FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With uncertainty over cornerback Malcolm Butler's status the primary issue still lingering, the New England Patriots' roster appears to be well-stocked enough to play a game tomorrow if one were scheduled. This is the ideal setup for the team entering the draft, providing some flexibility to go in a number of different directions.
With the short and long term in mind, what would be considered the Patriots' greatest needs?
Here is one viewpoint:
1. Defensive end: Trey Flowers (team-high seven sacks in 2016) has two years remaining on his contract, while Kony Ealy and Rob Ninkovich enter the last year of their deals. Third-year player Geneo Grissom, who has primarily served on special teams, is fourth on the depth chart. This spot likely needs at least another player or two.
2. Running back: There’s a void at power running back since LeGarrette Blount is still on the market. Brandon Bolden is also unsigned, so the current RB roster is comprised of Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead, D.J. Foster and Tyler Gaffney. Lewis, White and Burkhead are scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the 2017 season.
3. Cornerback: Stephon Gilmore is being paid No. 1-caliber money, and a tandem with Butler could be excellent, even if just for a year. But if Butler isn’t back (a situation that would complicate the cornerback rankings), the spot opposite Gilmore would be open. Eric Rowe, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones and Justin Coleman are next on the depth chart.
4. Offensive tackle: Starting left tackle Nate Solder enters the last year of his contract, and top swing tackle Cameron Fleming is scheduled for unrestricted free agency in 2018 as well. A Solder extension would be ideal.
5. Tight end: Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen are the top one-two punch and are signed through 2019. Gronkowski’s base salaries increase from $4.25 million this year to $8 million in 2018 and $9 million in 2019. Matt Lengel, Mike Williams and Rob Housler round things out.
6. Wide receiver: Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell form a solid top four, with Danny Amendola potentially still in the mix and Devin Lucien in the developmental pipeline. So the need at receiver is future-based, with Edelman entering the last year of his contract.
7. Defensive tackle: Veteran Alan Branch is under contract through 2018 (although a team option could allow the Patriots to opt out after the 2017 season), with Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine returning as well. Newly signed Lawrence Guy will fit into this mix, while Woodrow Hamilton and Darius Kilgo are also on the roster.
8. Off-the-line linebacker: Dont’a Hightower (signed through 2020) just re-signed, and second-year player Elandon Roberts (2019) joins Shea McClellin (2018), Jonathan Freeny (2018), Kyle Van Noy (2017) and Trevor Bates (2017) on the depth chart.
9. Center/guard: Starting center David Andrews will be a restricted free agent in 2018, while the guard spot is as solidified as any position on the roster with starters Joe Thuney (left) and Shaq Mason (right) signed for multiple years, and Ted Karras, Tre’ Jackson, Chris Barker, Chase Farris and Jamil Douglas all returning.
12. Safety: Starters Devin McCourty (signed through 2019) and Patrick Chung (2018) and top backup Duron Harmon (2020) are locked in for multiple years, while Jordan Richards (2018) and Nate Ebner (2017) are also back.