If Tom Brady stays, then the Patriots are secure at QB. They'll have Brady in the short term and continue to develop Jarrett Stidham for the long term. If Brady leaves (which seems more likely at this point), the Patriots could consider forging ahead with Stidham - it is not unprecedented for a team to trust a 2nd year QB with the starting job and Stidham, who has a lot of starting caliber skills and traits, was very impressive in preseason action last year. Of course, the team will not hand him the job, he will have to compete for and earn it.
Need Level: High
Patriots Free Agency Preview at Quarterback: As it stands now there are some very intriguing QB options (not named Tom Brady) set to hit free agency. This includes Dak Prescott, Teddy Bridgewater, and Jameis Winston, each of them are young (27 years or under) and offer franchise QB upside. I doubt Prescott ends up hitting the market but Winston and Bridgewater may be available at reasonable rates, considering both have a lot to prove after up and down starts to their respective careers. Marcus Mariota and Taysom Hill are probably a tier below the first three but also offer enticing upside. If the Patriots believe in Stidham they could bring in a vet like Andy Dalton (who the Bengals will let go of at some point) or Case Keenum to compete with and mentor the young QB.
Patriots Draft Preview at Quarterback: If the Patriots opt to draft a QB there are a number of options, including Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Jordan Love, Jacob Eason, Jalen Hurts, and Jake Fromm. If they are targeting Tagovailoa or Herbet they will need to move up from pick #23, as elite QBs have a tendency to go off the board within the Top 4 picks.
After an explosive rookie campaign, Sony Michel ran for less yards on more carries (averaged only 3.7 per rush) in 2020. James White also saw his production drop from 2018 to 2019, as he ran for less yards, caught less passes, and scored less touchdowns. Rex Burkhead was the one back who actually looked explosive (4.7 yards per rush), but, as has been the case throughout his entire career, injuries often kept him off the field (only 92 total touches). The Patriots drafted Damien Harris in the 3rd round of the 2019 draft but only gave him 4 carries in the regular season. All of the Patriots RBs are signed on for 2020, but the position could use an infusion of speed/explosion.
Need Level: Mild
Patriots Free Agency Preview at Running Back: It is a strong free agent RB class with players like Derrick Henry, Kareem Hunt, Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, Kenyan Drake and Matt Breida set to hit the market. Anyone of them would be an arguable upgrade over what the Pats have right now. The second and third tier of the free agent RB market includes Jordan Howard, Jonathan Williams, and Lamar Miller (who is coming off ACL tear). David Johnson, who a few years ago was regarded as on the league's best and most versatile backs, could also become available.
Patriots Draft Preview at Running Back: RB prospects like D'Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, and Jonathan Taylor project as NFL caliber starters. Swift in particular would add an element of explosion that the Pats sorely lacked in 2019.
Outside of Julian Edelman, this unit was pathetic in 2019. 1st rounder N'Keal Harry was a major disappointment and never seemed to grasp the playbook, to be frank, the stage seemed to big for him. Harry is a talented player with a unique skill set, so there is still hope for a brighter future. The Mohamed Sanu trade was a total bust, as his time with the Pats was characterized by drops and a lack of speed/quickness. Sanu is under contract for the 2020 season and it's possible a full offseason with the team will pay dividends. Jakobi Meyers was a pleasant surprise, the 2019 UDFA dominated in preseason action and proved somewhat productive in the regular season, though it's clear that he too struggled with the playbook. Edelman had his most productive season to date, which is even more impressive when you consider that he was obviously playing through a number of physical ailments. #11 can obviously still get the job done, but at 34 years old the Pats need to begin to prepare for life without him. Despite ample opportunity Phillip Dorsett, a 2020 free agent, failed to produce beyond his role as a complimentary player and will not likely be brought back. Similar to RB, the core of this group will return in 2020 (Edelman, Harry, Sanu, and Myers) but the Pats could use an X Factor, especially if Brady returns.
Need Level: High
Patriots Free Agency Preview at Wide Receiver: Amari Cooper (who may be resigned by Dallas before free agency even begins) would be an obvious fit for the Pats, but he'd be also super expensive. The Patriots may show interest in players like AJ Green, Emmanuel Sanders, Randall Cobb, Paul Richardson, and Devin Funchess - proven vets who will likely sign reasonably affordable deals given their age (Green, Sanders) or injury history (Green, Cobb, Funchess, Richardson). If Brady returns, the Pats will need to give the Browns a call to see if Beckham Jr. could be brought in via trade.
Patriots Draft Preview at Wide Receiver: The 2020 draft class is full of talented, game changing WRs. Including Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs III, Tee Higgins, Laviska Shenault Jr., Jalen Reagor, and KJ Hamler. If the Pats want the cream of the crop (Jeudy or Lamb) they'd need to move up.
Life without Gronk wasn't fun for the Pats in 2019. They have no choice but to rebuild the position for 2020. Ben Watson, who was the best they had last season has already retired, leaving the team with the underwhelming duo of Matt Lacosse and Ryan Izzo. Both of them are suited to backup, not starting, roles.
Need Level: Very High
Patriots Free Agency Preview at Tight End: Austin Hooper, Hunter Henry, and Eric Ebron highlight an impressive TE class. Anyone of them would be an immediate upgrade for the Patriots. Though each of them will be expensive (especially Hooper). Lesser known but intriguing options, from an upside perspective, include restricted free agent Blake Jarwin (who has flashed over the years in Dallas) and former Patriot Jacob Hollister (who was productive in Seattle last year).
Patriots Draft Preview at Tight End: The top of the Tight End draft class consists of Brycen Hopkins, Cole Kmet, and Hunter Bryant.
Isaiah Wynn held up quite well at left tackle and as long as he can stay healthy, he should start their for a long time. Left Guard Joe Thuney has been the Pats best offensive lineman over the years but is a free agent who will likely cash in elsewhere this offseason. Center David Andrews, who missed the 2019 season with a serious blood clot issue is tentatively expected to return for 2020. The Patriots noticeably missed Andrews, although his replacement, Ted Karras (a 2020 free agent), was somewhat serviceable. Right guard Shaq Mason had a down year but is signed long term and historically has been a very good player (meaning a bounceback is likely). Right tackle Marcus Cannon also had a down year, though his struggles were likely due to the variety of injuries that he played though. The Pats drafted two lineman (OT Yodny Cajuste and IOL Hjalte Froholdt) in 2019 but injuries prevented either of them from taking a single snap in the regular season. The Pats hope that Froholdt will win the LG job likely to be open if/when Thuney departs. Cajuste projects as a possible replacement for Cannon down the line. So in review, LT, C, RG, and RT are set, but there's likely to be an opening at LG. The team could also use some competition to improve depth across the line, which was an issue in 2019 that accentuated by all the injuries.
Need Level: Medium
Patriots Offensive Line Free Agency Preview: If the Patriots are not willing to pay Joe Thuney, they won't be willing to Brandon Scherff either, who will likely command a similar contract. More affordable options include Graham Glasgow, Greg Van Roten, Andrus Peat, and Ereck Flowers.
Patriots Offensive Line Draft Preview: Top interior line options in the draft include Solomon Kindley, Shane Lemieux, Tyler Biadasz, and Nick Harris.
Defensive Line / Edge Rush
The Patriots defense line lacks big names, but was arguably the highest performing line in the entire league. Lawrence Guy is the unsung hero and excels versus the run. Adam Butler, a 2020 restricted free agent, is regarded for his pass rush skill (6 sacks). While DE/OLBs John Simon and Chase Winovich combined for 9.5 sacks. Winovich, a 2019 rookie, appears to be a star in the making. DT Danny Shelton, also a 2020 free agent, had a strong year as well, but is expected to cash in elsewhere on the open market. Deatrich Wise saw his playing time and production decrease in 2020, though he has proven before that he can be productive in this defense. 2019 7th rounder Byron Cowart is a possible replacement for Danny Shelton, if the latter does leaves via free agency.
Need Level: Medium
Patriots Defensive Line Free Agency Preview: The Pats first priority will likely be tendering Adam Butler at the second round level, a move which should ensure his return for 2020. They could also look to bolster the line by adding a big name like Chris Jones, Arik Armstead, DJ Reader, or Javon Hargrave. Though the Pats usually choose to go the value route meaning players like Maliek Collins, Michael Brockers, Quinton Jefferson, and Timmy Jernigan could be in play.
Patriots Defensive Line Draft Preview: Top DL options include Javon Kinlaw, Ross Blacklock, and Neville Gallimore. Top edge rush options include AJ Epenesa, K'Lavon Chaisson, and Yetur Gross Matos.
The Patriots have one of the league's best linebackers in Dont'a Hightower, but Kyle Van Noy (one of the more underrated defensive players in the entire league), Jamie Collins (who was excellent last season), and Elandon Roberts (the FB/LB who provides special teams and rotational value) are all set to hit the market. Van Noy is the type of player Belichick may value enough to pay handsomely, but there will likely be a ton of competition for Van Noy's services. Collins may be easier to retain, given his lack of success away from New England. Roberts, who is the least proven of the three, should be relatively easy to resign as well. Ja'Whaun Bentley, a 2018 5th roudner, will likely see his playing time increase as a result of the expected departure of Van Noy. Note that Chase Winovich and John Simon play a modified DE/LB role, which makes Winovich a possible replacement for Van Noy.
Need Level: High
Patriots Free Agency Preview at Linebacker: If the Patriots lose one, two, or all of the free agent linebacker trio (Van Noy, Collins, Roberts) they could look to the market for replacements, Joe Schobert, Blake Martinez, and Nick Kwitowski are possible targets.
Patriots Draft Preview at Linebacker: LBs that may receive consideration are Patrick Queen, Kenneth Murray, and Zack Baun.
The Patriots secondary was lights out in 2019. Stephon Gilmore won DPOY and played at an elite level throughout the season (outside of the disterous Miami game). J.C. Jackson may be the best unknown player in the league, was phenomenal in his own right. Jonathan Jones received an in-season contract extension for his superb play (though he did struggle at points in the latter half of the season). Jason McCourty also had a strong year, as the team seemed to struggle a bit more with him out of the lineup later in the season. 2nd round pick Joejuan Williams didn't see much playing time and got arrested in January. Technically the entire unit is under contract for 2020, though the team can choose to decline an option on McCourty's deal to save cap space.
At safety the Patriots have an elder but still highly effective duo in Devin McCourty (33) and Pat Chung (32). McCourty is an impending free agent. Duron Harmon has always been a high quality backup and could be a replacement for McCourty should he depart. The Pats have held onto but not played Obi Melifonwu since November 2018, the former 2nd rounder will be facing a make or break training camp/preseason. Malik Gant, a 2019 UDFA, impressed in the preseason before the Pats stashed him on IR, he could also factor into the equation at safety in 2020.
Need Level: Mild
Patriots Defensive Back Free Agency Preview: The Pats are set at CB, the issue is at safety where they may need to replace Devin McCourty. Options that may pique the team's interest include Ha Ha Clinton Dix, Damarious Randall, and Tony Jefferson.
Patriots Defensive Back Draft Preview: Top safety options for the Patriots to consider include Grant Delpit and Xavier McKinney.
Stephen Gostkowski struggled in 2019 before being put on IR with a hip injury. The Pats may look to move on from the 36 year old in 2020. On the other hand, rookie punter Jake Bailey was a revelation and should be booming punts in New England for years to come.
Need Level: Medium
Patriots Special Teams Free Agency Preview: Top kickers include Ka'imi Fairbairn and Greg Zuerlein.
Patriots Special Teams Draft Preview: The draft's top kicker is considered to be Rodrigo Blankenship.