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Patriots need to figure out how to get over the hump

Aqib Talib
Aqib TalibJim Rogash/Getty Images

For the ninth consecutive season the New England Patriots came up just short of winning their fourth Super Bowl. They did make it to their third consecutive AFC Championship Game. Whoopee! As long as Tom Brady is the quarterback, the Patriots should never be satisfied with just making the AFC Championship Game. Maybe when Drew Bledsoe was quarterback, it was OK to just get to the Super Bowl. I wore my "1985 AFC Champions" Patriots hat and T-shirt with pride when Tony Eason was the quarterback. But this is Tom Brady-- one of the top three quarterbacks of all-time. Tell me the truth-- prior to 1992 after years of watching Dan Marino and Joe Montana playing for other teams in warm weather climates, did you ever think you'd be able to say you'd be able to see the greatest quarterback of all-time playing with the New England Patriots? Heck, we were just happy the team didn't move to St. Louis in 1992. This is why anything short of winning the Super Bowl is unsatisfactory while #12 is lined up under center.

The Patriots have to figure out how to get over the hump. Their window of opportunity is closing quick. They will have some difficult personnel decisions to make. From everything I've seen and heard, as of right now, they don't have much cap space going into next season. I don't pretend to be a capologist. I leave that for people smarter than me. I get a popsicle headache whenever I try to make sense of the numbers. I do offer my advice and tell the Patriots, "Make it work! Do your job!"

Aqib Talib
Aqib Talib Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Aqib Talib

The granddaddy of all decisions for the Patriots this offseason will be what to do with Aqib Talib. Will his price tag be too much? Will his franchise tag be too expensive? Can Talib stay healthy for an extra game and a half at the end of the season? Should the Patriots invest long term in a cornerback with a seemingly chronic hip injury?

All my answers to those questions lead me to one conclusion-- franchise Talib.  That would probably mean paying him somewhere around $11.2 million for one season. Sounds fair to me. If Talib proves to me he can stay healthy, he'll be worth every penny and then we can talk long term. But I am not committing to him long term until he proves he can stay healthy. When he is healthy, there is no disputing he is one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. He is the most valuable piece to the Patriots defense. If he hadn't gotten hurt in the last two AFC Championship games, the Patriots could be playing for a three-peat in 2014.

The Patriots NEED Aqib.

LeGarrette Blount
LeGarrette Blount Elsa/Getty Images

LeGarrette Blount

Blount may have had the best back-to-back games ever by a Patriots running back. Does that mean the Patriots should bring him back for next season? Based on two games? Depends what the market price is for him. Blount sounds like he loved playing for New England and that he wants to stay here. Will he say the same things when Belichick low-balls him? Doubt it. I predict Blount will not be here next year. The Patriots have too much depth at running back with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, and Anquan (er, Brandon... I am getting ahead of myself) Bolden. Ridley is the better option. Blount will want to go somewhere with less competiton for the starting job and better job security.

Julian Edelman
Julian Edelman Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Julian Edelman

Julian Edelman was a season-saver for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Rob Gronkowski missed most of the year. Danny Amendola was viewed as a bust. Aaron Hernandez has been in jail. The rookie wide receivers the Patriots drafted went through growing pains and never gained Brady's confidence. Edelman, who I like to refer to as "Captain America" (I think he looks like the actor, Chris Evans, from the movie), was superhuman. He caught 105 passes while also continuing to be one of the top punt returners in the league. 

In hindsight, the Patriots should have given Amendola's contract to Edelman. As is, the Patriots cannot afford to pay two slot receivers nearly $6 million each per season.

I say offer Edelman something like four years, $20 million. He won't accept it, but it is as high as I'd go. He will not be nearly as valuable or effective in another system.

The problem is Edelman may have the same hurt feelings that Wes Welker did. Edelman has the right to feel he has been underpaid his entire career. The Patriots didn't care when Edelman visited the New York Giants for two days last off-season. Amendola was their man after Welker walked. Edelman was an after-thought and, reluctantly, signed a one-year contract to stay in New England.

As much as I would love to have him back, I think Edelman signs elsewhere.

Vince Wilfork
Vince Wilfork Elsa/Getty Images

Vince Wilfork

This one hurts. It hurts just as bad as popping an Achilles. OK, maybe not. The Patriots have no choice but to cut the big man. An $11.6 million cap hit next season for a 32-year old, 350-poundish nose tackle coming off an Achilles injury is too much to ask, even for the best Patriots defensive player of the last ten years. I don't even want to talk contract extension in order to minimize the cap hit. Sorry, it's just business. The game has changed. Run-stopping nose tackles are an endangered species.

Danny Amendola
Danny Amendola Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Danny Amendola

Let me preface this by saying I was never excited about the Amendola signing. Having said that I think he was given an unfair shake last season. There has been some speculation about cutting him and using that money to sign Julian Edelman.

I say keep Amendola. The last thing the Patriots need is more dead money on their payroll. How  is that for a ringing endorsement?

Amendola injured his groin in Week 1 in the first half of the game. It was an injury which would have likely landed anyone else on IR. Maybe it was Amendola trying to shed the image of being injury-prone. He toughed it out, returning after only a couple of weeks. I don't believe he was completely healthy the rest of the season. Some would argue he hasn't been completely healthy his entire career. They wouldn't be wrong.

Brandon Spikes
Brandon Spikes Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Brandon Spikes

#PowWwW. That's what I say to Brandon Spikes. PowWwwW (or some variation thereof) is his signature hashtag on Twitter. I don't know how to clearly define "being a Patriot," but I know that Brandon Spikes isn't one-- never was. He's a loose cannon. Belichick doesn't like players who don't conform. Spikes is also a run-stuffer in a pass-happy league. He was placed on injured reserve during the playoffs for being late to a practice. During the playoffs. For a non-injury related reason. When the Patriots needed as much defensive help as possible. Plus his buddy on the coaching staff, former linebacker coach Pepper Johnson, is gone. There is no way Spikes comes back. 

Anquan Boldin
Anquan Boldin Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Anquan Boldin

Better late than never. Maybe? Please? I've been begging the Patriots to get Boldin for years. He is the tall, wide-body, possession, goal-line threat wide receiver the Patriots have always needed. I'm sure I could throw in a few more adjectives. I love his game. He and Brady should have been making beautiful music since 2010 when Boldin became a free agent with the Arizona Cardinals. I have no doubt the Patriots would have won at least one more Super Bowl with Boldin. Instead, Boldin won one Super Bowl with the Ravens and went to another one with the 49ers. Boldin would be the only big name, skill position offensive player I would look to add. The remainder of my focus would be on the defense.

Alterraun Verner
Alterraun Verner Bob Levey/Getty Images

Alterraun Verner

I want two shutdown cornerbacks!  Is that too much to ask? I've waited ten years. I've endured numerous draft and free agent busts. Spend some money and get some help for the secondary. I know it is a useless exercise. When was the last time Belichick spent big money on a free agent defensive player? Adalius Thomas? Maybe Belichick was so scarred by that mistake. Alterraun Verner is only 25 years old and he was a Pro Bowler last year. How often do you see young players like that become available? Brent Grimes seems to like Miami so I doubt he would come here, plus he is a year removed from an Achilles' injury. Hey, Asante Samuel is available

Justin Tuck
Justin Tuck Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Justin Tuck

Like I said-- one can dream. Justin Tuck owes the Patriots. He helped prevent New England from winning two Super Bowls. Tuck is 31 years old and is not as dominant as he once was. That's fine. I just want to use his 6-foot-5 frame as a situational pass rusher. The idea of Chandler Jones charging the quarterback from one end and Tuck from the other has me salivating as I write this. At this point in their careers, I'd rather have Tuck than Wilfork for the same price. It sounds like Tuck will be seeking around $12 million over two years. Sounds reasonable to me. I'm sure he would do better than Chad Ochocinco for $6 million per year.

Inmate No. 174594
Inmate No. 174594 Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Inmate No. 174594

The only team Aaron Hernandez could possibly be playing for in 2014 and beyond is the Inmates against the Guards. From a business perspective, Hernandez is handcuffing the Patriots. He counts $7.5 million in 2014 against New England's salary cap. It would be nice if the NFL would give the Patriots some relief, but it doesn't appear likely for next year.