There’s a good chance your Super Bowl LI hangover hasn’t yet worn off, and we know there are more than a few Patriots still celebrating a historic win.
But head coach Bill Belichick is already on to the offseason, telling reporters shortly after the team became Super Bowl champs that “we’re five weeks behind in the 2017 season to most teams in the league.”
So Bill Belichick it hurts.
But the man does have a point. The Pats have never rested on their laurels in the past – which is why they’ve won five Super Bowls since 2002 – and they have plenty of questions to answer this offseason if they want to successfully defend their Super Bowl title.
And the gears were turning before this point. The Patriots traded away both Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins dating back to last offseason, fully aware they wouldn’t be able to re-sign them with so many other key players hitting free agency.
Clearly, those gambles paid off, as the Patriots were able to plug in replacements and get the job done.
Their next decisions won’t be any easier.
1.Goodbye, Jimmy G?
Apparently media members can’t wait to write the Brady retirement column. We’re constantly reminded that, at age 39, he could retire soon (despite the fact he’s said on numerous occasions he isn’t thinking about retirement). But folks, if the 2016-17 season is any indication, Brady could play until he’s 50. Now we’re hearing reports the Pats are going to work on yet another extension with the G.O.A.T. So . . . what does that mean for Jimmy Garoppolo? Well, he’s got to be on his way out. It turns out this won’t be a Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers situation after all. Though Garoppolo has seen limited action in his three seasons with the Patriots, he’s shown enough to garner attention from QB-needy teams. Where he ends up is still up in the air, but Cleveland, Chicago, and San Francisco remain top options. The Patriots have done business with both the Bears and Browns as recently as this season, so there is a relationship there. Expect a first-rounder and perhaps a mid-round pick for Garoppolo, who the Patriots drafted in the second round back in 2014.
2. Big money for big free agents
Two players who made huge plays for the Patriots in each of their last two Super Bowls as well as numerous times throughout the last few seasons are going to be free agents soon: Malcolm Butler and Dont’a Hightower. It would be a surprise if both were not re-signed by the Patriots this offseason – to big deals, too. Shutdown corners make lots of money in this league, and that is exactly what Butler has become, as he’ll earn a yearly salary averaging eight figures. The same goes for Hightower, who has become a leader on defense and someone in the middle the Patriots can count on as they shuffle linebackers in and out of the game around him. But if the Pats lock those two up, it’s unlikely they’ll have enough money for Logan Ryan, who’s play could earn him an annual salary just south of $10 million. And what’s to happen with the defensive line and their free agents? Jabaal Sheard was in and out of Bill Belichick’s good graces this season and Chris Long took a very team-friendly one-year deal. Alan Branch was an integral part of the line as well, but at age 32 is getting up there.
3. Bennett or Gronk… or both?
When it comes to season-saving decisions, the trade for Martellus Bennett before the season began ends up being just that. For a few seasons, the Patriots looked for their Aaron Hernandez replacement in the two tight end set, and finally found it in Bennett (though the Pats couldn’t utilize it much). They also got much needed insurance for if (when) Gronkowski got hurt. Bennett was not only a big target for Brady but a big blocker as well. The fact that the Pats won the Super Bowl without Gronkowski is big news. Gronk is only making $4.25 million next season, so the Pats should be more inclined to keep him around. But that jumps to $8 million in 2018 and $9 million in 2019 – still a good deal for an all-time great tight end, but only if he stays on the field. Would they be willing to fork over another $8 million or so annually for the soon-to-be 31-year-old Bennett? Or is there a less expensive guy they’re targeting?