NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
NFL League Year began at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday. And right out of the starting gate, reports broke of free agents signing, re-signing and restructuring with teams, while roster cuts and trades filtered in as well.
But as some organizations proved to be active on March 11, others proved to be quiet behind the scenes, waiting for the dust – or money – to settle.
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots fell under the latter category.
After re-signing long snapper Danny Aiken and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui – both restricted free agents – in the days prior, and after releasing seven from their reserve/futures contracts or injured reserve lists, New England passed through Tuesday without another official move.
In many ways, though, the moves around the league have set the table for the days to come. With that in mind, here is a look at some Patriots-centric news and notes around the NFL landscape.
Wesley Woodyard Set to Visit Foxborough
According to Brandon Kitzal of The Denver Post, Denver Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard will make a free-agent visit to New England Wednesday. The 27-year-old has played 87 games for the Broncos since entering the league as an undrafted rookie out of Kentucky in 2008, two of which came under current Patriots offensive coordinator and former Denver head coach Josh McDaniels. And while Woodyard is undersized for a prototypical New England linebacker at 6’0”, 233 pounds – most stand over 6’2” – he could represent a change in trend for the position.
A strong safety early in his collegiate career, Woodyard has the athleticism, quickness and coverage ability to potentially retool the Patriots’ depth chart. He has broken up 10 passes and intercepted four more over the last two seasons, also serving as an effective tackler, notching seven sacks and 201 tackles in that span.
Julian Edelman to Test Market
After a 105-catch, 1,056-yard, six-touchdown campaign in 2013, Julian Edelman will be exploring free-agent waters. The 27-year-old did so until April 11 last year, before inking a one-year, $715,000 deal to stay in New England, where he went on to earn 142 touches over 16 regular-season games. But this time around, the production is there and the former seventh-rounder isn’t recovering from a broken foot. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Patriots offered Edelman a three-year contract with the hopes of reaching a conclusion by 4 p.m., but the two sides couldn’t do so. A source told CSNNE.com’s Mike Giardi that Edelman’s side “did not believe it was fair value and did not like team deadline imposed upon him.”
This may not be the end of discussions between the two, but there is some feeling of déjà vu. The market for the slot receiver/punt returner should dictate the outcome. Cincinnati Bengal Andrew Hawkins – a player of similar skill set – has signed a $13.1 million offer sheet with the Cleveland Browns, per ESPNCleveland.com’s Tony Grossi, which could shift the level of interest amongst suitors. Time will determine how highly teams value a player with one year of top-tier production and a clean bill of health. And time will also determine the kinds of alternatives New England could come across if talks grow stagnant.
Brandon Spikes Bids Farewell to New England
With his rookie contract reaching its expiration date Tuesday afternoon, Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes tweeted for the first time in 64 days. His message seemed clear: “It’s been real, it’s been fun. But it hasn’t been real fun lol. Thank u to the cities of New England & @Patriots for an amazing run. #PoWwW”
The 2010 second-round pick out of Florida saw his fourth season come to an unceremonious end against the Buffalo Bills in Week 17, but the speculation surrounding his move to injured reserve appeared to all but seal his future in Foxborough. The 6’2”, 255-pound 26-year-old enters free agency coming of a season which included 11 starts, 694 defensive snaps and a league-best run-stop grade among inside linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus.
Dane Fletcher Travels to Tampa Bay
Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher started his visit with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tuesday night, as CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora first reported. An undrafted signing out of Montana State in 2010, the 27-year-old forged up the ranks to play in 38 games for New England. Primarily a special-teamer, Fletcher also spelled in as a role player on defense, recording four sacks, two pass break-ups, an interception, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries over his Patriots tenure.
Fighting back after a torn ACL in the preseason of 2012, Fletcher showed his strengths in flashes. However, the 6’2”, 245-pounder ended 2013 having played just 213 snaps – less than expected given the season-ending pectoral injury to Jerod Mayo and Spikes’ season-long knee battles. And although he could be back, it would be in his best interest to search for a starting opportunity if one arises. For what it’s worth, current Buccaneers GM Jason Licht was director of pro personnel in New England when Fletcher first signed four years ago.
All Quiet on the LeGarrette Blount Front
With rushing yards and touchdowns often working against the odometer, free-agent running backs aren’t what they once were. On Tuesday, that seemed the be the case, as perhaps the most notable signing was Toby Gerhart, who received a three-year, $10.5 million deal, according to Ryan O’Halloran of The Florida Times-Union.
This leads us to LeGarrette Blount. Only one year older than Gerhart, the 6’0”, 250-pounder leaves day one of unrestricted free agency without a contract signed. Blount compiled 64 carries for 431 yards and eight touchdowns over a late-season three-game span, averaging 6.73 yards per attempt and a touchdown per eight carries. And in reflection, he was well worth the seventh-round pick and Jeff Demps swap it took to acquire him last April. The way the chips are falling, it looks as if the Patriots stand a good chance at retaining him for a reasonable price.
Phil Costa Meets Patriots on Monday
In the waning hours of day one, Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post and The Baltimore Sun reported that New England met with free-agent center Phil Costa on Monday, before visiting the Detroit Lions on Tuesday.
The 26-year-old Costa was released by the Cowboys after he opted not to take a pay-cut. The 6’3”, 302-pound Maryland product went undrafted in 2010 but went on to start 20 games for Dallas, appearing in a total of 26. Costa played just one offensive snap in 2013, as the Cowboys invested a first-round pick in Wisconsin’s Travis Frederick. He likely, however, represents New England’s interest in bolstering the interior offensive line.
Cornerback Signings Swarm, Broncos Nab Aqib Talib
On Monday evening, NBC Sports’ Diana Marie Russini reported that cornerback Aqib Talib was “very close” to reaching a deal with the Patriots. Russini added that the Washington Redskins were also in contention, but New England was offering the better deal. Yet as Tuesday wore on, reports surfaced that there were “no standing offers” for the 28-year-old 6’1”, 205-pounder. All while, the Indianapolis Colts re-signed Vontae Davis for four years and $39 million; the Green Bay Packers re-signed Sam Shields to a strikingly similar deal. And the Buccaneers inked Alterraun Verner to a slightly more modest four-year, $26.5 million pact, cites Ian Rapoport.
Yet just as his hip and hamstring injury history came back under the microscope, news struck two hours before midnight: Denver had signed Talib to a six-year, $57 million deal with $26 million guaranteed, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported. What looked to be a softer market and a wait-and-see approach turned into the most guaranteed money for a cornerback in NFL history. Conversely, it turned New England’s attention to current Buccaneer Darrelle Revis, who could be traded or cut Wednesday afternoon. And although his contract treads a cap hit of $16 million through 2018, it’s more team-friendly than let on. That would undoubtedly change if the 28-year-old three-time All-Pro released, which means a team like the Patriots could control the situation via trade.