The Patriots have locked up their franchise quarterback for the next five years, and now it’s up to them to provide the talent around him to compete for a Super Bowl until the day he retires.
The easiest way to do that is to sign key free agents, something Tom Brady’s restructured contract allows the Pats to do a little easier. But it’s also important for the Patriots to balance out those proven veterans with young talent from the draft.
Here are three players whose NFL combine showing may interest the Patriots one way or another.
Tavon Austin – WR West Virginia
The biggest offseason story thus far surrounding the Patriots has been whether or not the Patriots will re-sign Wes Welker. Brady’s new deal makes that scenario more likely, but what if the two sides simply can’t agree? Enter Tavon Austin. The 5-foot-9, 178-pound receiver is lightning fast – he ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at the combine – and looks to be of filling Welker’s role (in time) at a fraction of the cost.
“Wes Welker, that’s the No. 1 guy,” Austin told reporters. “I see how Wes does it, I watch a lot of tape of him, and I think I move a little quicker and faster than Wes, so if he can do it, I know I can do it too.”
Tyrann Mathieu – CB LSU
Previously known as the “Honey Badger”, Tyrann Mathieu is one of this year’s biggest draft mysteries. Kicked off the LSU team prior to last season for failing multiple drug tests administered by LSU, and then arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession on Oct. 25, 2012, Mathieu claims he’s finally over the marijuana addiction. He’s been to rehab, and has a sponsor, too. Can he be trusted, though? And at 5-foot-9, 186 pounds, is he big enough to be a cornerback in the NFL? We know Bill Belichick loves “football players” and “value,” and isn’t afraid to gamble on “character issues”. We also know the Pats need help in the secondary. This could be a perfect match.
Johnathan Hankins – DT Ohio State
Nobody is going to question whether Johnathan Hankins is big enough. The 6-foot-3, 320-pound nose tackle didn’t drop any jaws (that we know of) in his combine workouts, but the Patriots could be starting to look around for Vince Wilfork’s eventual replacement. Hankins is athletic for his size, and could be sitting there for New England near the end of the first round.
Follow Metro sports writer Jimmy Toscano on Twitter @jimmy_toscano