NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
The best way to forget the Super Bowl is to look ahead to the future. Here we take a look at the free agents on the Patriots roster: who is likely to be back and who they will probably let walk.
The Patriots have a very young core and most of it is signed for multiple years. This year, there are a few key free agents that the Patriots will have to re-sign, but other than that they will have the opportunity to address needs via the draft and other team’s free agents.
As the week goes on, I will take a look at what potential free agents might be a fit for the Patriots and potential draft picks. Today I take an internal look at the Patriots roster and determine who should and will be brought back.
Patriots Unrestricted Free Agents
WR Wes Welker
Welker is obviously the most high profile free agent on the Patriots roster. Welker is a vital cog in the Patriots offense and the Patriots offense is vital for Welker. There is absolutely no way Welker won’t be back with the Patriots next year. I expect the Patriots to use the franchise tag on Welker to retain his rights and take him off the market while working out a long term extension.
WR Deion Branch
Branch is a tougher call than Welker. He has already said that he hopes to be back with the Patriots next year. Branch has lost a step and is not a #2 or #3 anymore. I do expect the Patriots to bring Branch back on a reduced salary and a 1-2 year deal. There is no doubt WR is the biggest need on the offense and if the Patriots bring Branch back as the #3 and acquire a field strecther it will make the offense much more dynamic.
Branch has already had the chance to go somewhere else and make big money. He knows where the grass is greener and thus will be back.
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis
I’d assume that BJGE has played his last game as a Patriot. You don’t draft a RB in the 2nd and 3rd round if you think you have your feature RB on your roster. Green-Ellis is a nice RB, he never fumbles and rarely loses yardage.
However, he can only get what is blocked. He lacks explosiveness, break away speed and big play ability. The Patriots already have Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead under contract for next season. Those three should provide a very solid rotation with a lot more explosiveness and playmaking ability. I expect BJGE to get a decent offer from another team and the Patriots will decline to bring him back.
OC Dan Koppen
Koppen is a tough one. He missed the whole entire season and was replaced by Dan Connolly. Connolly is also an UFA so I would expect only 1 to be brought back. Koppen has been a very solid throughout his career but he is getting up there in age. Unlike Connolly he does not have experience playing OG and that may be a factor. The Patriots have a very solid offensive line and is built for the long term. The one hole could be at center, where they could opt to draft one and let Koppen walk. As of right now I think Koppen is let go.
OC/OG Dan Connolly
It’s possible some team could offer Connolly a bigger contract, but the Patriots love his versatility and ability to step in whenever someone goes down. Connolly has steadily improved each season with the Patriots and rarely did you notice Dan Koppen’s absence.
Like I said above, it’s possible the Patriots draft a center (although I don’t think they draft 1 in the top 3-4 rounds) or they could bring Connolly back and give him first shot at being the starter. Either way, I think Connolly comes back as the top interior offensive lineman reserve.
WR Matthew Slater
Slater is a Bill Belichick favorite. Early in his career Slater made the roster over other players who may have deserved the roster spot. Slater missed all of training camp two years ago and still made the team, speaking to how highly he is valued to Bill Belichick.
Slater has definitely rewarded some of that faith these past two seasons turning into one of the best, if not the best Special Teams player in the league. A team could try to offer Slater a big contract like the Jaguars did with Kassim Osgood a couple years ago, and that may be too much for the Patriots to offer. However, knowing how highly BB thinks of Slater I think he is back on a multi-year deal.
RB Kevin Faulk
Faulk is expected to retire and thus will not be back with the Patriots next year. Although I do feel like the Patriots will find a way to keep him in the organization as a coach/scout/consultant.