Hannable: Appreciate Bennett, Long for leaving New England the right way
by: Ryan Hannable on Mon, 03/20/2017 - 10:43pm
The majority of the Patriots’ roster for next season has taken shape with all the moves the team made at the outset of free agency. Unlike has been the case in past years, the Patriots were extremely active.
It started before free agency even began when the team traded for tight end Dwayne Allen and then continued when it made the first big splash of free agency by signing cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million deal. Things continued when Brandin Cooks was acquired via trade and nice pieces were added in Lawrence Guy and Kony Ealy. Things were capped off last week when Dont’a Hightower re-signed for four more years.
Three trades and a few signings later, the roster is almost set — besides obviously the draft, undrafted free agents and a few more veteran free agent additions.
As it stands now, here’s what the Patriots roster looks like by position going into 2017.
Quarterback: Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett (3)
Nothing left to be done here. The only thing to watch is if the team considers offers for Garoppolo, which will certainly pick up as the draft nears. At this point, unless the Patriots get blown away, Garoppolo will stay in New England at least another year.
Running back: Dion Lewis, James White, D.J. Foster, Rex Burkhead (4)
After the team released Tyler Gaffney on Monday, this is a position that needs some work, maybe the most significant work on the roster. Burkhead was added last week, but he doesn’t give the team the tough, physical running back they had in LeGarrette Blount last year. Blount remains available and the team should still pursue him. Also, if the team feels Burkhead could be the No. 1 back (which would be a mistake), Brandon Bolden remains unsigned so the team needs to bring him back, or sign a similar player to fill in at running back in a pinch, but specialize on special teams.
Fullback: James Develin, Glenn Gronkowski (2)
This position is set, and was set once Develin was re-signed. Gronkowski will look to join his brother on the active roster, but seems destined for the practice squad again.
The biggest question with the receivers is whether or not Amendola comes back. He’s on the books for a $6 million base salary in 2017, which won’t stand. It’s likely he gets asked to take a pay cut, which he’s reportedly willing to do. A few veterans will likely be brought in for training camp like usual, but none will really play factors in the final 53-man roster. The team could potentially look to draft one high, as it looks to get younger at the position.
Tight end: Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Matt Lengel, Michael Williams, Rob Housler (5)
This position is pretty well stocked, especially now that Allen was brought in to replace Marcellus Bennett as a nice complement and insurance policy to Gronkowski. With Gronkowski’s injury history and being 27 years old, as well as a dominant tight end class, maybe this is the year the organization looks to draft his replacement.
Offensive line: Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon, LaAdrian Waddle, Ted Karras, Cameron Fleming, Tre' Jackson, Chris Barker, Jamil Douglas, Chase Farris (12)
There’s not much to add here with all the young players already in place and establishing themselves as solid NFL players. It’s worth noting Solder could be a candidate for a new contract, as he has a cap hit over $11 million this year and his contract expires at the end of the season. New England could sign him to an extension and re-work the cap numbers so it’s lower this season.
Defensive line: Kony Ealy, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Vincent Valentine, Lawrence Guy, Rob Ninkovich, Geneo Grissom, Woodrow Hamilton, Darius Kilgo (10)
This position is fairly well set, with the only other additions potentially being another depth player both on the interior and end position. Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard will not return at defensive and and Ealy was the only player added, so another player should be added to be part of the defensive end rotation. This position has a nice mix of veterans and younger players.
Linebacker: Dont’a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy, Jonathan Freeny, Trevor Bates (6)
Looking at the names here, it’s apparent why the Patriots badly needed Hightower to return. It doesn’t appear another big name will be added, but if it presents itself, a star linebacker could be added through the draft. Although Roberts is young, he doesn’t feel like a player who could potentially replace Hightower down the road, which is why if the Patriots see that player available in any of the next few drafts, they should jump on it. Middle linebacker seems to be a position the team likes to keep promoting from within.
Cornerback: Stephon Gilmore, Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, Justin Coleman (6)
Obviously, the biggest thing to watch here is what happens with Butler. If he stays, he and Gilmore could form the best cornerback tandem in the league. But if he leaves, there would be some players who would need to step up as it seems too late in the game to add a dependable cornerback via free agency and they aren’t in a position to add a first-year stud in the draft. Some people are forgetting about Rowe and Cyrus Jones, who potentially could fill in nicely replacing Logan Ryan as the No. 2 cornerback if called upon.
The Patriots return the same players as have been in the secondary since 2014, which makes it one of the stronger positions on the entire roster. McCourty, Chung and Harmon all can do a number of different things, which works out well for the defense being able to defend any type of offense.
All six core special teams players will return once again in 2017, although they will look to be more consistent, as that was the one knock on them last season. It’s possible the team brings in another kicker to challenge Gostkowski during training camp. He had his worst season as a professional last season, including missing an extra point in Super Bowl LI.