NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko
This week’s fifteen thoughts breakdown the New England Patriots activity to this point in the free agent market. I also look at what the Patriots still need to do and the effect the signings will have on the NFL Draft.
Here are my 15 Thoughts on the Patriots free agent signings and more:
1. It’s really tough to argue with the philosophy the Patriots seem to be using in free agency this year. While they haven’t made the big splash that some fans would like to see, they have decided to attack the middle level of free agents and add depth throughout the roster.
While doing so the team has gotten better and deeper. One thing that killed the Patriots last season was lack of depth. Whether it was in the secondary where guys like Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater, Phillip Adams and Antwaun Molden were forced into duty when injuries struck or at the wide receiver position. The Patriots were unable to find a legitimate #3 WR all season once the Chad Ochocinco experiment failed. The team was forced to scramble at times and improvise just to fill holes during the season.
That won’t be the case next season as the Patriots have been aggressive at targeting certain areas and certain players to fill a specific need. Along with providing much needed depth to the roster, the Patriots are also creating competition at a number of positions. By signing a group of veterans that the coaches trust and can rely on, the Patriots will be a more complete team. The players will battle for spots during training camp. The best players will play and the ones who can’t will be gone. Competition can only make a team better and the lack of competition at some positions hurt the team last year.
2. The first move to discuss is the “biggest” and most accomplished player signed by the Patriots thus far, WR Brandon Lloyd.
It had been rumored since Josh McDaniels signed on to become offensive coordinator that Brandon Lloyd was likely to be playing for the Patriots next season. It took longer than expected for it to come to fruition, but Lloyd finally agreed to terms to become part of the Patriots organization over the weekend. The fit couldn’t be any better for Lloyd or the team. Lloyd already knows the playbook, has excelled in the system and fills arguable the biggest offensive need.
Lloyd is known for his acrobatic catches, elite hands and ability to run clean routes. He is exactly what the Patriots offense has lacked the last three years. His presence alone will take the pressure off of Wes Welker and the two tight ends. It will truly be “pick your poison” with the Patriots offense and an improvement on what can be considered their only real weakness on the offensive side of the ball.
It can’t be overlooked at how much of a discount the Patriots got Lloyd for. Picking up Lloyd for 3 years and 12 million dollars is an absolute steal. Five days after Pierre Garcon signed for over eight million dollars per year, Bil Belichick was able to secure a more productive WR for a fraction of the cost. Credit also has to be given to Lloyd. He stayed true to his word and didn’t hold out for every penny. He took a reasonable deal, that is a discount by free agent standards, but it is likely to be the best business decision he ever makes.
3. The first unrestricted free agent signing from another team by the Patriots was former Cincinnati Bengals DL Jonathan Fanene. It was rumored heavily last Tuesday that the Patriots were set to go after Seattle Seahawks DT Red Bryant. When Bryant resigned with Seattle for seven million dollars per year, the Patriots turned their attention to Fanene.
Jonathan is a solid, versatile and under rated defensive lineman who will fit Bill Belichick’s multiple look scheme. It got lost in the shuffle last year but the Patriots lost both of their interior pass rushers a week into last season, with Myron Pryor and Mike Wright going on IR. It was another position which the Patriots were unable to fill adequately during the season and had to get creative to get a rush up the middle.
Fanene will likely replace Mike Wright who was cut prior to free agency. Unfortunately for Wright, his concussion issues make it unlikely he will play football again. Fanene is a solid interior pass rusher, totaling 6.5 sacks last season despite playing situationally. Fanene has the ability to play end in the 3-4 and kick inside to rush the passer. It should take some of the pass rush responsibility off of Vince Wilfork and allow him to move back to his true NT responsibilities. Fanene has been the only DL signed to date, however this is an area I expect to target heavily in the draft and the second-third tier of free agency.
4. A few days ago ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss broke the story that Logan Mankins underwent ACL surgery after the Super Bowl. It turns out Mankins played throughout the playoffs with his ACL torn to some degree. Mankins’ status for training camp is unknown. However, the Patriots added some insurance in case he is unable to go by signing former Oakland and Seattle OG Robert Gallery.
Gallery has long been a favorite of head coach Bill Belichick, dating back to Gallery’s days at Iowa. Gallery will provide the team with a very capable and reliable back up and someone who can step in if Mankins is unable to go at the beginning of the year. Gallery has had his struggles in prior years, and a lot can be attributed to injuries, so he is not the caliber of OL that some may be expecting.
He is certainly a solid depth player for this team. As of right now, no one is expecting Gallery to be the starter and as a swing OT/OG he will suffice. The move also provides some depth in case Marcus Cannon struggles to develop or if Nate Solder takes a step back.
This signing is another example of the Patriots bringing in experienced, proven veterans to provide depth and security throughout the roster.
5. The safety position was consistently the worst position on the roster in 2011. No matter who the Patriots put out on the field it seemed like they were beaten routinely by opposing QBs.
The CBs took most of the heat last season but, the lack of an NFL caliber safety (outside of Chung) really left a big hole in a young defense. The Patriots made their first move towards improving the position by signing former Charger FS Steve Gregory.
Gregory, who is entering his 7th season in the NFL out of Syracuse, will be in the mix for the starting safety job opposite Patrick Chung. Gregory is more of a coverage safety, which is what the Patriots lacked last year. He has the ability to cover the slot and even played CB in nickel situations last year. While Gregory isn’t a big name he is a player who has gotten better each year in the league. He has increased his number of starts each each of the past five seasons, becoming a full time player by the end of last season.
The Patriots gave Gregory a three year deal, with money comparable to other starting safeties in the league, so Gregory will be given a shot to earn the full time job it appears. Even if he isn’t the starter come opening day he will provide the Patriots with a capable player who is entering his prime. The Patriots also went after former first round pick LaRon Landry, who ultimately signed with the Jets.
The Patriots had legitimate interest in Landry, but I was told by someone I trust that Landry’s medicals were way worse than the Patriots expected and let Landry go in a different direction. I would expect the Patriots to make at least one more safety signing in the FA market and possibly even draft a safety in the first two rounds.