The Patriots are a perennial contender for a Super Bowl, but could they be set to return back to earth for the 2017 season? If they can’t figure out a way to resign a good bit of the talent that they are set to lose on the defensive side of the ball then that could be the case.
As it stands now Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Terrance Knighton, Malcolm Butler, and Logan Ryan are all set to become free agents at the end of this season. To put that into perspective that is two-thirds of their linebacking core and both of their starting cornerbacks. They are also losing their first three options at defensive end and four key options along the defensive line in total.
This would be just two years after losing two of the top cornerbacks in football in Aqib Talib and Darelle Revis. Not to mention they just shipped off Chandler Jones, a troubled but incredibly talented defensive end, to Arizona for an offensive lineman largely considered a bust thus far in his career in Johnathan Cooper. The Patriots also released embattled defensive tackle Dominique Easley earlier this offseason. They had two of the top young defensive talents in the league in Easley and Jones, but saw character flaws that clashed with the “Patriot way.” Couple that with Easley’s penchant for spending more time hurt than healthy and the Pats felt they had no other choice. Still, there is no denying that both are talented and will be missed on this defensive front.
The Patriots did invest a second round pick in Alabama corner Cyrus Jones. Jones gives them versatility as he should slot into their nickel corner right off the back as well as return kicks and punts. The Patriots were without a first round pick due to deflategate. They did end up taking two linebackers as well, but not until the sixth round. While the Patriots are notorious for turning later round picks into productive players, it would be difficult to envision those sixth rounders replacing Collins and Hightower.
At the end of the day, the Patriots still have Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski so they will be a force to be reckoned with. They will also have more cap room next year to sign some of these players back this coming offseason. With another draft and a couple of bargain free agents looking for a resurgence or championship and we will probably still be discussing their SuperBowl odds the same time next year.