The New England Patriots are just a few weeks removed from winning their fourth Super Bowl in the last 14 years, having defeated the defending champion Seattle Seahawks, 28-24. No matter what happens this offseason, it’s almost a guarantee that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will put the team in position to compete for another title, but the organization does have a few key decisions to make in the 2015 offseason.
New England went 12-4 in their Super Bowl-winning season, posting the league’s best record. It marked the 12th time since 2001 that the Patriots won more than 10 games, and there’s little reason to believe they won’t do the same next year.
Star players like Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork and Julian Edelman are still under contract for 2015. Brady restructured his deal to free up $24 million in spending money for New England, and though the Patriots are projected to be $3.9 million over the salary cap by ESPN, they should have plenty of money to spend when free agency begins on March 10.
Darrelle Revis’ contract has a $25 million cap hit, and the Patriots are almost certain to cut him and make the cornerback a free agent. Revis has played for three different teams in the last three years, and the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills will reportedly look to sign the All-Pro. Just days after the Super Bowl, Patriots president Jonathan Kraft told WEEI’s “Dennis & Callahan” that the team hopes to sign Revis to a new deal.
The Patriots will have some competition, and Revis’ contract demands are the reason he was traded from the Jets in 2013. However, New England remains the most likely destination for the cornerback, who won his first championship in his eight-year career. He intercepted two passes in 2014, helping the Patriots rank in the top 10 in opponents’ passer rating.
Revis isn’t the only member of New England’s secondary that could be gone in 2015. Devin McCourty is set to be a free agent, after finishing fourth on the Patriots in total tackles. A year ago, Jairus Byrd was the top safety on the market, and he signed a six-year contract worth $56 million, half of which was guaranteed. McCourty could leave for a team that offers him a lucrative deal, though his brother and Tennessee Titans defensive cornerback, Jason McCourty, told NJ Advance Media he thinks Devin will retire as a Patriot.
If New England does retain Revis and McCourty, they’ll be forced to let a few other players sign elsewhere. Offensive lineman Dan Connolly will be a free agent, having played with the Patriots since 2007, and named one of the team captains before the start of the 2014 season. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski is without a contract, though the Patriots can use the franchise tag to keep him. Running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley are also set to hit the market.
Akeem Ayers was a key component of New England’s defense, coming over from Tennessee. The linebacker stepped up in the absence of the injured Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones, and he’s free to play where he chooses. Ayers' playing time was cut when Jones became healthy, and New England could have trouble holding on to him.
New England has a chance to find some talent in the draft, though they won't pick until the final selection of the first round. Because they’ve had so much success, the Patriots haven’t had a pick in the first half of the first round since they drafted Jerod Mayo at No.10 overall in 2008. After Deflategate initially made headlines, it looked like the team could be without their top draft pick this year, but that no longer appears to be the case.
There’s a number of directions in which the Patriots can go with their top picks. If Ridley and Vereen aren’t back for 2015, a running back like Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon or Georgia’s Todd Gurley could be appealing. One mock draft has the team taking tight end Devin Funchess from Michigan.
In case Revis or McCourty doesn't return to New England, the team will have a few options in the draft, as well. Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes or Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams could be available for New England. Gerod Holliman from Louisville is the best free safety in the draft, and he could still be around at No.32 overall.
The Patriots have taken a defensive player with their first pick in seven of the last eight years. They haven’t selected an offensive skill position player with their top selection since 2006.