Patriots Off-Season Options

Getting Things Down Pat: With the latest news from the New England Patriots regarding Wes Welker wanting to “test the waters of free agency”, and the team failing to franchise any of their free agents, one has to wonder…what will the Pats do this off-season?

The Patriots have two primary needs this off-season. 1. A solid number one or number two wide receiver (should they fail to bring back Welker) and a productive cornerback/defensive back to help with the pass defense. Here’s a rundown of who the Pats can sign/draft to fill those needs:

Slot Machine: Wes Welker has no doubt been a great offensive weapon for the New England Patriots. Welker has caught 110 or more passes for 1,100 yards or more in five of his six seasons with the Patriots. He had a career year in 2011 with 122 grabs with 1,569 yards and 9 TDS. Welker however, is aging at 31, and is likely going to use his impressive Patriots resume’ to land himself a big pay-day somewhere else.

With all that said, and the fact that Welker is willing to talk to other teams, the Pats need a plan B should re-signing Welker fall through.

Here are the top five free agent pass catchers available:

Mike Wallace- In 2012 with Pittsburgh: 64 REC, 836 YDS, 8 TDS.

Greg Jennings- In 2012 with Green Bay (in 8 games): 36 REC, 366 YDS, 4 TDS.

Danny Amendola- In 2012 with St. Louis: 63 REC, 666 YDS , 3TDS.

Austin Collie- In 2012 with Indianapolis: 1 catch for 6 yards missed the season due to injury.

Brian Hartline- In 2012 with Miami: 74 REC, 1083 YDS, 1 TD.

Granted, those numbers don’t exactly replace Welker, but the Pats won’t need to completely replace him if they can land a solid receiver like the ones listed above.

Realistically Greg Jennings and Green Bay will probably agree to re-sign and Mike Wallace will probably take his talents elsewhere for more money than he’s worth. Austin Collie, when healthy has been reliable in Indy, but I don’t see him in New England next year. Brian Hartline had a career season last year for the Dolphins, so he should stay in South Beach.

So, that leaves Danny Amendola as the Pats most realistic option, as pointed out by Chris. Amendola has been a solid slot receiver for Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and would be a good pickup should Welker leave.

Side Note: The Patriots only have 5 picks in this year’s NFL Draft (one in rounds 1,2, and 3 and two picks in round 7). The Pats will pick 29th in the first round and could wind up in a position to draft highly ranked wide receivers Keenan Allen out of California, Justin Hunter of Tennessee, or Cordarrelle Patterson also Tennessee.

No Thanks, I’ll Pass: The Patriots pass defense ranked 29th overall in 2012, giving up a total of 4,342 yards for an average of 271 yards per game. New England also gave up 27 passing TDS, allowed an average quarterback rating of 86.9, and a 62 percent pass completion rate.

Given those results, the Pats may want to hire one or two of these free agent pass defenders:

Ed Reed- In 2012 with Baltimore: 58 tackles and 4 interceptions.

Dashon Goldson- In 2012 with San Francisco: 69 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 3 interceptions.

Antoine Cason- In 2012 with San Diego: 73 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions.

Quentin Jammer- In 2012 with San Diego: 64 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 3 interceptions.

LaRon Landry- In 2012 with New York (Jets):  99 tackles, 4 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie- In 2012 with Philadelphia: 51 tackles and 3 interceptions.

Given the numbers the Patriots pass defense put up last season, any one of these available DB’s are significant upgrades to the secondary. Realistically Ed Reed, Laron Landry and Dashon Goldson will likely all re-sign with their respective teams or elsewhere. That leaves Antoine Cason, Quentin Jammer, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Again, picking up any one of those guys would be a step in the right direction.

Side Note: The Patriots 29th draft pick position could also allow them to go after a few defensive players such as Kevin Minter inside linebacker out of LSU, Blidi Wreh-Wilson cornerback of UCONN, or Desmond Trufant of Washington.

Final Thoughts: The Patriots have plenty of time to consider these and many other options in the weeks to come. It will no doubt be interesting to see what New England choose to do this off-season. What do you think will happen? Will Wes Welker stay? If he goes, who should the Patriots pursue? leave a comment below.

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NFL Coaching Carousel: New Faces In New Places

New Year, New Coaches: A few weeks ago the NFL saw a total of 7 head coaches fired by their old teams. Those teams were the Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns Kansas City Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, and San Diego Chargers. Since then all 7 coaching vacancies have been filled. Here’s a rundown of who was hired:

Arizona Cardinals: Bruce Arians, who led the Colts to an 11-5 record as interim coach in the absence of Chuck Strong, who battled Leukemia last season.

Buffalo Bills: Doug Marrone, former Syracuse Orange head coach, went 25-25 in four seasons with the Orange and has 7 years of NFL experience with coaching staff stints with the New Orleans Saints 2006-2008 and  the New York Jets 2002-2005.

Cleveland Browns: Rob Chudzinski, former Offensive Coordinator for the Carolina Panthers and also was OC for the Browns in 2007-2008.

Chicago Bears: Marc Trestman, former CFL coach for the Montreal Alouettes winning two Grey Cup titles, also has 17 years of NFL coaching experience spending most of that time as an offensive coordinator for a number of NFL teams.

Kansas City Chiefs: Andy Reid, Former Philadelphia Eagles Bench Boss, spent 13 years with the Eagles, leading them to five NFC Championship game appearances and a Super Bowl in 2004, he finished last season with a record of 4-12.

Philadelphia Eagles: Chip Kelly, former Oregon Ducks head coach, went 46-7 while helping to turn the Ducks into a college football powerhouse. Kelly also led the Ducks to a BCS National Championship in 2011. Kelly has no previous NFL experience.

San Diego Chargers: Mike McCoy, former Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator who helped the Broncos along the way to a 13-3 season that ended with a playoff loss to Baltimore last Saturday (January 12th).

Best and Worst Hire: From the list of recent hires above, here’s my choice for who nailed it and who should have kept looking:

Best: The Arizona Cardinals have earned my nod for the NFL’s best off-season coaching move with the hire of Bruce Arians. I chose the Cards over Kansas City hiring Andy Reid for a few reasons.

1. Arians led a Colts team that nobody had winning more than 4-5 games to an 11 win season and a playoff berth. 2. He coached on a team with a green-horn QB in Andrew Luck and found ways to win. 3. He displayed leadership all season long as he stepped in for Chuck Strong, and picked up the teams spirits to push forward.

It’s all of those reasons that I have Arians having success in Arizona with the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Kevin Kolb/ John Skelton, Adrian Wilson, and Patrick Peterson.

Side note on Arians: To have success, he will need to address the teams QB situation. Last year Kolb and Skelton shared duties in leading the team. The Cardinals have the 7th pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Which could give them the option to go for either Geno Smith of West Virginia or Matt Barkley of USC (then again, Matt Leinart didn’t exactly workout in Arizona). Any way you slice it though, Arians will need to resolve that position if he is to ultimately succeed.

Worst: This one is pretty clear cut in my mind. The Philadelphia Eagles took a gamble on hiring Chip Kelly and that’s exactly what Kelly will be in Philly, a risk. Kelly certainly isn’t the first college head coach to try his hand on the NFL Grid-iron.

Some college head coaches like Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco 49ers head coach) Pete Carroll (recently with the Seattle Seahawks) Tom Coughlin( New York Giants 2 Super Bowl Rings) and Jimmy Johnson (Dallas Cowboys Head coach in the 90’s who won 2 Super Bowls) are having/had great success in the NFL . However, more often than not, “The Old College Try” doesn’t pan out so well for most NFL teams. Here’s a list of college coaches who weren’t so hot in the NFL:

Steve Spurrier (Washington Redskins for 2 years going 12-20 before retreating back to college ball)

Nick Saban (Miami Dolphins for 2 years going 15-17 before taking the Alabama job and building a college dynasty)

Bobby Petrino (Atlanta Falcons for 13 games of the 2007 season left with 3 games still to play, the Falcons finished with a 4-12 record. Petrino returned to college to coach Arkansas)

Rich Brooks (St. Louis Rams for 2 years going 13-19 and was fired, which allowed him to return to college and coach Kentucky)

Unlike Harbaugh, Carroll, Coughlin, and Johnson, I forsee Kelly falling into the same category as Spurrier, Saban, Petrino, and Brooks. I just don’t see his offensive schemes working at the professional level.

Also, unless Kelly, an offensive minded guy, can somehow work wonders with his defensive coordinator and the Eagles defense (who gave up an average of 27 points per game last year and ranked 23rd in rush defense with 126yds per game) things will not get any better in the city of brotherly love.

Final Thoughts: With the new coaches in place, it will be interesting to see what these new bench bosses can do next season. Which coach do you think will have the best season? Who will have the worst season? Leave a comment below.