Patriots' Top Needs For 2009

New England has plenty of player issues to deal with this year, but they've at least protected themselves against losing one of their best players. What else do they need to think about? Here's a short list.

Most of the coaching vacancies have been filled, which means the Patriots can now focus on the ever-important quarterback situation. Depending on Brady's health, the Patriots will decide whether to keep Cassel and pay him the expensive franchise tender or trade him to get something in return.

The next most pressing issue should be shoring up the secondary, which gave up too many touchdown passes last year and struggled to replace Asante Samuel. The answer might be in the upcoming draft since it's clear the Patriots have been unable to find a replacement on the free-agent market.

What's Next?

The Patriots have already franchised Cassel and it's unlikely anyone else will receive the tender as well, so the next order of business is addressing the team's current crop of free agents.

There are a lot of decisions to be made in the secondary, starting with Rodney Harrison, James Sanders, Tank Williams and Lewis Sanders, who are all free agents. Plus, the team must decide what to do with free-agent punter Chris Hanson, who struggled at times throughout the season.

Running backs LaMont Jordan and Evans are also free agents and so is long snapper Lonie Paxton. Two of the top restricted free agents are tackle Wesley Britt and linebacker Eric Alexander. The Patriots will also have decisions to make on restricted free agent linebacker Pierre Woods and wide receiver Jabar Gaffney. All told, they have 18 remaining unrestricted free agents.

Top Three Needs

1. Cornerback: They still haven't found a replacement for Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs won't get as many opportunities to make plays as long as there is similar less than stellar on the other side to throw to. Terrence Wheatley stepped up before getting hurt last year and may have a chance to win the role in his second season, though don't rule out the possibility of another veteran free agent or two joining the mix.

2. Running back: Laurence Maroney struggled last year before getting hurt and could become trade bait if the Patriots find a suitable replacement. Brandon Jacobs is available and may be someone the Patriots target if they can find a team willing to take Maroney. They had enough bodies at the start of the year until injuries took their toll, which may mean more durable players are a possibility.

3. Wide receiver: A third option behind Welker and Moss would be ideal. Jabar Gaffney does not command enough attention to free up opportunities for others and the Patriots are too top-heavy at this position. At times, Cassel would only lock in on one of two players, making the offense predictable. The Patriots need more balance from top to bottom.

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: QB Matt Cassel: Tendered at $14.651M.


--LB Rosevelt Colvin.
--RB Heath Evans wants to come back and, by all accounts, will accept whatever offer necessary to do so.
--WR Jabar Gaffney was a third option, but not much of a threat to demand attention. The Patriots can do better.
--P Chris Hanson should be back, but the re-signing of Tom Malone means there could at least be some competition this summer.
--S Rodney Harrison will likely be given a shot to bounce back from another injury, though the odds of him being his old self are slim at his age.
--OG Russ Hochstein is a valuable backup who should return for decent value.
--LB Larry Izzo, a special teams ace, is well-respected in the locker room and will be back as long as he chooses to return.
--RB LaMont Jordan had a solid season as a backup, but an injury limited his production.
--CB Deltha O'Neal struggled throughout the season and will likely have a new home in 2009.
--LS Lonie Paxton is so reliable, the Patriots won't let him get away.
--S James Sanders has struggled at times, but the Patriots have a lot invested in him and will likely give him another chance depending on Harrison's decision.
--CB Lewis Sanders did a nice job as a fill-in and even started on occasion. Could come back at the right price.
--LB Junior Seau.
--DT Kenny Smith.
--OG Barry Stokes never got a chance to play due to injury and likely won't be back.
--S Tank Williams never got to play due to injury and will probably look to pursue his options elsewhere.
--DT Mike Wright.

--LB Eric Alexander hasn't blossomed in this system and may not be worth the price with a logjam already forming at his position.
--OT Wesley Britt is a solid fill-in who could get playing time with the team's tenuous situation at both tackle spots.
--LB Pierre Woods had his chance to shine when Adalius Thomas got hurt, but broke his jaw. Had a breakthrough year by his standards and should be back.





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