Well, at least there’s evidence that they tried.
Tom Curran’s report Tuesday that the Patriots reached out to the Cardinals about the availability of pass-catching dynamo Larry Fitzgerald is proof that Bill Belichick did attempt to enhance the offense at some point along the way.
It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they also inquired about Josh Gordon from the Browns, right around the time that Mike Lombardi traded Trent Richardson. Gordon was believed to be available at the time. Instead, he turned into one of the league’s most prolific receivers.
Bringing in a bright, talented veteran receiver should be high atop Belichick’s to-do list this offseason. In fact, it’s first among what I believe should be his five primary tasks between now and September, when the quest for the elusive fourth Lombardi Trophy formally begins again …
1. Get Tom Brady more weapons. Heard this one before, huh? Such a notion became a cliche even before all of the orange-and-blue confetti had been cleaned up from the Sports Authority Field grass. But just because it’s a tired suggestion doesn’t mean it’s not true. The evidence became insurmountable during the AFC Championship Game when Wes Welker (four catches, 38 yards) was Peyton Manning‘s fourth option. Had he still been a Patriot, he’d have been the go-to receiver. As I’ve written previously, I don’t fault Bill Belichick for being short on quality pass-catching talent at the end of the season. The Aaron Hernandez arrest happened in June, Danny Amendola got hurt in Week 1, Aaron Dobson showed promise in between the injuries, and Rob Gronkowski was dominant during his brief return before T.J. Ward‘s devastating hit. But to conclude with yet another cliche that’s based in deep truth, the window is closing for Tom Brady. He’s 37 years old. He’s a ring shy of standing alongside Joe Montana. Give him a real chance.
2. Do not overpay for Julian Edelman. I know, this seems to contradict the idea of getting Brady more surrounding talent. Edelman, after all, was his more reliable target in 2013, with 121 receptions, including the postseason. But I’m convinced, after watching Troy Brown, Wes Welker, and now Edelman thrive here as a slot receiver that much of their success is because of the system, and especially the quarterback. Brady makes them, and what he really needs, again, is big-play receivers who help him. I’d love to see Edelman back at a cap-friendly price, but if he gets a big offer elsewhere, the Patriots shouldn’t match. They already have enough money committed to Amendola, who is better than he’s getting credit for after his dismal showing against the Broncos.
3. Pursue Dennis Pitta. A year ago, the Patriots had an offense built around two two athletic tight ends. Now, they have none. Pitta, who has 122 receptions in four seasons, would be a fine replacement for Gronkowski as he recovers from his knee injury, and a fine complement when he returns. Pitta looked like his old self after missing all but the final four games last season after recovering from a fractured and dislocated hip, and he is in a situation that bears watching. He will be an unrestricted free agent if the Ravens do not hit him with the franchise tag by March 3, and the possibility of doing so is complicated by the fact that he often lined up at wide receiver and may be designated as one at a higher salary.
4. Re-sign Aqib Talib. If they don’t franchise him — certainly a reasonable option — it’s not going to be easy to retain him. As a 27-year-old who has at times been dominant at the premium position of cornerback, he’ll have suitors outside of Foxborough — the Redskins, for one, are already believed to have significant interest. It’s somewhat surprising that he didn’t get more than a one-year, $5 million deal last offseason, but that was probably in part because of his checkered history. As far as we know, he’s been a good citizen — or at least one without incident — since he’s been in Foxborough. He has a hilarious, engaging personality and Belichick swears by him, but more important than that, he’s essential on the field, which became quickly evident when he was injured in the AFC Championship Game. Sure, there’s risk in signing him to a long-term deal, but it’s one worth taking. After Brady and Gronkowski, he’s about as irreplaceable as it gets.
5. Restructure Vince Wilfork‘s contract. All of this money we’re spending is going to have to come from somewhere. If Wilfork isn’t a franchise legend, he’s pretty close, but there’s not much room under the cap or for sentiment. The reality is that he’s a soon-to-be-33-year-old defensive tackle who counts $11.6 million against the cap in ’14. That’s too much, particularly since cutting him would save $8 million and he wasn’t playing up to his usual standard before he got hurt. Wilfork is in the final year of his deal, and some type of restructuring should be doable. Which is good, because looking at it coldly, it’s also necessary.