After over a week of free agent signings coming and going across the league, the New England Patriots have already addressed a number of needs. Danny Amendola has arrived to replace the departed Wes Welker. Adrian Wilson was signed to provide some strength and experience at strong safety. Aqib Talib returned after testing the open market. Brandon Lloyd was released, while Will Svitek signed on as an offensive tackle.
Even though the Patriots have already made many moves with the NFL draft still to come, they have plenty of work to do if their roster is to be adequately set up entering the 2013 season.
The question mark over Emmanuel Sanders' future still remains unanswered, while Sebastien Vollmer is yet to agree a deal with anyone. Vollmer and Sanders are likely the two top priorities left for the Patriots, but re-signing Brandon Lloyd, improving cornerback depth, adding a pass-rusher and signing more offensive line depth could all be considerations still.
Acquiring talent in the draft is always a possibility, but the Patriots enter the draft with just five picks, two of which are in the seventh round. They are always the first franchise to come to mind when trading during the draft is an option, but the lack of picks this year could handicap their potential moves.
Draft picks are at the heart of the Emmanuel Sanders' puzzle. Sanders is a free agent, but he is not an unrestricted free agent. In short, if the Patriots want to sign him, they must give up their third round draft pick this year to do so. By doing that the team would address a need, but they would also be cutting themselves down to just four more picks and only two in the first six rounds. Wide receiver depth is thought to be high during this draft, so instead of signing Sanders, they could look to trade down with one of their higher picks, get multiple receivers and not lose any picks.
The Patriots must determine how valuable Sanders' relative talent and experience is over the cost to acquire him. Not only does he come with a draft pick compensation, but he will also cost more in salary and against the cap than any rookie would.
When the Patriots signed Will Svitek, it was possible that they decided to move on from the Sebastien Vollmer negotiations. Little concrete has been reported one way or the other, in typical Patriots' fashion, but at the very least Svitek offers the team leverage in negotiations.
Vollmer is an outstanding right tackle, but he has major health question marks and Svitek has proven in the past that he can start. An offensive line with Svitek and Solder as the bookend tackles would not be significantly worse than an offensive line with Solder and Vollmer in those roles.
If they don't re-sign Vollmer, they will likely look to sign another tackle, even if it is only to compete with Svitek and Marcus Cannon in training camp.
Despite the disappointment among the fanbase last season, the Patriots would likely welcome recently cut receiver Brandon Lloyd back on a short-term deal. Lloyd wasn't Randy Moss last year, but he was relatively productive and offers them a receiver who is comfortable in their system. Much like Deion Branch, he is the type of receiver that they are not scared to lose, but will always value having around.
Although Aqib Talib re-signed with the team and Devin McCourty is experienced at playing cornerback, the Patriots still need to find another cornerback who could potentially fill in for Alfonzo Dennard as a starter. Ras-I Dowling has proven incapable of staying healthy over his short career so far, while in an ideal situation Kyle Arrington would only ever play on the inside in nickel packages.
Not once have I mentioned the Patriots' top draft picks so far, because the primary focus of those picks should be to find one or two young pass rushers to complement Chandler Jones. When Jones was injured last season, there was little to no pass rush. Although CFL star Armond Armstead has arrived and Rob Ninkovich remains a solid player, veterans such as John Abraham and Sedrick Ellis should be strong considerations.
The storm may have passed, leaving just the lapping of smaller waves in the free agent pool, but the importance of this period is as great as any other in determining the next Super Bowl champions. It's not like Jacoby Jones was a big name addition for the Baltimore Ravens last year, or even Corey Graham.