Patriots' needs on defense extend beyond just the pass rush

Exploring some hot topics around the New England Patriots in mailbag form:

Ed, I wouldn't narrow it down to solely pass rush. As the Super Bowl showed, the Patriots have several needs on defense and the best approach is to maximize opportunities to fill them, which come in different forms: free agency, draft, trades, waiver wire. So it doesn't have to come in any specific order. I think Bill Belichick would agree that the Patriots need to be better in maximizing those opportunities than they were last year, as several of their moves didn't produce the desired results (e.g. David Harris, Dwayne Allen, Cassius Marsh, Kony Ealy, etc.). If I had to pick one spot to put atop the list in 2018, I'd go with an off-the-line linebacker who can run well and play on all three downs, like an early-career Jerod Mayo. The biggest problem with that is those players are hard to find; it's especially not easy when you're picking No. 31 to find that type of talent (Mayo was No. 10 overall in 2008). While some might point out that the Patriots had one in Jamie Collins, I believe the reason he was traded was because he was no longer buying into the program. That highlights a whole different issue: Identifying and securing the talent is one thing, but those players also need to be program fits.

Andy, most coaches were in the office in the days upon their return from Minnesota and my understanding is that they broke down the game as they usually would. That's an important part of their personnel/scheme/self-scouting analysis as they move forward. It's different for players, as there is not the standard meeting the morning after a game like there normally would be during the season because there isn't the same urgency to make those corrections without another game coming up. Coaches are currently off until later next week, although some have been in and out of Gillette Stadium because they are coaches who live the game and there's no such thing as going cold turkey for them.

That's a fair point Obina, as it easily could have been Johnson Bademosi over Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII if either Stephon Gilmore (excellent performance) or Eric Rowe (settled down after a rocky start) had sustained an injury. But when I went through film review and matched it up with notes I took during the game, it's important to note that the insertion of Bademosi into the game in the third quarter was in place of safety Jordan Richards in the dime package. That was a halftime adjustment in which the Patriots altered their dime to go from a 2-corner/4-safety grouping to a 3-corner/3-safety grouping. Why Butler wouldn't be part of that 3-corner grouping -- when he was dressed for the game and part of the special-teams plan -- remains a puzzler and something that is still being pursued from a reporting standpoint for more clarity. Bademosi's first defensive play in the game came when he was aligned across from receiver Nelson Agholor in the slot and could have tackled him short of the first down but didn't wrap up. Does Butler make that tackle? I like the odds that he does.

While that is always possible, I'm of the belief that Josh McDaniels' return to the Patriots -- which was a result of the team making a last-minute push to retain him with an offer that wasn't previously on the table for him -- will actually prolong Belichick's stay on the sideline. This would have been a challenging year for Belichick had McDaniels departed, as there was no obvious successor for McDaniels, and it likely would have led to a trickle-down effect of several other departures. So this eases the burden on Belichick, which I could see extending his coaching window to at least 20 years with the club (this year will be No. 19).

Joseph, I'd be surprised if they pick up Martellus Bennett's $2 million roster bonus on the first day of the 2018 league year, which would mean they would be prepared to pay his base salary of $3.6 million in 2018, as well as $2.6 million in roster bonuses. While those numbers aren't off the charts, given where Bennett is at this stage of his career and his prior talk of retirement, I don't see the team going there.

Kip, there are no crazy thoughts in free agency, as it's worth exploring any avenue that could improve the team. The one question the Patriots would want to answer is whether Murray's declining numbers (he averaged a career low 3.6 yards per carry in 15 games) are a sign that he is slowing down. He just turned 30 this week. One other thought: When the Patriots entered 2017, Belichick noted the versatility of the backs (Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, James White) and how he liked how it created flexibility on a play-by-play basis so the team didn't telegraph its intentions as much as in 2016 with the LeGarrette Blount-led approach. I see bringing in Murray as more of a return to the 2016 approach.