By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots are in the off-season mode now that the 2012 season is over, but the work never stops for the front office and coaches and the biggest questions remain on what direction they’ll take on Free Agency and the NFL Draft.
One of the biggest topics of discussion is how the team will address its needs, and one of the biggest topics among fans has been, “The team needs a big, physical WR who can make the tough catches in the red-zone.” Unless I’ve been mis-reading Twitter for the past two weeks.
One of the issues this team has faced, especially in its playoff losses was consistently scoring in the red-zone. While the onus of this is far from on the shoulders of Wes Welker alone, the fact remains, he isn’t the best target inside the 20 yard line.
Many fans are clamoring for the Patriots to sign Anquan Boldin who is set to become a free agent for the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, who they play out of the slot and split wide. No need…that person is already on the roster.
With the Patriots playing hardball with Wes Welker last year and the possibility of him walking away outright this year, the team may opt to move Aaron Hernandez to a wide out and play him out of the slot as well as move him around, in the backfield as they’ve done in the past.
It may not be as far-fetched as it seems while the cost of Welker being franchised again is upward of $11 million dollars and would probably stop the team from addressing its other needs. Indeed, the prevailing thought among the Patriots beat writers in the media is that the team will let Welker test the market.
And he’s certainly earned it, no one has caught more passes since he’s come to New England than Welker, and he’s been extremely durable, after blowing out an ACL in the 2009 season finale, he never missed a game and was back in time for the 2010 opener.
But with only $18 million remaining under the cap, the team has a few important holes to fill and using a large chunk of that signing Welker may not be in the cards. While possibly reworking a few contracts to get more cap room, re-signing Welker may still not be possible. So what then happens to the Patriots offense?
It’s not like we haven’t seen this scenario before, the Patriots parted ways with Lawyer Milloy, Richard Seymour and Randy Moss under Bill Belichick’s watch. Is it going to happen? No one knows yet but I wouldn’t be shocked.
One possible scenario could be, letting Welker go and sign elsewhere, and re-signing WR Julian Edelman which is much more cost effective. And then by moving Hernandez to WR, it solves the big, physical issue. Hernandez and Edelman can move in and out of the slot and bring you different matchups depending upon the defense. Edelman also would be the primary punt returner which would check that block.
Brandon Lloyd is still on the roster and the team can try to draft one of the many WRs that are available in the draft that can become a vertical threat. Stretching the field with a vertical passing game is still a need and that player would, initially at least come much cheaper if they draft one.
The team is still extremely deep at tight end even with moving Hernandez, the forgotten piece of the puzzle being Jake Ballard who was on IR in 2012. The team scooped him up from the Giants after being placed on waivers last year after the Super Bowl. Ballard will be the second tight end with Rob Gronkowski and backed up Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui.
Gronkowski and Ballard would be an excellent 1-2 punch at tight end, the wide receivers would be Hernandez, Lloyd, and Edelman and a draft pick. If they go after a speed guy it would put a much more explosive type offense on the field. The running game would remain the same with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Jeff Demps, who will return kickoffs. It may free up the money to re-sign Danny Woodhead as well.
If they indeed let Wes Welker walk, it would free up the money to sign a free agent cornerback or safety and draft the other. Because the team needs to either sign at least one corner and draft another and needs a bigger strong safety type player for the secondary.
But with money somewhat limited, the team doesn’t have to go out and spend big money on a big, physical wide receiver…he’s already here. And something else to keep in mind, Aaron Hernandez it was reported this morning just rented an apartment for the off-season in Manhattan Beach, California (great place) to be near Tom Brady for off-season workouts….things that make you go hmmm.