Imagine having the 15th ranked offense in terms of yards, the 20th ranked offense in passer rating, and the 19th ranked offense in yards per passing attempt, subsequently losing your hall of fame starting quarterback while making zero upgrades at any of the skill positions?
You probably think I’m talking about the Bengals or the Browns.
I’m talking about the New England Patriots.
A stagnant offense that struggled to score thirteen points at home last year in the wild card round against Tennessee has only gotten worse. We watched as prime targets such as Eric Ebron, Robbie Anderson, Emmanuel Sanders, and Tyler Eifert all sign for reasonable money with rival squads. DeAndre Hopkins went for pennies on the dollar, and Stefon Diggs was dealt for a reasonable price.
Most years, I wouldn’t be worried. Bill Belichick rarely signs big-money free agents, and his philosophy has worked out swimmingly over the last twenty years. But now without Tom Brady in the fold, I find myself wondering if Belichick realizes just how barren his offense has become.
Sure, with Stidham manning the offense they can incorporate some RPO’s and read-option plays that can improve what was a lifeless group last season, but defenses will catch on to that fairly quickly. Gimmick offenses can only take you so far (see Robert Griffin and Lamar Jackson as prime examples).
The main problem the Patriots had last season was that they could not beat man coverage consistently. Defenses were able to play Cover 1 with just one safety over the top and basically clogged the middle of the field. There was no Rob Gronkowski to challenge the seam of the defense, or a Brandin Cooks to beat safeties down the sideline. Simply put, defenses had no fear of going up against Brady last season. All they had to do was double Edelman and clog up the middle, and there was very little the Patriots could do about it.
The lack of a tight end audition so far this offseason is my biggest concern. Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo and Ben Watson were essentially useless last year. Now Watson is gone, and there is not much left in free agency at the position. What was once a stocked cupboard of Gronk and Marty Bennett has become a nuclear wasteland. Ryan Izzo running a seam route doesn’t exactly strike fear into opposing defensive coordinators.
The absence of cap space is a big reason people are giving the Patriots slack when it comes to the lack of additions this offseason. Not me.
Give me a napkin and five minutes and I can create ten million in space like that. The NFL cap is a joke, you can add voidable years to spread cap hits, convert base salary to signing bonuses, and outright cut or restructure guys to create it. It isn’t that difficult and Belichick knows it.
There is no excuse for the lack of talent amongst New England’s receiving core. From the failed Mohamed Sanu trade to the Antonio Brown clown show, Belichick is on a cold streak akin to LeBron in the 2011 Finals.
Something has to give. I just cannot accept the fact that they are going to go into the season with Matt LaCosse as the number one tight end option again. They completely screwed themselves last year by thinking that Gronkowski was going to return, and they never recovered.
Free-agent options are mostly gone, so a trade would seemingly be the only way to bring in a quality player. The guys I keep going back to are Gerald Everett and O.J. Howard. Both are on rookie deals and have generally underperformed and haven’t played significant snaps but have a ton of potential. Add one of those guys for a third rounder pick or so, draft a tight end, and now we’re cooking with gas.
In today’s NFL, in order to succeed you need a strong passing game. There’s just no way around it. Even when the Pats won with an elite defense and run game in 2018, they still had to rely on Brady in the big moments, like the end of the AFC Championship game in Kansas City. A strong run game and defense can’t take you to the promised land anymore. It’s not 2001 where you can physically assault receivers at the line of scrimmage and hand the ball to Antoine Smith thirty times a game. Times have changed, and I hope the Patriots realize that.
The lack of firepower on this offense right now is stunning. I expected some sort of action in the passing game, but here we are with nothing to be excited about. I don’t think this team is winning more than nine games next year as currently constituted. They just aren’t going to put up enough points. Just think of it this way: They lost Tom Brady and added nothing. How the hell do you expect to improve? All you’ve done to this point is overpay your left guard. Oh yeah and your best weapon is a 34-year-old pinball machine coming off multiple surgeries.
It’s still relatively early in the offseason, and we honestly don’t even know if we’re going to have a season in the fall due to COVID-19, but as it currently stands, I don’t feel great about this offense.
Not yet at least.
*All stats via ESPN