The New England Patriots wrapped up a deal for former Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings' wide receiver Michael Jenkins just in time to conclude their business in March. Jenkins won't excite fans, even though he has that speed the Patriots' offense craves on the edges, but he is most likely one of the final moves to be made by the franchise ahead of the draft.
Free agency allowed the Patriots to re-sign their starting right tackle, Sebastian Vollmer, replace Wes Welker with Danny Amendola, add a swing tackle in Will Svitek, get a tough veteran presence in their secondary with Adrian Wilson and retain both Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib at the cornerback position.
In no small part because of Tom Brady's contract extension, the Patriots were able to address most of their primary needs. Outside of releasing Brandon Lloyd to create a void at wide receiver and the lack of a second pass rusher(not presuming that Armond Armstead will be that guy), the Patriots have very few concerns.
Of course, they couldn't afford to have too many needs to address entering the draft. Unlike in previous seasons, the Patriots are running low on draft picks this year.
After the trades for Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth two years ago, the Patriots have just five choices to work with. Ironically, the Patriots made those aggressive trades to concentrate their efforts in a closing championship window. Now they need those picks to do the same over the next two seasons of Brady's new contract.
Picking the Patriots as potential traders on draft day is not insightful, but this year they could be extra aggressive. That closing championship window puts a credence on quality in the shot term. With this year's class being so deep, the Patriots could trade future choices for selections this year.
While that will remain unclear until anything actually happens, such is the Patriots' way, the team's needs are downright obvious at this point.
The signing of Michael Jenkins, flirtation with Emmanuel Sanders and release of Brandon Lloyd tells us that the team is clearly still searching for improved play on the edges of their passing game. Fortunately for the Patriots, this year's class of receivers is thought to be one of the better in recent years. Although a Julio Jones or AJ Green isn't at the top, Cordarelle Patterson is expected to lead a group of five or six wide receivers who could go within the first 50 picks or so.
Patterson and Tavon Austin are the two leading stars, but both are expected to be off the board when Roger Goodell announces that New England are on the clock. Austin is a very exciting player who would have perfectly fit the Patriots' Welker-Amendola role. Instead the Patriots will want the Randy Moss type of receiver. No rookie in this class will be Moss, but Justin Hunter, Keenan Allen, DeAndre Hopkins or Robert Woods could all offer the Patriots some raw talent on the outside.
Outside of receiver, the Patriots also desperately need a third starting cornerback.
Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard are both starting caliber performers on the field, but both also have question marks over off-field issues and durability. It would be overly optimistic to expect Talib and Dennard to start every game and play every single defensive snap. Kyle Arrington was re-signed to a four-year deal, but he has only proven capable of being a nickel back so far in his career. If Arrington is starting on the outside, then the Patriots are in trouble.
If Tavon Wilson emerges as a greater contributor at safety, the Patriots would have the flexibility to move Devin McCourty around, but like Arrington, that would be problematic. Ras-I Dowling also remains on the roster, but he has barely seen the field during two years of an injury ridden career so far. He can be relied on less than Dennard and Talib.
Whether it's through a trade up/down, in the first, second or third round, the Patriots need to find a cornerback who can at the very least contribute next season.