The 2016 NFL Combine has come to a close, and free agency gets started next week. Since news is going to start picking up shortly, it is time to continue our annual review of the San Francisco 49ers upcoming opponents.
We will be providing three breakdowns. This first one will review the previous season for each team. It will also include a list of each team's free agents, and a look at some potential needs heading into free agency and the draft. The second one will come in April, providing a look at where teams are at following free agency, and what the draft means for each team. The third set will come in July, providing a recap of the offseason and a look ahead to training camp for each team.
Today, we wrap up our look at the 49ers AFC opponents, with the division-winning New England Patriots. The beat keeps on rolling along, as the Patriots went 12-4 and won the AFC East. The New York Jets showed signs of life, and will be a team to watch, but the Patriots remain in control in the division. The Patriots won their first ten games, before dropping an overtime loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 12. They would go on to lose to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, struggling to get anything going against the Broncos dominate defense.
The offense was all about Tom Brady, once again. Brady threw for 4,770 yards and had 36 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. This all came in spite of a questionable offensive line, and an up and down group of receivers. Rob Gronkowski was his leading receiver, catching 72 passes for 1,176 yards and 11 touchdowns. The next best receiver was Julian Edelman with 61 receptions for 692 yards, and then Danny Amendola with 65 receptions for 648 yards.
On defense, the pass rush was particularly impressive. Football Outsiders ranked their pass rush No. 2 in adjusted sack rate. Chandler Jones led the way with 12.5 sacks, Jabaal Sheard surprised folks with 8.0 sacks, Rob Ninkovich added 6.5 sacks, and Jamie Collins added 5.5 sacks. Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler helped guide a secondary that featured significant turnover without Darrelle Revis or Brandon Browner. They return most of the talent in 2016, which bodes well for the unit.
Unrestricted free agents: ILB Jerod Mayo, WR Brandon LaFell, C Ryan Wendell, TE Scott Chandler, CB Tarell Brown, FS Tavon Wilson, DE Akiem Hicks, RB LeGarrette Blount, FS Nate Ebner, WR Brandon Gibson, ILB Dane Fletcher, WR Bryan Tyms, CB Leonard Johnson
Restricted free agents: FB James Develin, DT Sealver Siliga
Exclusive rights free agents: CB Justin Coleman, OLB Rufus Johnson, OG Cameron Fleming, FS Brandon King
The Patriots don't really have a lot of notable free agents this year. The team declined the 2016 option on Jerod Mayo, and the contracts of running back LeGarrette Blount and cornerback Tarell Brown expire this offseason. Mayo has dealt with injuries the last few years, so this is not surprising. Blount and Brown are capable options, and if the team does not get new deals done, they can potentially find some upgrades.
Cap space: $10,031,955
Draft picks: 2(29), 3(29), 4(29), 5(18), 6(21 or 29, depending on Bears trade), 7(22), 7(29) - no comp picks
The Patriots are without their first round pick due to the DeflateGate controversy. They don't have a ton of holes to fill, but supplementing their depth is important if they want to build on 2015 and get back to the Super Bowl. Wide receiver remains an area of need due to the injury concerns at the position. They should add a receiver in the draft, but I kind of think it makes sense for them to make a run at Anquan Boldin. Their running back position is another area on offense where depth and a long-term plan would be helpful. And their offensive line could use help. They did a lot of rotating on the line, and a little stability might be nice.
On the defensive side of the ball, they could use a cornerback to potentially replace Tarell Brown. The defense is more about maintenance than replacements. They have some young talent coming up for free agency a year from now, with Chandler Jones, Jamie Collins, and Dont'a Hightower all hitting the market in 2017. They need to get them extended sooner rather than later.