New England Patriots: Patience could be best path forward this offseason

Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

The New England Patriots outlook for the 2022 season has changed dramatically over the past few days. No, they haven’t made any sort of groundbreaking move to push them into championsip contender status. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite.

With the legal tampering period (also known as the unofficial start to free agency) kicking off tomorrow afternoon, the NFL offseason will truly be underway. But teams have decided to make some big moves before the new league year, and chances are there will be a handful more over the next few weeks.

The biggest moves made have completely changed the landscape of the AFC. The Denver Broncos addition of Russell Wilson in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks makes them a legitimate threat out of a loaded AFC West division. The Los Angeles Chargers followed that up by trading for one of the most dominant pass rushers in the league in Khalil Mack, as well as reaching an extension with star wide receiver Mike Williams.

Combine this with eight teams across the league using their franchise tag, and there’s a pretty good chance the Patriots offseason plans have changed at least a little bit over the past week or so. There’s been a considerable talent drain from the upcoming free agent class, and as of right now, many of the top teams in the league reside in the AFC. For a Patriots team still rebuilding, patience may be the best virtue to have when moving forward.

The New England Patriots don’t need to do anything drastic this offseason

Expectations for the Patriots offseason proceedings are going to be unreasonably high for a couple of reasons. For starters, they had a mammoth free agent spending spree last offseason, so people will probably expect the same thing to happen this time around for whatever reason. They also are coming off a playoff campaign despite it being their first season with Mac Jones under center.

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The problem is these two examples are extremely misleading. New England, after being flush with cap space last offseason, don’t have too much of it this offseason as a result of their additions from last year. The Pats playoff expectations have also taken a major hit over the past few days as a result of some of the major moves we have seen get made.

The New England Patriots squeezed into the playoffs last season, which was encouraging, but it’s important to acknowledge a lot of things went right for them in order to achieve that. The Baltimore Ravens, a surefire playoff team, missed out on the postseason entirely because of injuries. The Chargers and Indianapolis Colts were probably better teams than New England overall, but their lack of consistency cost them playoff spots.

Unless something catastrophic happens to Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills next season, the Patriots are going to have to rely on a Wild Card spot for a playoff berth in 2022. Their path there has become exponentially more difficult recently. You could already anticipate the return of the Ravens, but now you have to worry about the Broncos and Chargers, who will duke things out with two other 2021 playoff teams in the Las Vegas Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs.

The scary part is this may not even be the end of it. Disgruntled Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is probably going to get traded over the next week or so too. While he will probably get dealt to an NFC team, if he were to find himself on a team like the Colts or Pittsburgh Steelers, that would pretty much be a death sentence for New England.

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While this may seem a bit discouraging, it’s important to keep things in perspective. The Patriots weren’t even supposed to be a playoff team last season, and while they exceeded expectations is a massive way, being the sixth seed in the AFC doesn’t mean it’s time to put all your chips on the table. New England is still rebuilding even though they made the playoffs last season.

It’s tough to build sustained success in the NFL, and there will come a time where the teams that have risen to the top for the upcoming season will fall. It’s the cycle of life in the world of sports. While these top teams duke it out in a bloodbath for a Super Bowl appearence, it’s probably better for the Patriots to lurk in the shadows and continue to build things from the ground up.

What does this constitute exactly? It means not being overly aggressive in free agency, which isn’t really a possibility in the first place. It’s nice to daydream about adding top targets, but it’s more likely most of the salary cap will go towards re-signing a guy like Devin McCourty to stick around and help usher in the next era of New England’s defense. And for the time being, that’s fine.

The most crucial piece of this plan however, is the draft. The New England Patriots have identified their quarterback of the future in Jones. That’s great, but now it’s time to get him some help. The easiest way to do that is by drafting and developing talent on cheap rookie contracts. The 2021 Draft has already yielded some great players, and the team will need to keep up the good work in the 2022 Draft.

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Suggesting patience in any sort of capacity in the sports world is probably the most boring thing possible, I get that. But if the Patriots play their cards right, there’s a chance they could be hitting their peak as these other teams begin to crumble. If they play their cards right, there’s a chance the New England Patriots will find themselves a top the AFC just a few years down the line.