Patriots Free Agency Preview

Defensive End/Pass Rush

This is an area where I expect the Patriots to be extremely active. I was told emphatically that Michael Johnson of the Bengals was their number one target. Johnson got the Franchise Tag, taking the top pass rush target off the market. The Patriots are thrilled with Chandler Jones and want to find a complement to him for the long term. That long term guy might not be out there anymore, so they may reallocate their assets toward a CB or WR and go the veteran route at end.

Names that will be talked about:

Dwight Freeney – He would be able to move back to natural 4-3 DE position and do what he does best. His sack numbers have decline, but he won’t cost as much as the top tier guys. Plenty of interest awaits, will have plenty of suitors.

Osi Umenyiora – If they miss out on Freeney, Umenyiora would be the next on the list. His numbers have also declined, but the Patriots have shown interest in trade talks in past years.

James Harrison – Recently released, Harrison wouldn’t fit as perfectly as Freeney or Osi, but he would provide pass rush along with a toughness this team needs.

Michael Bennett – Bennett checks man of the same boxes that Michael Johnson would have. Their young, about the same size and poised to get paid.

There will be plenty of other names discussed, as the market is flooded with experienced veteran pass rushers. I  don’t know who the Patriots will sign, but they will sign at least one.

Defensive Tackle

A failure to address the position last year makes it a need again this year. They took a pro-active approach signing Armond Armstead out of the CFL, adding another young body to the mix. The Patriots still lack the big, versatile run stuffer who can play end or tackle depending on the front. This area will be addressed either in the draft or free agency. Three guys certain to draw interest are Desmond Bryant, Terrance Knighton and Alan Branch. While DT isn’t the #1 priority, it is still a need. Bill Belichick has a plan A, B, C, D. If they miss out on their top targets, they could choose to reallocate the money here instead of the edge.

Linebacker

The Patriots starting linebacker unit is intact, with a young talented trio. Rob Ninkovich can even play on his feet when the Patriots want to go to a 3-4 front, meaning they won’t be looking for starters on the FA market. What the Patriots do need is a coverage backer and some depth. There is an enormous drop off in talent from Mayo, Spikes and Hightower to the reserves. The reserves they do have  can’t cover when in the game. Getting Dane Fletcher back will add another body, but he’s not a game changer. I’m not sure who the Patriots will target, but I have always been a fan of Jonathan Casillas. Bill Belichick has gotten a good look at him in joint practices with the Saints during  the last couple summers and may have interest.

Cornerback 

One way or another the CB position will look much different next year. Aqib Talib, Kyle Arrington and Marquise Cole are free agents, making Alfonzo Dennard (who is facing jail time) the only CB in the top four slated to return next season. The Patriots want Talib back, but they won’t over pay. He’s a monumental risk to sign long term and even though he is talented he is replaceable. Kyle Arrington played well in the slot and thinks he’s worth way more than he is. If the Patriots want Arrington back, they will wait the market out and see  if someone overpays him. They won’t set the market for him. Even if they all three corners come back, the Patriots need at least one more starting caliber cornerback. Without Talib and Arrington I could see the Patriots signing as many as three corners, two that can start.

It’s clear the Patriots want size at their number one corner spot. They drafted a big corner, in Ras-I Dowling two years ago (still on the roster) and traded for Talib, so they have some size at the position. If the Patriots stick to that blueprint two players who will be of great interest are Sean Smith and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Belichick and the Pats have played against Smith the last four years in the division and they had interest in DRC when he was drafted in 2008. Both guys are over 6’1″ giving the Patriots the needed size.

It’s not completely out of the question to land two top corners. Assuming they land one big physical corner, they will look to add another veteran, perhaps one who offers some versatility. Among the other corners  who could attract interest are Mike Jenkins, Brice McCain, EJ Biggers, Keenan Lewis, Derek Cox, Chris Gamble and Nnamdi Asomugha (if he is released.)

Like wide receiver, the team will be active and aggressive at this position. Even if they sign a couple corners, I expect the Patriots to use one of their early draft picks at the position.

Safety

This is an area where the Patriots will add a veteran presence to the mix. Patrick Chung (good riddance) is moving on, which means the Patriots have three safeties on the roster capable of suiting up tomorrow in Devin McCourty, Tavon Wilson and Steve Gregory. There are two different directions the Patriots can go here. They can opt to sign a free agent (Ed Reed) or use a draft pick on the position, in a deep safety draft. Reed will be the top target. I was told that Bill Belichick will definitely make a hard run at Reed and have a good shot to lure him from Baltimore if they offer him more money than Baltimore can match with. They may have to overpay to obtain Reed for a year or two, but if any player is deserving of an overpay it’s Reed.

The Patriots could use a physical presence at safety, which they have lacked for quite awhile. But they won’t spend heavily at the position outside of Ed Reed. Other names to watch if they miss out on #20 are Adrian Wilson, Dawan Landry and Yeremiah Bell.

Overview

No matter how free agency plays out the Patriots have positioned themselves as good as any team in the NFL with shrewd cap management. They have holes, but have the cap space to fill those holes. Limited draft picks in 2013 means most of the holes have to be filled in free agency. Cornerback, Wide Receiver and Defensive End are the positions I will be watching closely on Tuesday. I expect the Patriots to sign at least one “high quality” player at each position, it’s just a matter of who. Stay tuned. It’s going to be fun!

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Tags: 2013 Patriots Off-season, Free Agency, Sebastian Vollmer, Wes Welker

27 Responses to “Patriots Free Agency Preview”

  1. J H TARBORO says:

    Looking at Draftek.com and the top 400 players in college football and their rankings there will be lots of rookies undrafted, so will can still find talent after the draft, and some very good players that are off the grid.

  2. ActonBob says:

    I would rather see them use the #1 pick and actually package #2+#3 together and move up. They, and most others, seem to have much higher hit rates in Round 1 and drop alot after. BB has shown he is excellent in Round 1 and with UFAs. So just come out with 2 players in the top of the draft, risk in last round and UFA + FA. They seem to always do well with UFA. 2 Great picks last year in Round 1. Will be alot of fun seeing what they do this year. I like the CFL angle so far. Go Pats…

  3. MaineMan says:

    I Wouldn’t say that the Pats “failed to address” the DT position in 2012. They signed Fanene, but HE failed THEM and left them in the lurch.

    However, I think that Fanene (and Armstead) represent what they’re looking for in an additional DT – someone with some significant penetration ability. WRT “run-stoppers”, they have Wilfork and Love. They could use someone more substantial than Love to give Wilfork more rest, but I think that guy would come from the draft, rather than via FA, since the Pats also need to be looking for a youngster to groom as Wilfork’s eventual successor. But what the interior DL was lacking (and, indeed, the overall pass-rush effort) was a guy who could consistently and effectively shoot a gap and get significant pressure up the middle without severely downgrading run defense (and that was NOT Deaderick).

    So, that’s where I think the Pats will be looking wrt DT.

    • JV says:

      Agree 100%.This draft is deep at DT so I am hoping one of the top DTs fall just like Wilfork did wen he was drafted. As for adding FAs…I see a couple that could easily replace Love and Deadrick.

  4. MaineMan says:

    Respectfully disagree about the supposed “depth” at the TE spot.

    IMHO, what makes multiple TE sets effective, especially in setting up play-action, is having multiple TEs who can block very well (especially run-block) and who are also reasonably productive receiving targets. The Pats really only have one TE who fits that description – Gronk (who happens to be exceptional in both qualifications). History has shown that when Gronk is unavailable, multiple TE sets are not very effective at all with current personnel – to the extend that 3WR sets were used much more often, even though the WR corps itself was relatively weak.

    Hernandez is a fine receiving “TE” but still can’t block very well.
    Neither Fells nor Hoomanawanui showed nearly the blocking ability that was expected of them (though Hooman had some good moments as a FB), and neither of them were anything more than afterthought receiving targets.
    Ballard, I agree, is a “wild card” – not only due to his unknown progress from his ACL injury, but also because he really only has the one good season on his previous resume.

    Seems to me that the Pats may make some moves this off-season to acquire better “Gronk insurance” than Fells and Hooman have proven to be. These could include “low-level” acquisitions such as Watson (who’s become a better blocker since his original stint with the Pats) and/or drafting a prospect like ‘Bama’s Michael Williams in the 7th. But the Pats could instead make a move for a slightly higher-profile FA and/or spend a 3rd-rounder on Vance McDonald.

    Either way, I believe the TE spot is far from settled for 2013.

  5. td says:

    Waahooo, everyone’s getting fired up here!

    This is the only time we get to play GM, tell BB to get a few of the top end FA’s for $15-20mil and he goes out and gets a bunch of lower end FA’s for $5-10 mil and drafts at least 1 or 2 studs.

    My guess is he picks up a “cheap” DB or two as well as a DT so that he can pick the best available at draft time or move around.

    It may not be sexy, but it’s a hell of a lot better than those 2 AFC North teams beating down players to take a paycut, redo or plain cut them; or worse yet that team to the south full of ganggreen that is going nowhere.

    • mjp says:

      Bud Light sucks.

      • JV says:

        Cheap DBs have resulted in an awefull secondary the past 5 years. Bill is STILL trying to replace Samuel in the draft. Pats NEED to spend money on a top FA if this team is ever going to improve on D.

        • td says:

          tough call in the 17-19 game season the Pat’s always seem to have.
          Put all your eggs (cap space) into one top FA or spread it out into DL, LB, DB’s so that the entire ship gets improved.
          The issue? One top guy flames out or gets injured and you’re back at square one, only an inherited cap hit.

  6. Jeff M says:

    Really like the idea of getting Sean Smith and either Derrick Cox or Brent Grimes in FA. Then we could go into the draft and focus on DL, OL, WR and S.

    I really hope we trade back from 29 and pick up extra picks.

    I’d be real happy with a draft if they could pick up another 3rd and 4th by trading back from 29 then go with:
    Barrett Jones
    Matt Elam (if he’s still there or one of the other many safety’s)
    Bennie Logan
    Vance McDonald (we need another TE)
    Darius Slay (if he falls to the 4th) or Tyranne Mathieu
    Conner Vernon (5th round assuming Bill works the board as usual)
    Marquees Wilson (6th round)

    Then use the 7th rounders on some OL/DT/DB high upside players

    • Russell Easterbrooks says:

      I like your thinking drafting Barrett Jones, ( maybe there at #59) Darius Slay (however Slay may go in the 2nd round) Conner Vernon ( a 4th mostlikely.

      The Patriots HAVE had meetings with CB Banks, CB Jordan Poyer, TE Travis Kelce, DL Jared Smith, OT Luke Marquardt, LS Carson Tinker , and RB Derrick Washington , so far.

      • Jeff M says:

        In my mind the Pats biggest issue last year on offense was RG and OC.

        I like Wendell but he’s too small to control the LOS and with Jones they could upgrade RG or OC. They need to solidify the OL

        • mjp says:

          Wendell graded out as one of the better OC’s in the division and likely the conference. He graded out positively in both the run and pass game (per PFF who grades every play by every player).

          I believe Connelly was very solid in pass-protection but was only slightly above-average in the run game, no worries on the right side if we resign Vollmer who excels in run blocking or if we bring in a similar talent at RT.

          The O-line was not the problem last year. No Gronk and no WR on the outside who represents any type of dynamic threat, Lloyd can make the occasional tough catch on the sideline but he wasn’t getting any YAC or creating anything resembling a big play on any type of pattern.

        • td says:

          Agreed. The main issue with this offense is keeping Gronk and Hernandez healthy for season & playoffs. The right side is fine with or without Vollmer and the left side is getting “elite”. There really is nothing wrong with Lloyd. He is not Moss, he is the #4 or 5 option. His numbers were pretty remarkable given he is the last option. Most fans look at that deep threat he was thought to bring and think Moss. Moss was the #1 or 2 option and got paid for it.

  7. DaveM says:

    Is someone on drugs when they write this crap. The Pats can’t afford to sign Welker and Wallace. The Pats had $25 mil in cap space last year and all they did was tag Welker, and bring in those big free agents Lloyd, Fanane, Fells, Gregory, and Scott. You guys have NO clue what the hell you are talking about.

    • NEPD says:

      I don’t think they both sign, but it is certainly feasible to get them both under contract with a 2013 cap hit of less than $15 million.

      • Jeff M says:

        Exactly…I don’t know how you guys deal with idiots like this on your site.

        • DaveM says:

          LOL Then they still need a Tackle or 2, interior O Line depth, CB. Safety. coverage OLB, and DT. Get ready for the Pats big FA signings of Stallworth, Cribbs, Harrison and Freeney.

        • Russell Easterbrooks says:

          I know there has been talk of Wallace to New England, BUT I find this highly unlikely, Wallace does not fit as a BB type player.

    • Jeff M says:

      Ahhhhh, you’re an idiot. Welkers tag number is WAAAAY higher than the cap number for a long term deal stupid.

      If they signed Welker long term it’d drop his cap number to like $7-$8 mil and if the were targeting Wallace that means Lloyd is gone which saves $3 mil more. Even if they gave Wallace a big pay day his cap number would likely be well under $12 mil…so yeah that WOULD be possible.

      If needed the Pats can make as much as $30 mil in cap space…easily making room for two WRs.

      Don’t talk when you have no idea what you’re talking about stupid.

      • DaveM says:

        Hey idiot that still adds up to $18mil for 2 players. That leaves $3mil in cap space, you have deduct $4mill from the $25 as a draft pool. What the hell are you going sign for $3mill moron.

    • Mike Loyko says:

      The one who doesn’t understand how contracts are structured and how guaranteed money is spread out in the one throwing stones. This isn’t baseball. Joe Flacco just signed a 120m dollar contract.. his cap hit next year just over 6 million. And I promise you I do know what I am talking about.

      • Jeff M says:

        Yup…this DaveM guy doesn’t even know enough to bear a response. No idea how cap money works.

      • td says:

        One thing that amazes me is the talk about Brady’s “team first” contract. Show me someone else who is getting $27million garaunteed at the ages of 38, 39 & 40. Manning? maybe??

        Not that Brady will be awful by then, but he could be injured a lot ala Vick, but then maybe Mallet or another gets a shot.

        I also predict the Ravens will be in our shoes very soon; an elite offense and aging defense with an elite QB making close to 20% of the cap. As will the Bronco’s, GB, Atl, NYG. They all will have little balance between Off, Def & Special Teams because their offenses will command more than half the cap.

    • Mike Loyko says:

      Anyone who thinks I am an idiot or talking out of my ass, might want to read Greg Bedard’s column today about Welker/WR position. We have very similar views and Im sure we have heard some of the same things regarding FA.

  8. Stephen S says:

    Woo Hoo Love this time of year between free agency and the draft it gives you that Xmas feeling of anticipation cant wait to see who we get



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