a pass catcher, but his injury history is an issue. Jerramy Stevens is out there, but Seattle seems to want him back, even though he is considered highly overrated. So, Daniel Graham might just be a hot commodity for teams looking to employ a solid player with good blocking skills and some gas still left in the tank.

The Draft Pick Alternatives
There are some decent tight ends in the draft, but no big-time prospects. Greg Olsen and Zach Miller headline the class, yet the Pats would probably need to select them in the first round, which would be a waste. Scott Chandler and Ben Patrick are also solid prospects with big bodies that may be able to fill that blocking tight end void, if the Pats feel they have one. Chandler and Patrick are likely to be late first day picks.

The Plan
Let's face it… it's over. Unless he is dying to come back and play for the league minimum, New England has too much young talent at the position to overpay for Graham's services. Assuming one of the young guys can develop nicely, they should be set even if he does leave.

Heath Evans, FB

New England Patriots FB Heath Evans (AP Photo)

The Story
The Pats have developed into a prolific running team. Much of that can be attributed to the emergence of Laurence Maroney, as well as the steady and sure Corey Dillon. Also, their offensive line can get it done week in and week out. But, as it usually shapes up, little credit is bestowed on the fullback. If you've watched the Pats play, you can easily see that Evans does a solid job in the run game. He isn't going to break a big run, but he knows his role and opens holes for New England's duo of running backs.

The Free Agent Alternatives
There's always somebody out there… fullbacks are almost like kickers. A team can pull these guys off the street and let them bang away for 16 games. Not to say that the elite (such as San Diego's Lorenzo Neal and Seattle's Mack Strong) aren't a separate breed, but there aren't any of those type of players on the market.

The Draft Pick Alternatives
You'll hear a lot about these hybrid fullbacks who can be a "weapon" like Rutgers' Brian Leonard. Yet, it's rare that you hear of a pure blocking FB. Well, this draft has a stud. His name is Le'Ron McClain from Alabama. You're hearing it right now, someone will take this guy a few rounds earlier than probably warranted (due to the undervalued position) and will obtain a dominant player who some scouts are comparing to Lorenzo Neal.

The Plan
As was previously mentioned, the Pats have drafted a hybrid H-Back type in Garrett Mills. He can be a weapon, but he isn't going be leading the way on an Iso play. Realistically speaking, you have a good thing in Evans. He is solid, knows the system, and will likely be cheap. Unless New England thinks a stud like McClain can take their run game to the next level, they should stick with stick with Evans. There are already early indications Evans will be back.

Junior Seau, ILB and Eric Alexander, ILB*

The Story
The Pats made noise when they wooed Seau out of a short-lived retirement. Yet, it should have been considered a cry for help. The ILB spot is very weak on this team. Tedy Bruschi can still play, but he is talking retirement. Alexander filled in for an injured Seau in the playoffs, and didn't necessarily "wow" anyone. Let's not forget to mention that the depth at this position is horrible.

The Free Agent Alternatives
Three words: London Fletcher-Baker. All he does is make plays. The Patriots might be wise to take a long, hard look at this veteran (who has complied 100+ tackles in seven straight seasons).

The Draft Pick Alternatives
The draft is pretty strong at the ILB spot. At the head of the class is Patrick Willis, who could easily become the Defensive Rookie of the Year. He will likely be there for the Pats at 24, and could be considered a pretty smart decision. Yet, if they don't snag Willis at that point, guys like Buster Davis, Brandon Siler, and maybe even Paul Pusluszny, could be alternatives later in the draft.

The Plan
*Alexander is a restricted free agent. He didn't do much for New England (14 tackles), but this young player is still learning the system and is the only youth at the position. Why not let him compete in camp? And turning away a healthy Junior Seau is probably not a smart idea either. His leadership and experience alone is worth the veteran minimum. But, the Patriots can't expect either of these players to start. New England's best bet is to go out and sign a free agent, while picking up a good prospect in the draft. Bruschi may have one more year left in him, so someone has to be able to replace him.

This article was provided by the staff at FIO. In addition to being a contributor for Patriots Insider and other media outlets, Adam Allen is a staff writer for FantasyInsiderOnline.com. You can reach him at DoubleA@FantasyInsiderOnline.com.

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