On Jan. 26, my Globe colleagues and I revealed our respective blueprints for how the Patriots should prepare for next season. I wrote that they should re-sign Tom Brady to a two-year deal, sign wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (assuming they can’t get A.J. Green on a one-year deal), re-sign Devin McCourty and Jamie Collins, double up on tight ends in the draft, bring back value free agents such as Matthew Slater, Elandon Roberts, and Ted Karras, and let Joe Thuney, Kyle Van Noy, and Phillip Dorsett sign elsewhere.
But because of space limitations, I wasn’t able to get into every last detail of the offseason. So let’s take a look at where the Patriots stand and what moves they should make once free agency begins March 18:
1. Biggest needs: QB, WR, TE, OT, LG, FB, OLB, S
Almost all of the needs are on offense. If the Patriots bring back Brady, they don’t necessarily have to draft a quarterback this year. But they need another receiver, better depth on the offensive line, a revamped tight end depth chart, and a new fullback (assuming James Develin is going to retire). On defense, they need to draft an edge linebacker even if they re-sign Collins (Dont’a Hightower probably doesn’t have many years left), and they could use a young safety, even if McCourty comes back.
The Patriots haven’t gotten much out of their drafts recently, and don’t have the best ammunition this year, with just two of the top 96 picks (23, 87). But they should have two extra compensatory picks in the third round, and seven picks in the last two rounds. They really need these picks to hit this year.
2. Salary cap situation
Not the best, but not bad. The salary cap hasn’t officially been set, but it’s going to be right around $200 million. As of now, the Patriots have about $35 million in cap space — but they don’t have a quarterback.
If Brady’s contract voids March 17, that would leave them with around $30 million. If they bring him back before then, he will still eat up a chunk of cap space. But more money will be freed up through the natural course of releasing players, and the Patriots can always find ways to create space.
They won’t go wild in free agency, but they should be competitive for a few players.
3. Move Isaiah Wynn to left guard and find another left tackle
The Patriots need to strengthen their offensive line, regardless of who is under center. Most of the questions are on the left side, with center David Andrews, right guard Shaq Mason, and right tackle Marcus Cannon all expected back. Giving Thuney the franchise tag for $14.9 million wouldn’t be the craziest idea, but the Patriots probably can get better value and still improve the line.
Wynn played well last year, but he has not been able to stay healthy, and he is undersized for a tackle at 6 feet 3 inches. Kicking him in to left guard would fortify the interior line, and then the Patriots could find a bigger, sturdier left tackle.
It would be smart to draft another tackle to develop for a year or two, but the Patriots should also look to free agency.
Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo, a Boston College alum, would be a great fit for a couple of years, though he probably would be expensive and may not want to leave the Colts. The Bucs’ Demar Dotson and the Titans’ Jack Conklin are interesting free agents, though they primarily play on the right side.
One intriguing name is Panthers guard/tackle Daryl Williams, who will be 28 this year and has great versatility, starting four games last year at left tackle, three at right guard, and five at left guard. Former Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, and Titans swing tackle Dennis Kelly are two value options.
And if the Patriots want to keep Wynn at left tackle, Greg Van Roten started 27 games at left guard the last two years for the Panthers, and should be more affordable than Thuney.
4. Draft a kicker
Stephen Gostkowski missed four extra points in September, then suffered a season-ending hip injury. Considering that Gostkowski is 36 and has had some yips, it’s time for the Patriots to find true competition for him and, most likely, move on. Releasing Gostkowski would create more than $3 million in cap space.
5. Consider Jimmy Graham
The Patriots badly need two new tight ends, and the Falcons’ Austin Hooper and the Chargers’ Hunter Henry would look great in Foxborough. But I assume that they either will be retained by their teams or will command massive free agent contracts, which is why I believe the Patriots should double up on tight ends in the draft, as they did in 2010 with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
But if the Packers make Graham a salary cap casualty, the Patriots should strongly consider bringing in the five-time Pro Bowler. Graham’s numbers have been down the last two years in Green Bay, but he’s still a polished receiver and a big red zone target, and at 33, he shouldn’t command a big contract. This move only makes sense if the Patriots bring Brady back.
6. Find a fullback
The offense hit a major roadblock last year when Develin was lost for the season in Week 2 with a neck injury. Since he turns 32 in July, and neck injuries are no joke, Develin may decide to step away from football.
Free agents include the Chargers’ Derek Watt, the Vikings’ C.J. Ham, and the Chiefs’ Anthony Sherman, a North Attleborough native. Or the Patriots can use one of their seven late-round draft picks on a young fullback with more tread on his tires.
7. Lower Mohamed Sanu’s cap number
Just because the Patriots have cap space doesn’t mean they should hand out money, either. Sanu, acquired last year for a second-round pick, is a prime candidate to have his contract restructured. He’s signed for one more year at $6.5 million, with no dead cap money, putting a giant bull’s-eye on him. The Patriots should be able to shave a few million off that and spend the money elsewhere.
8. Decline Jason McCourty’s option
He struggled with injuries last year, and the Patriots have great depth at cornerback with Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, and Joejuan Williams. Declining McCourty’s option before the start of the league year will save the Patriots $4 million in cash and create about $3.75 million in cap space.
9. Four ways to create cap space
Defensive end Deatrich Wise, whose salary jumps to $2.144 million in the final year of his deal, would create about $1.5 million in cap space if he is released or traded.
Safety Duron Harmon, with a $5.75 million cap hit but only $1.25 million in dead money, is in the final year of his deal and could be restructured or extended to free up some money.
Gilmore (up to $4.77 million in cap savings) and Cannon (up to $2.3 million in cap savings) are two other players who could be restructured to create cap space in a pinch.
And I think Patrick Chung has one more season in him, but if he retires or is released, it would save the Patriots about $2.2 million in cap space.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.