NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
Last season, the New England Patriots avoided many of the top free agent targets, instead locking up the likes of Jonathan Fanene and Steve Gregory via early proposals. With free agency set to begin tomorrow afternoon, here’s a look at a few free agent upgrades New England could secure with an early push should they employ the same strategy in 2013.
Lost amid the wealth of high-profile receivers is St. Louis Rams target Brandon Gibson, who Josh McDaniels coached last season; if New England is interested in exploring mid-range solutions at the position, Gibson could make sense. The 25 year-old wideout caught 68% of the 75 passes Rams quarterback Sam Bradford threw him in 2012, averaging 13.5 yards per catch and 9.2 yards per target. He is a lesser-known deep threat who caught eight of the seventeen deep passes thrown to him last year, gaining 183 yards and scoring three touchdowns on those targets, including a 22-yard grab against New England in London.
Last season, the Patriots attempted to add a defensive lineman who could create interior pressure on passing downs, with the versatility to slide outside in both three-and-four-man fronts by signing Jonathan Fanene. However, the signing proved fruitless, as Fanene was released with a “failure to disclose physical condition designation.” If they attempt to fill that role again this year, they could consider Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Jason Jones (6’5”, 275), who is adept at creating interior pressure and may be receptive to a rotational role. He played 332 snaps for Seattle in 2012 and was an effective interior pass rusher.
Another potential value in this year’s free agent class is 27 year-old Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Desmond Bryant, a Harvard graduate who was arrested recently on charges of criminal mischief but who has intriguing size (6’6”, 311 pounds) and the ability to create pressure as a pass rusher. Bryant played 645 snaps in Oakland last season, shifting between defensive tackle and nose tackle, while recording three sacks, one forced fumble, and a handful of pressures, while blocking a kick on special teams. His size may allow New England to employ him as a right end in Bill Belichick’s 3-4 alignments as well.
If Bryant’s offseason arrest pushes New England in another direction, they could also upgrade their interior rush by adding New York Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty, who recorded three sacks in a limited role last season (300 snaps.) At 30 years old, Canty may be headed for a rotational spot in 2013, but his size (6’7”, 317 pounds) and ability to create pressure should be appealing to New England. Canty was drafted by Bill Parcells (then head coach of the Dallas Cowboys) in 2005 after playing under former University of Virginia head coach Al Groh, another of Belichick’s associates.
Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Kaluka Maiava would also be an interesting addition to New England’s roster, as he could potentially alleviate some of New England’s woes when it comes to defending tight ends in coverage. Maiava could likely secure a starting role elsewhere, but New England would be wise to make a run at Maiava regardless. He allowed just 0.50 yards per coverage snap, targeted once every 7.8 coverage snaps and allowing a completion on one of every twelve snaps in coverage, ranking him first, seventh, and fourth among 4-3 outside linebackers, respectively.