DENVER — So what’s next for the New England Patriots?

Once you get past the gloom of their season-ending 20-18 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday, you might not feel so bad.

There’s a lot to like about the Patriots’ future.

There’s also work to do.

They have a defense that is rising, with young stars such as Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Malcom Brown, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan who should only get better.

They have Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. And with those pieces in place on offense, you figure they’ll continue to be effective.


They have 10 unrestricted free agents. Last year they lost several key players to free agency (cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington, running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork) after winning the Super Bowl. This year, there aren’t any big names on the list. Their unrestricted free agents include running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive end Akiem Hicks, guard Ryan Wendell and special teams player Nate Ebner.

So how will the Patriots approach roster additions: through the draft – where they lose a first-round pick this year as a result of Deflategate punishment – or free agency?

Looking back on the season – and not just Sunday’s loss – it is obvious the Patriots need a lead running back, help on the offensive line, a veteran cornerback and a wide receiver who can stretch the field. And not necessarily in that order.

Those needs were clearly evident in the loss to Denver:

n Running backs? Brady led the Patriots with 13 yards rushing.

n Offensive line? Brady was sacked four times, hit another 20 by Denver’s defensive front. Twenty!


n Veteran cornerback? Butler and Ryan surpassed anyone’s expectations this year, but when teams needed yardage, they went after the nickel corners. On Sunday, that was Peyton Manning picking on Justin Coleman, an undrafted rookie free agent.

n Wide receiver? Gronkowski, a tight end, had the Patriots’ three longest plays of the game, catches for 40, 31 and 26 yards. He also caught passes of 19 and 12 yards. Those are usually wide-receiver numbers.

So where do you start?

Based on the reaction of my Twitter followers shortly after the game, you draft offensive linemen. Well, folks, that’s what the Patriots do.

Four of the five starters Sunday were drafted: left tackle Sebastian Vollmer (second round, 2009), left guard Shaq Mason (fourth round, 2015), center Bryan Stork (fourth round, 2014) and right tackle Marcus Cannon (fifth round, 2011). They also drafted injured left tackle Nate Solder (first round, 2011), injured guard Tre’ Jackson (fourth round, 2015) and tackle Cam Fleming (fourth round, 2014).

There’s a good chance they’ll draft another offensive lineman. There’s also a chance they’ll go the free-agent route to beef up the interior of the line.


New England won the Super Bowl last year partly because of the play of veteran guards Dan Connolly and Wendell surrounding the rookie Stork at center. But Connolly retired, citing health concerns, and Wendell played only two games this season because of injuries. They need help inside. The tackles will be fine when Solder, who was lost for the season in the fourth game with a torn biceps, returns and Vollmer goes back to right tackle.

New England needs a lead running back. You can’t win in the NFL by simply throwing the ball. That’s been proven over and over again.

Blount led the Patriots with 703 rushing yards before he was placed on injured reserve. The Patriots need even more. They need someone who can gain significant yardage on first and second down. They need a workhorse, someone to take pressure off Brady. Will they bring Blount back? Or will they look elsewhere?

Brady needs a wide receiver who can stretch the field. He hasn’t had one since Randy Moss. Gronkowski can’t be his only deep threat. The Patriots were hurt by Brandon LaFell’s injuries this year. He opened things up on the outside last year, but dropped to fourth on the depth chart for the game Sunday.

And there is the secondary. The Patriots won the Super Bowl a year ago with Revis and Browner and Arrington playing lead roles. They need that veteran presence there. Tarell Brown could be that person. He signed with New England last year but played in only four games before he was lost to an injury. He’s indicated he wants to return. He could be a factor.

With Bill Belichick coaching and players like Brady, Gronkowski, Hightower, Devin McCourty, Rob Ninkovich, Edelman, Danny Amendola, Jones, Collins and Butler, the Patriots are positioned with talent.


Now they just have to fill in some pieces.

In his final press conference of the season Monday back at Gillette Stadium, Belichick said, “We’ll turn the page here and move on. And start the process all over again.”

That’s how they operate. And once you get past today’s gloom, you’ll see the Patriots will be all right.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.