Once the stadium began to empty and the once colorful confetti that fell from the rafters had become nothing more than trampled mylar, it was clear that the 2018 NFL season was over. And somewhere in Atlanta, the Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was already thinking about what the team had to do to be raising the Lombardi trophy in 2020. Coming off of the heels of their sixth Super Bowl victory in the past 20 years, the Patriot’s brass is well aware of the franchise altering offseasons it faces in 2019 and 2020. With several of the team’s key players rumored to be considering retirement, and many more due to hit the open market, we could be seeing a very different looking team next season, depending on who stays, who goes, and who we bring in.
This article, will be the first of 32 different articles which we will publish, regarding what we think each NFL team needs to do this offseason. We are going to start of with the reigning Super Bowl champs, as the Patriots were a very imperfect team this season. There are several key players who are due to hit free agency, including monstrous left tackle Trent Brown, pro bowl kicker Stephen Gostkowski, and nose tackles Danny Shelton and Malcolm Brown. However, this article is not about those players.
1. Let receiver Chris Hogan go
Chris Hogan was an abomination in the Super Bowl, just as he had been for the entire regular season. His grade of 56.7 from Pro Football Focus put him in the “average” range for offensive players but from the eye test, it was evident that Hogan was never open this season. He appears to have lost a good deal of speed, especially on deep throws, which were once his specialty in the offense. Hogan was a very weak second receiver once Josh Gordon left the team, his performance Weeks 1-3 were abysmal. From a fantasy football perspective Hogan was one of the biggest busts of the season, as he was drafted on average in the 5th round of drafts. Yet, he finished as Wide Receiver 70 in standard scoring formats. From a non-fantasy perspective, the biggest issue with Hogan was his inability to capitalize on opportunity, as these are his stats from each of his three seasons in Foxboro.
2016 38 REC 680 YDS 4 TD 15 GP
2017 34 REC 439 YDS 5 TD 9 GP
2018 35 REC 532 YDS 3 TD 16 GP
Hogan was on pace for a career year in 2017, until he suffered a shoulder injury in a game against the Chargers. This year, however, he never got on track. He put up average numbers while playing alongside a fully healthy Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and pro bowl receiver Brandin Cooks. The fact that he barely topped these numbers and actually had two less touchdown grabs while playing alongside a hobbled Gronkowski, a post ACL tear Julian Edelman (who missed 4 games), and the ghost of Josh Gordon (for a few weeks) shows his futility this season. To make matters worse he also played in almost twice as many games in 2018 compared to 2017, nothing if not disconcerting. Following another dud game in which he was targeted 6 times, and managed zero catches, the writing is on the wall for Chris Hogan. He needs to go.
Resign DE Trey Flowers
Trey Flowers has been arguably the Patriots best defensive player at several points in his tenure with the team. He graded out tremendously this season with PFF, at 89.7 which puts him near the upper echelon of defensive players. Flowers is incredibly valuable due to his excellent combination of run stuffing ability and pass rushing skills. There is nobody else on the Patriot’s roster right now that even comes close to Flowers in terms of talent along the defensive line. Despite missing almost his entire rookie season due to a shoulder injury, Flowers has accumulated 21.5 sacks in his career so far, along with 25 tackles for loss. The scariest part about Flowers is that he has yet to even reach his full potential. New England would be foolish to let Flowers leave, as they should do anything in their power to keep him, even if they must use the franchise tag.
Add more receiving weapons for Tom Brady
While the team looks to move on from Hogan, the need for competent pass catchers is still incredibly high in New England. Philip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson, two bit players who had their moments of glory this season, are free agents. Likewise, there are rumors of retirement for legendary tight end Rob Gronkowski, along with the uncertain future of mercurial receiver Josh Gordon. Currently, the only receiver guaranteed to be on the field for the Patriots next season is 33 year old Julian Edelman. So here are three players we think the Patriots should add to their receiving core this offseason.
Humphries has been a model of consistency for Tampa Bay these last few seasons as he has caught 219 passes in four seasons despite lining up alongside the likes of Mike Evans, Desean Jackson, Vincent Jackson, Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate, and O.J Howard.
Likewise, Humphries’ numbers have gone up every year of his career as you can see below
2015 27 REC 260 YDS 1 TD 13 GP
2016 55 REC 622 YDS 2 TD 15 GP
2017 61 REC 631 YDS 1 TD 16 GP
2018 76 REC 816 YDS 5 TD 16 GP
This past season was by far his best, as Humphries appeared to be Jameis Winston’s most trusted target at certain points, evidenced by his 5 touchdown catches, the majority of which occurred in the red zone. He is the ideal Patriots receiver is terms of skillset, mentality, and the manner in which he was acquired (Undrafted FA, poached from a dysfunctional franchise). If Humphries does in fact land in New England, he could be an incredible weapon for TB12.
The University of Iowa tight end has a rare blend of speed, athleticism, and fluid body movement that makes him a dynamic pass catcher for his size. If Bill Belichick gets his hands on Fant in the draft, he might just win three more Super Bowls, as Fant can be lined up all over the field. He is a classic case of a mismatch tight end who is too fast for linebackers and too big for corners to cover him. While his blocking is not exactly elite, he can be mentored by one of the greatest to ever play the position (Rob Gronkowski) and could get some extra lessons in blocking from one of the best offensive line coaches of all time (Dante Scarnecchia) if need be.
Andy Isabella and/or Hunter Renfrow
Both Isabella and Renfrow fit the mold of a prototypical NFL slot receiver, a position which the Patriots can be credited with revolutionizing. Isabella would be a fan favorite should the Patriots draft him, as he played his college ball at UMass Amherst, where he was a finalist for the Biletnikoff award in 2018. He has a dynamic blend of pure speed and shifty route running, which draws comparisons to Julian Edelman. Isabella’s advantage over Renfrow as a prospect is his potential as a deep threat, an element that the Patriots are sorely missing from their passing game. Renfrow, on the other hand, is a sure handed veteran who has won two National Championships at Clemson. He has been a key contributor in big games, and will definitely find himself on an NFL roster in the Spring. I do not see him as a perfect fit in New England, but like Braxton Berrios last season, Bill Belichick could take a flier on him in round 6 or 7 if he is still on the board.