A breakdown of the initial wave of free agency for the New England Patriots:
Overall grade: B. Last year's media lovefest with the Patriots being "all-in" serves as a reminder of how hard it can be to accurately assess a team's moves before seeing them on the field. The acquisitions of cornerback Jason McCourty and defensive tackle Danny Shelton, in particular, currently look like the signature moves of the offseason.
Most significant signing: If it's specific to a free-agent signing, defensive end Adrian Clayborn gets the nod as he could provide a boost to the pass rush if healthy. But the Patriots' most significant personnel additions really came via trade, specifically with cornerback Jason McCourty and defensive tackle Danny Shelton, who could both fill key roles on defense. McCourty is a top candidate to replace Malcolm Butler, while Shelton should upgrade the team's "big" defensive tackle spot as a replacement for Alan Branch and Ricky Jean Francois.
Most significant loss: Let's split this into two categories -- the obvious choice, and one that could show up in the playoffs. On the first layer, it's clearly starting left tackle Nate Solder, who signed a four-year, $62 million contract with the Giants that leaves a giant void protecting quarterback Tom Brady's blind side. While Solder hasn't been a perennial All-Pro player, the Patriots knew they had one of the most important positions on the field accounted for with him in the lineup, and that now becomes their biggest question mark. Meanwhile, the club has done a nice job in recent years managing receiver Danny Amendola's workload in the regular season to have him at his best down the homestretch and into the playoffs. They could miss his clutch play in the biggest games.
Player they should have signed: Safety Kenny Vaccaro. The 2013 first-round pick hasn't been hotly pursued by anyone (and remains unsigned), which perhaps is an indication of medical questions after he underwent surgery in December (issues with his groin and core muscles). Vaccaro is a versatile defensive back and this could still be a win-win situation on a one-year prove-it type deal -- the Patriots get a solid player with some unique traits, and Vaccaro comes to a team that uses its three-safety defense as much as any club in the NFL.
What’s next: The Patriots made four picks in last year's draft -- in part because they traded their first-rounder for receiver Brandin Cooks, and then traded two other picks to move up the board -- but this year should be different. Left tackle, developmental quarterback and off-the-line linebacker are a few of their top needs to potentially fill with the following selections:
First round (31)
Second round (43)
Second round (63)
Third round (95)
Fourth round (136)
Sixth round (210)
Seventh round (219)