INDIANAPOLIS — Disappointing postseason losses often lead to change for the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick.
The 2006 AFC Championship game loss to the Indianapolis Colts brought the record-breaking outside/inside duo of Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
The 10-6 record and home-field blowout playoff loss to the Ravens in 2009 turned into Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, and later a trade out of town for Moss.
The second Super Bowl loss to the Giants in 2011 prodded Belichick to trade up for a pass rusher (Chandler Jones) and go defense with his first six picks.
What will the stunning and disappointing AFC Championship game loss to the Ravens this past season bring about this time?
If you combine the amount of time Belichick and the coaches analyzed the loss to the Ravens — and sources said they grinded away at it — and the $8 million freed up from quarterback Tom Brady’s contract extension, this could be a crazy offseason for the Patriots.
What makes this offseason more unpredictable than most (outside of the post-lockout mad rush in 2011), is that the NFL calendar has shifted.
As recently as 2010, franchise tags had to be issued by the second day of the scouting combine. That meant the free agent field was basically set during that tampering extravaganza. And since free agency started three days after the combine, many deals were locked in and you could gauge who was going to land where.
That is proving much more difficult, if not impossible, this year. The combine ends Tuesday. The deadline to issue the franchise tag is six days later. A three-day legal tampering period starts March 9, with free agency commencing March 12. The spacing out of the calendar is causing teams to delay getting serious with free agents because the players’ agents will just shop the offers elsewhere.
So sketching out the Patriots’ offseason plan, especially in regard to free agency, is nearly impossible. The Patriots will regroup after the combine, cull the information acquired there, and finalize their offseason plan.
But after talking to several league and team sources, we were able to glean a rough outline, which certainly could change given the volatility in this year’s market. The flat cap is expected to cause a flood of veteran free agents, and that will suppress the market at some positions. If you have cap space — the Patriots are in good shape at $23 million after the Brady extension — you could be golden.
The biggest key to the offseason puzzle is that the Patriots are not expected to use the franchise tag on their three key free agents — receiver Wes Welker, cornerback Aqib Talib, and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
But there is optimism that Welker and Talib will return, with Welker having the best chance. Don’t be surprised if Welker signs a contract extension, which Brady probably vouched for with his new deal, in short order before free agency. The Patriots don’t want him going to an AFC rival (Dolphins, Broncos, Texans) and pushing that team over the top, while the Patriots are left scrambling with unknown quantities.
The Patriots are one of several NFL teams discussing the possibility of using the transition tag this year instead of the franchise tag. The transition tag is cheaper, but instead of receiving two first-round picks in return for another team signing a franchise player, a team only gets right of refusal and no compensation with the transition.
Talib could be in line for that. It would save the team $1.729 million against the franchise tag.
Here’s a position-by-position look at the offseason landscape:
Brady’s extension became apparent this week, but it’s amazing it came together this quickly. It’s a testament to his team-first attitude. It also means it’s not a matter of if, but when the Patriots trade backup Ryan Mallett. They are open to moving him. You’d figure this would be a perfect time, in a weak quarterback draft. But that could prove troublesome since the film available on Mallett from the 2012 preseason is mediocre at best. And the Patriots, after spending a third-round pick and two years of development on Mallett, are expecting something in return. What the Patriots should do (in a likely pipe-dream scenario) — after all the college pro days and after every team has watched the quarterback prospects work out — is allow Mallett to have his own workout. With such an average quarterback class, teams could be blown away by Mallett — who has quickened and tightened his motion — in a private setting and fork over the kind of package the Patriots are looking for. Continued...