TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY
Despite an undefeated regular season and continuity on the coaching staff, the 2008 Patriots could look very different. New England enters the offseason with the potential for huge roster turnover at key spots on both sides of the ball. Defensively both linebacker and the defensive backfield could be greatly affected. Aging veterans Junior Seau (38) is a free agents and could retire, while outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin was released. In the secondary, Asante Samuel, guaranteed to hit free agency in March thanks to the deal he reached with the team last August to play under the franchise tender, will be one of the hot players on the open market. If bidders price the Patriots out of contention for Samuel, which is a very real possibility, the team will lose its only young proven playmaker and best overall player in the back end of the defense. That would necessitate the team to pursue at least one corner in either free agency or the draft to help out what is already a weak group.
Offensively, the priority, for the second year in a row, is at wide receiver. Randy Moss is a free agent. Wide receivers Troy Brown and Jabar Gaffney are free agents along with Moss and Donte' Stallworth, while injury prone former second-round pick Chad Jackson has yet to prove himself, meaning Wes Welker is the only receiver in the top six spots of the this year's receiver depth chart assured to be back with Tom Brady in 2008.
1.Linebacker: Junior Seau is a free agent and could retire. Rosevelt Colvin was released. Tedy Bruschi re-signed, but none of the team's younger linebackers are in line to earn significant roles moving forward. Youth and athleticism is clearly needed at a spot that does still include All-Pro Mike Vrabel and '07 free-agent prize Adalius Thomas.
2.Cornerback: Asante Samuel reportedly was looking for an offer approaching $100 million on the open market, numbers that are likely way too rich for New England's blood. Instead, he signed a 6-year $57 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles on Friday. Nickel man Randall Gay is a free agent as well. Ellis Hobbs had a terrible third season and got toasted in the Super Bowl. If the Patriots somehow re-sign Samuel, depth is needed. If not, there will be a huge hole to fill in the secondary.
3.Safety: Rodney Harrison says he's coming back, but he's 35. Eugene Wilson is a free agent and as good as gone. First-round pick Brandon Meriweather played more late in the year, but is still very much unproven. Harrison stayed healthy last fall for the first time in three years, and it's hard to count on the same happening moving forward so depth surrounding budding starter James Sanders could be an issue.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--WR Troy Brown played just one game in his 15th season after starting the year on PUP. He'll likely retire and certainly wouldn't be a candidate to play anywhere but New England if he surprising returns for a 16th year.
--WR Jabar Gaffney developed a nice rapport with Tom Brady since joining the team midway through 2006. He caught a couple key touchdowns in the regular season. His value is probably greater in New England than elsewhere considering he was on the street less than two years ago.
--CB Randall Gay was healthy for the first time in three years, but didn't have a great fourth season. Drew interest from the Jets as a restricted free agent last spring. Unlikely to ever be more than a nickel guy/backup.
--S Mel Mitchell played in 10 games and is a core special teams-type guy. He might choose to go elsewhere as New England only has room for so many one-dimensional special teamers.
--WR Randy Moss is the key to New England's offseason on offense. The resurgent veteran is likely to get the team's franchise tag as by CBA rules he reportedly can't sign an extension with the team before free agency begins. He wants to come back. The Patriots want him back. Something that doesn't break the bank should get done.
--LS Lonie Paxton is one of the more solid deep snappers in the game. He's an eight-year Patriot and fits in well in the locker room. He should be back.
--CB Asante Samuel will be one of the biggest fish in the free-agent waters. He's coming off his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro season, has 16 picks over the last two years and has only missed five games in five seasons. His payday will be, as he says "huge," and that could mean it won't come in New England.
--CB Chad Scott didn't make it through training camp and has been hurt often. He's a solid veteran backup and could be back with the team in the market for corner depth.
--LB Junior Seau was expected to get his first Super Bowl ring and retire. The Giants messed that little story up. He was healthy all year and made plays. If he doesn't retire after his 18th season, the only place he'll be playing is in New England.
--WR Donte Stallworth became a free agent when team elected not to pay an option bonus.
--DB Eugene Wilson spent time as a healthy scratch during portions of 2007, a fall from his first couple season in New England when he was an up-and-coming playmaker. He's been hurt too often and hasn't made plays much over the last couple years. He's due a change of scenery and will likely welcome it.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--DL Rashad Moore (not tendered as RFA) spent camp with New England and returned as a backup after injuries hit late in the year. Could be back to compete for a backup role.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--DL Mike Wright (tendered at $1.417M with 2nd-round pick as compensation) is a former undrafted free agent who's developed into a nice backup/special teamer in New England.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--LB Eric Alexander is a decent though injury prone special teamer although he's yet to show anything on defense, other than of course his still inexplicable start in the 2006 AFC title loss in Indianapolis.
--T Wesley Britt is a serviceable backup swing tackle.
--LB Pierre Woods is another solid special teamer who's yet to do much on defense, although he did see some rare playing time New England's Super Bowl XLII loss to New York.
--LB T.J. Slaughter: FA; $730,000/1 yr.
--LB Rosevelt Colvin (released/failed physical).
--TE Kyle Brady (released)
--LB Oscar Lua (waived)
--CB Asante Samuel (signed by Eagles)