NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
With two days of free agent movement complete, the New England Patriots’ draft strategy remains muddled at best, owing to the uncertain statuses of starters such as right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib. However, New England has nonetheless been affected by the signings which have already occurred; after the jump, we’ll take a look at what the free agent market has shown us about New England’s intentions thus far, as well as which positions they could target in the draft this April.
The most significant move made by New England thus far has undoubtedly been their addition of wide receiver Danny Amendola, whose five-year, $31 million deal positions him as Wes Welker’s direct replacement in the slot. By investing a significant amount of money in Amendola, the Patriots are likely out of the running for a replacement slot receiver such as West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, with whom New England scheduled a visit recently; however, New England should still be in play for one or two outside receiving options regardless of what happens with Brandon Lloyd. They are scheduled to meet with athletic Buffalo Bills wide receiver Donald Jones today.
Additionally, a pair of moves have adversely affected New England’s roster depth: by allowing Donald Thomas to sign a four-year, $14 million deal with the Indianapolis Colts and Patrick Chung to sign a three-year, $10 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Patriots could use more depth along the offensive line and at the safety position. While Chung was considered unlikely to be re-signed by New England, it would have been nice to see Thomas back in a Patriots uniform after making strong contributions over his 616 snaps with the team last season.
We can also glean some insight into what New England sees as positions ripe for an upgrade in 2013 based on which free agents they have shown interest in thus far in the process. Their initial interest in former Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Desmond Bryant, who signed a five-year, $34 million deal with the Cleveland Browns early in the process, suggests that they are receptive to the idea of replacing starting tackle Kyle Love with a more disruptive pass rusher. Keep in mind that the Patriots also pursued Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Red Bryant back in 2012.
Although Aqib Talib is rumored to be regarded as a priority in Foxboro, the Patriots supposedly inquired into the services of cornerbacks such as Sean Smith, Chris Gamble, and Derek Cox as well. Unfortunately, those players are no longer available. Gamble opted to retire rather than test the free agent market, while Cox signed a reasonable four-year, $20 million deal to join the San Diego Chargers. Sean Smith signed a three-year, $18 million deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie decided to sign a one-year deal with the Denver Broncos yesterday.
The free agent ranks have been thinned at cornerback, but the light contracts signed thus far are encouraging for the Patriots; it suggests that New England should be able to sign one of the more attractive outside options for $5 million per season or less. Players who may be candidates for multi-year deals include Talib, Mike Jenkins, and Adam Jones. Antoine Winfield, Terence Newman, Sheldon Brown, Brent Grimes, and Nnamdi Asomugha are among the veteran options who could potentially be signed to one-year deals.
By addressing the cornerback position in free agency, New England would have some flexibility in April’s draft. It would be wise to sign at least one or two cornerbacks, which would relegate the position to an option rather than a requirement in the draft. Considering the current market, New England would be wise to lock up Kyle Arrington for their slot role, as well as one outside option, preferably on a short-term deal.
Based on what we’ve seen thus far, the Patriots appear to be interested in adding wide receivers, offensive line depth, pass rushers, and cornerbacks in April. However, those plans will likely change in the coming days, most probably through signings made at receiver and in the secondary.