Will the New England Patriots bring Brady back next season after a disastrous playoff performance? That is the question Pats Nation is asking themselves this week.
The New England Patriots‘ loss to the Tennessee Titans in the AFC wild card round on Saturday night marked the beginning of one of the biggest periods of uncertainty in the reigning champions’ history.
Despite such a solid post-season record, especially at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots suffered an uncharacteristic loss to the Titans after an excellently coached game by former Pat Mike Vrabel.
Quarterback Tom Brady is going into his first ever free agency period in his career and questions loom large over whether the future Hall of Famer will return to the league and the Patriots.
In his post-game press conference the 42-year-old said it was “unlikely” he would retire but neither he nor head coach Bill Belichick would be swayed on shedding any further light.
As well as Brady’s uncertainty, a number of key veteran players at the franchise are also heading to free agency and offensive co-ordinator Josh McDaniels is lining up interviews for several other teams this month.
With such drastic changes potentially on the horizon, here’s what the New England Patriots need to do this off-season to ensure their legacy as the league’s dominant franchise is not left in the dust.
Improve the receiving corp
One of the biggest complaints from fans throughout the entire season was the obvious lack of elite weapons in Tom Brady’s arsenal.
Top receivers, in the shape of Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown, have come and gone while Mohamed Sanu never found his groove and Julian Edelman, the team’s most prolific post-season receiver, looked his age.
This remained the case in Saturday’s loss as receivers failed to get open and left the New England Patriots’ offense looking stilted and out of options.
Running back James White led the way with five catches proving the team need to improve their wide receiving options if they hope to succeed next year.
Since Gronkowski’s departure, the Patriots have also struggled to find productivity at the tight end position. Veteran Ben Watson and Matt LaCosse have both struggled with consistency and had lacklustre seasons.
While Brady has been able to thread the ball into incredibly tight coverage at times, if they fail to bring Brady back next season, a lesser quarterback will need elite weapons to ensure the passing attack is a viable threat.
Attain strength and depth in the offensive line
When you have a star veteran quarterback like Tom Brady under centre, it pays to make sure he has as much time to work his magic as possible and that means your offensive line is vital.
New England’s O-Line ranked ninth in the NFL for pass protection but where they struggled was helping to get the running game moving.
Sony Michel, who enjoyed a productive season last year, failed to get anywhere near the same level this season and a large part of that was down to the line not opening up lanes for him.
Yes they were hampered by the absence of veteran center David Andrews and offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn had an injury-ridden season.
But this epitomises why they need to shore up the line this summer, starting with the re-signing of All-Pro guard Joe Thuney who is set to become a free agent.
Elite defense must stay intact
It was ironic that the New England Patriots’ play-off slogan was “Earned not given” as there had been little in the second half of the season to suggest the team, as a whole, deserved to be there.
However, one part of the franchise who could claim to have earned their spot was the Patriots’ defensive corp.
The Pats’ defense topped almost every statistical table in the league and corner Stephon Gilmore put in a performance worthy of defensive player of the year.
However, the Patriots enter this offseason with a number of top defensive players heading into free agency including captain Devin McCourty, Kyle Van Noy, Nate Ebner, Jamie Collins and Danny Shelton.
The New England Patriots must do all they can to retain as many of these playmakers as possible while building on the success of this season.
McCourty, who has been with the team for 10 years, seems like a vital keeper while Van Noy and Elandon Roberts, who showed his depth on both sides of the ball this year, should also be priorities.
It will be impossible to keep them all but Belichick will have to work his magic to ensure his dominant defense is not left in tatters.
Bring Brady back
Tom Brady came into the NFL with a chip on his shoulder, getting drafted in the sixth round, and that has proved one of his most powerful motivators throughout his two-decade career.
The 42-year-old plays his most competitive football when he has doubters to silence or a wrong to right. This was evident after the brutal loss to the Eagles in Super Bowl 52.
The quarterback stared down the camera ahead of the AFC Championship game the following year and told the pundits “we will see” if the Patriots suck with a look in his eye that should have terrified his opponents.
Lo and behold – the veteran quarterback went on to lead the New England Patriots to their sixth Super Bowl title.
Yes – at times he has looked dreadful but the offensive woes cannot be put solely on Brady this season as he had little support.
This recent loss, which ended with Brady throwing a pick six in front of a home crowd, will have left a bitter taste in the ultra-competitive quarterback’s mouth.
He will be motivated to win and right the dreadful performance the Pats put on last Saturday.
What’s more, as he is often hailed by teammates, Brady will prove to be the necessary leader with his years of experience to take the Pats past this blip on their legacy.
It goes without saying that Brady will need help to do this, but provided the franchise can deliver him some offensive weapons, look for Brady to play with fire in his heart in 2020. Make it happen RKK – bring Brady back.