Patriots Free Agency Preview

Nick Caserio Bill Belichick

It is a busy time for Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio.

NEPD Editor: Mike Loyko

The most exciting time of the NFL off-season is here. Free agency is a mere two days away from starting and the Patriots are well positioned, ready to attack the free agent market with 25.3 million in available cap space. By showing financial restraint after the lockout, the Patriots are primed to add to what is already a very competitive football team.

There still remains interest in resigning many of their own free agents and a robust buyers market means the Patriots expect to be active on Tuesday and beyond. Who will they target in free agency? Will they resign any of their own free agents? What holes can be filled via free agency?

All of these topics are discussed in this comprehensive 2013 Patriots free agency preview.

Quarterback

Potentially the biggest move of the off-season is Tom Brady restructuring his contract, giving the team an extra 15 million in cap space over two season. Cap space is the most valuable asset to an NFL team and Brady gave the Patriots tremendous additional flexibility. The Patriots rarely make moves at the QB position during the off-season, but this year bears watching. With such a poor free agent QB crop and an underwhelming QB draft, Ryan Mallett’s value across the league is increasing. I expect teams to inquire and make a strong run at acquiring Mallett to be their starting QB.

I’ve been told that Bill Belichick really doesn’t want to trade Mallett at this point, but could be blown away by an offer. The most logical fit is Cleveland, where new GM Michael Lombardi is a self-professed Ryan Mallett believer. Cleveland does not have a second round pick, which complicates matters. The Patriots will not trade Mallett straight up for a third round pick, Cleveland will have to get creative. With Brady signed long term, Mallett will be moved at some point, but Belichick needs to recoup more than the original third round pick spend on Mallett. If Mallett is traded a back-up QB will be needed and Matt Cassel makes a lot of sense. If Cassel is unable to find a starting opportunity, the stars could align to bring Cassel back to his former role of back-up to Tom Brady.

Running Back

The Patriots are well-stocked at Running Back, boasting a young 1,300 yard rusher, an explosive 3rd down back in Shane Vereen who made great strides last year and a productive UDFA in Brandon Bolden. All three players are going to be back next year giving them depth at a key offensive position, even if nothing more is done. Jeff Demps is expected to be in the mix, even though he plans to compete in some track events over the summer. Demps adds a speedy gadget back that can impact the game on returns.

Danny Woodhead’s status remains up in the air. It looks like Woodhead will test the market, but there is mutual interest to bring the crowd favorite back. Woodhead’s value is greater in the Patriots spread the field, up-tempo attack than in most other areas. I predict the Patriots will let the market determine Woodhead’s value before making an offer to bring him back. As of right now I believe Woodhead will be back in Foxboro next season.

In terms of outside Free Agents, the Patriots may try to add a fullback/H-Back type. Josh McDaniels’ offense historically utilizes a fullback and last year they brought in Spencer Larsen and Tony Fiammetta with no results. James Casey would be a great fit with his versatility, but this position is likely on the back burner a little bit.

Wide Receiver

The wide receiver position figures to see plenty of activity over the next week and  throughout the off-season. Not only do they have their own big name free agents to sign, they need to add at least one more playmaker at the position, preferably an outside the numbers guy. Let’s start with the Patriots own free agents. I’m on record for more than a year now saying the Wes Welker will be back long term. I’m sticking to my guns and will be shocked if he leaves the green pastures of Foxboro to play elsewhere. When push comes to shove and a deal must get done, it will get done. I wouldn’t be shocked if a extension is reached sometime on Tuesday before free agency starts.

Julian Edelman is the other key free agent and is already drawing interest from around the league. I don’t have a good feel for what will happen with Edelman. However, I believe the worst thing he could do is accept more money in the short term to go play for a bad team with no QB. Edelman would do well if he signed in New England on a one year deal, proved he could stay healthy and productive as a receiver. He could then hit the market next year again. If Edelman goes to a team like Cleveland or Miami it will stunt his career trajectory in my opinion. To replace Edelman the Patriots wisely will look to sign someone to replace his return capabilities and Josh Cribbs makes sense because of his familiarity with Brian Daboll.

The Brandon Lloyd situation is a tricky one. His roster bonus is due within five days of the start of the new league year (March 12-17), meaning the Patriots have a five day window to pay him or cut him. Essentially the Patriots have a five day buffer to sign another receiver before paying Lloyd. If they are unable to land one of their target perhaps they bring Lloyd back. Right it looks like Lloyd is elsewhere next season.

With so much turmoil at the position the Patriots lucked out, because there is a deep free agent crop and an even deeper draft crop at wide receiver. Here are a couple scenarios, one of which may play out.

1) Wes Welker is resigned and a top of the market WR like Mike Wallace is signed to play with him. The Patriots have the money to pull this off and there was word late last night the Patriots have interest in Wallace. In this scenario Brandon Lloyd is toast.

2) Wes Welker is resigned and the Patriots fail to add a vertical receiver. In this scenario I see them making a run at Danny Amendola to add to Welker. The idea has been floated to me and isn’t as far fetched as it may seem.

3) Wes Welker leaves via free agency and the Patriots are forced to sign two quality FA. Amendola would likely be a priority and Brandon Lloyd would stay in the short term. Wide Receiver is made a huge priority in the draft.

4) Wes Welker is resigned and the Patriots wait out the WR market to get a veteran bargain. Other player will be released before Tuesday and in the coming months.

5) Wes Welker leaves and the Patriots opt to trade for a receiver like Percy Harvin. This scenario takes two, but if Welker leaves the urgency to get a reliable playmaker will increase dramatically.

No matter what the scenario, the Patriots will not only be active in free agency, but in the draft as well. It’s likely they draft a receiver with one of their first three picks.

Tight End

Having two young studs in the fold the Patriots appear set. However, I do expect the Patriots to add one more tight end to the mix, most likely a “movable” one for injury insurance. The team has Daniel Fells signed for next year, although his 1 million dollar cap hit could become expendable. Michael Hoomanawanui is a RFA and I expect him to be tendered. Jake Ballard will be back next year coming off a devastating knee injury in the Super Bowl and remains a wild card. There is definitely depth on the roster, but if the Patriots truly intend to run a TE centered offense, like they planned last year, they need replacements ready to step in. With the injury history of Gronk and Hernandez a team can’t have enough depth. Last year they got NOTHING from Kellen Winslow or Visanthe Shiancoe. On the free agent market a few names to watch are Dallas Clark, David Thomas and Ben Watson. The Patriots had interest in Clark last year and he produced nicely down the stretch for Tampa. Thomas and Watson are two familiar names who have experience in the system.

Offensive Line

One side of the offensive line is as stable as can be. Nate Solder is firmly entrenched as the long term left tackle. Logan Mankins is signed though 2016 and Ryan Wendell proved he can hold down the center position. The right side of the line offers more question marks, with Sebastian Vollmer being the biggest question of all. As it always does, it will come down to money with Vollmer. Would the Patriots love to have them back, sure they would. But, Vollmer will be 29 during the season and has missed significant time with injuries. There is at least a replacement on the roster right now, which can’t be said at other positions. While Vollmer has played at a high level, the Patriots have shown they can find right tackles if needed. Go back and look at who was starting at RT during the Super Bowl victories, Greg Robinson-Randall and Tom Ashworth ring a bell?

If Vollmer leaves the Patriots would plug Marcus Cannon in there for right now, try to draft a swing tackle in the first three rounds and sign a veteran right tackle. Let’s not forget the Patriots chose to activate OT Markus Zusevics last year and had him take up a roster spot, so he could practice with the team. (Cost them Greg Salas’ roster spot). There are some young players on the roster that can fill-in for the short term. Only the Patriots know the extent of Vollmer’s back and it will likely effect their willingness to pay him at the top of the RT market. Eric Winston could make a nice replacement, but I think they choose to invest their money elsewhere (WR, CB, DE) and go young at the position with the ability to use a pick there.

The right guard spot was the weakest link on the OL last year. They thought long and hard about making Donald Thomas the long term RG, but opted to go with Dan Connolly. Thomas is a very good OG and will get a starting job somewhere. I expect the Patriots to sign at least one OG to provide veteran depth with the ability to play major minutes if needed.

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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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