New England Patriots Offseason: Expiring Contracts Analysis

Should the Patriots re-sign right tackle Sebastian Vollmer? (Photo: US Presswire)

NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones

The New England Patriots enter the 2013 offseason with over $16 million in available cap room, but must distribute that cash between free agency and the NFL Draft; it will be difficult to sign all or even most of their twenty free agents without spending beyond the NFL’s salary cap. Before turning their attention outside of their own organization towards other free agents and 2013 NFL Draft prospects, the Patriots would be wise to determine which of their own free agents they would like to re-sign and which of those prospects they can afford. So who’s worth re-signing? Read on for more information regarding New England’s free agent crop this offseason.

RB Danny Woodhead

Danny Woodhead is one free agent whose contributions warrant re-signing, but whose production New England could likely replace through in-house options; the Patriots have four young running backs on the roster – Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, and Jeff Demps – which could force Woodhead onto another team if he is not willing to accept a contract below market value. Woodhead probably hasn’t helped his case by slipping from 5.6 yards per attempt in 2010 to 4.6 in 2011 and 4.0 in 2012. Woodhead could likely get more money and opportunities with another team, so New England may ultimately be forced to part ways with one of their more reliable offensive weapons.

WR Deion Branch

Deion Branch is another fan favorite whose time with New England may be coming to an end. Branch will turn 34 in July and has seen his production sharply decline in recent seasons, finishing 2011 with 61 catches before slipping to 51 in 2011 and just sixteen in 2012 (plus another two in the playoffs.) At this point in his career, his only contributions are in the short-yardage range, having caught thirteen of his sixteen passes on throws less than ten yards downfield. He may have to settle for a spot on New England’s emergency list, similar to what happened this season between Branch and the Patriots.

WR Julian Edelman

Julian Edelman had established himself as a unique all-purpose weapon before his season ended prematurely after sustaining a broken foot on December 2nd in a win at Miami. While Edelman was only a minor contributor as a receiver, he also demonstrated his value as a punt returner and special teams performer; based on his play this season, it will be interesting to see how much New England is willing to pay for the 26 year-old, who turns 27 in May. Edelman is one of the Patriots’ most appealing free agent targets, especially if New England opts to part ways with Wes Welker; bringing Edelman back into the fold may help offset the loss of Welker’s consistent production.

WR Donte’ Stallworth

Donte’ Stallworth was cut by New England prior to the season; he re-signed in early December but caught just one pass, a 63-yard touchdown, before landing on injured reserve after suffering a season-ending ankle injury. The 32 year-old Stallworth still has the speed to separate down the field, but has not been a significant contributor on any team since his 46-catch 2007 season with New England. Stallworth could likely be re-signed for a one-year deal at the veteran minimum, but probably cannot be counted on for consistent production at this point.

WR Wes Welker

Regardless of the decision’s popularity, the Patriots should cut ties with Welker this offseason. While Welker’s production hasn’t slipped, he will turn 32 in May and could sharply decline at any point; New England has additionally invested too much money in offensive targets such as Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, and Brandon Lloyd to pay Welker market value. Since returning from a torn ACL in 2009’s regular-season finale, Welker has also struggled to catch the ball consistently, dropping just six passes in 2009 but averaging sixteen drops per season in the three years since, culminating in league-leading 19 drops in 2012.

Obviously, there is a price at which Welker’s contributions would make sense for both sides, but Welker is unlikely to settle for a deal below market value; the Patriots should not impair their ability to lock up long talent and establish roster depth by investing heavily in Welker.

TE Michael Hoomanawanui (RFA)

Hoomanawanui played under Josh McDaniels with the Rams last season and joined the Patriots in September after being poached from Washington’s practice squad. The 24 year-old ended up playing 363 snaps for New England in 2012, functioning effectively as an additional blocker from either the fullback or tight end positions. While Hoomanawanui is hardly a threatening receiver, his contributions in both pass protection and as a run blocker warrant a low-level tender in restricted free agency; the Patriots should offer him an opportunity to compete with Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells during training camp and through the preseason.

OT Sebastian Vollmer

The benefits of re-signing Vollmer are obvious: he has played well through four seasons as a starter, is equally effective as a run blocker and a pass protector, has the versatility to play on either side of the line, and at 28 years old (he turns 29 in July), he should be able to contribute for at least four or five more seasons. However, despite these factors, the Patriots should allow Vollmer, like Welker (see above) to sign elsewhere.

Vollmer has dealt with injuries including a serious 2011 back injury, and in order to reach a new deal with their right tackle, the Patriots will be forced to commit substantial guaranteed money to him. Vollmer is among the league’s top right tackles, but the Patriots have been successful at identifying talented offensive tackles in the draft (see Vollmer, Nate Solder, Matt Light.) Besides, New England’s future right tackle may already be on the team; former fifth-round pick Marcus Cannon has a unique combination of size and athleticism. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has consistently been able to get the most out of any linemen on the team; it’s worth seeing what he can do with Cannon.

If the Patriots do not believe that Cannon is the answer, this year’s crop of draftable tackles is deep enough to find a cheaper, younger starting option than Vollmer.

OG Donald Thomas

Without Brian Waters in town, New England’s offensive guard depth looked thin entering the season, but the Patriots found a pleasant surprise in the play of swing reserve Donald Thomas. The former Connecticut Huskies star filled in at both guard spots this season, playing a total of 616 snaps, blocking effectively in the run game while allowing just one sack in pass protection. New England should make re-signing Thomas an offseason priority, as he was arguably more productive than starter Dan Connolly this season. If the Patriots fail to secure Thomas before he hits the open market, he may receive a starter’s money elsewhere.

OL Jamey Richard

Jamey Richard was signed by New England in March, but ended up missing the entire season after being placed on injured reserve with a concussion. The 28 year-old previously functioned as a swing reserve in Indianapolis, playing primarily as an interior swing reserve but also kicking out to tackle or tight end in some packages. He hasn’t been very effective when pressed into action, so at best Richard is likely going to have to fight for a roster spot on a one-year, non-guaranteed contract, although his versatility is appealing.

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24 Responses to “New England Patriots Offseason: Expiring Contracts Analysis”

  1. JV says:

    Here i what I know, Cannon was horrible at RT when filling in for Volmer. I can see Cannon at RG but not RT.

    Steven Gregory = Backup on most every team in the NFL. Pats NEED to a real NFL starter next to McCourty.

    • Russell Easterbrooks says:

      Cannon is better at OG for sure, can help at OT in a pinch but thats it. Patriots will resign Vollmer first I think.
      I’m not sold on Gregory either, back-up , with Chung gone. Draft a guy to play SS DeVonte Holloman .

  2. Dano S says:

    First sign Wes Welker him and Brady are a fine running machine.
    Sign Leodis McKelvin CB/KR Bills, Brian Hartline WR Miami,
    Connor Barwin OLB Houston and Gosder Cherilus OT Lions.
    Draft 1st pick Trade for 2 and 4. 2nd pick Trade for 3 and 5. 2 Alex Okafor DE
    Texas 3 DaRick Rogers WR Tennessee Tech 3 Josh Evans S Florida
    4 Brian Winters OT Kent State 5 Brandon Williams DT Missouri Southern
    7 David Bakhtiari G Colorado 7 BW Webb CB William & Mary.

    • Russell Easterbrooks says:

      Interesting ! I think OT Brain Winters will be gone by the end of the 2d round. DT Brandon Williams will be gone by the end of the 3d.
      I like signing WR Hartline IF Wekler leaves.
      McKelvin is interesting too, it all depends on money. IF you spend on McKelvin you would let Talib walk.
      OLB and Oline go younger, smaller contract’s to start.

  3. Heather says:

    No one is tougher than Wes Welker. Edelman is talented, but he’s not durable enough to be considered Wes’ replacement.

  4. a83jd7a says:

    Cut ties with Welker? I love how everybody says it and then he leads the team receiving again this season. When Gronk goes down due to an injury next season, which seems very likely as he is showing fragility these past few months, Welker is the go to guy. Not Lloyd, not Hernandez.

    • Bobthebuilder says:

      Not saying I want to lose Welker, but Gronkowski is not injury prone.

      • AM says:

        I don’t think he’s “injury-prone” the way that Ras-I Dowling is (i.e., brittle), but he does play an incredibly physical position in an unbelievably aggressive way, which increases his injury risk. He’s going to get hit by safeties and linebackers on every play.

  5. mjp says:

    This an awful approach; Vollmer is arguably the best RT in the league this year and easily top-3. He’s missed few games due to the back, the injury actually makes it easier to keep him since other teams may be worried about moving him to LT and risking the injury, the Pats can offer him very good RT money and get it over with quickly, the risk is much reduced comparatively for the Pats since he’ll be paid as a RT. His balanced skill-set is invaluable, this team needs that type of player. Marcus Cannon looked awful at RT and it’s unwise to hope Dante will turn him into an all-pro.

    The best part of Talib was he allowed McCourty to play FS and Dennard to be a #2. His performance was not top of the market worthy, 3-4 years at 8-10mill per is the market for him and it would be a mistake to guarantee him any substantial amount of money. Draft a big, long CB who can actually see the field, there’s a ton of them this year, and get a veteran to compete for the spot at half of Talib’s cost.

    Marquise Cole was a pleasant surprise for a game or two but he clearly couldn’t cover Boldin, at all. Keep him instead of Arrington, maybe, but he’s not a physical DB in the slot and Arrington is.

    Pat Chung is 2x the player that Steven Gregory is, his injury history also makes him easier to sign and his coverage is not nearly as bad as Gregory’s. Nobody had a worse performance vs the Ravens than Gregory, he takes terrible angles in both phases of the game and is constantly lost in space (one good game doesn’t make up for a season’s worth of mediocre to sub-par play).

    Letting Welker walk is fine if he wants top dollar, he’s a better route runner than he gets credit for and is incredibly tough and durable so he will likely get top dollar from another team. 9M is too much for a slot WR who is obviously limited physically which is starting to show up more and more with the drops. Reconstruct him from the aggregate of Edelman and a free-agent like Amendola, maybe draft a WR.

    This team lacks playmakers on the perimeter, CB’s, WR’s and Edge-Rusher……we have lots of serviceable players but we need impact players.

    • AM says:

      Welker is limited in straight-line speed, perhaps, but disagree on the drops. Depending on source, he had between 9-15 (WaPo/PFF) drops this season, but that’s on 174 targets, which was good for fourth in the league (ESPN). That’s a drop rate between 5-9%, not even accounting for which balls were really uncatchable. For 118 receptions and more than 1300 yards, that’s a great performance.

      I think that Welker sometimes suffers from the same perception issue as Brady–they’re both so good that one of their average performances seems poor by comparison, even if most other players would be grateful for anything approaching that. And, of course, they make each other better, which just reinforces the issue.

  6. AM says:

    I look forward to the long back-and-forth of whether to keep Welker or let him go in these comments. I’m firmly in the “keep” camp, even at the $9-10 mil/yr range. They don’t come tougher.

    I think that writing off Vollmer so quickly is a mistake, though–quality OL are hard to find, and falling back on the “Scar is brilliant” strategy too often is just asking for trouble. (Even though Scar is indeed brilliant.) Keeping Brady upright must always be paramount, and as much as I like Cannon, he still seems better suited to the interior.

    Another interesting analysis for the NEPD folks would be which contracts could be dropped or restructured to provide more cap relief. I would think that Daniel Fells would be ripe for that

    • Russell Easterbrooks says:

      We will sign Vollmer, thats for sure. I think we offer Welker a deal, 2years 7 mil. per. If he wants to leave OK, play for the Raiders and make 10-12 mil a year.
      I think they put the “tag” on Talib and see what he can do for a full year.

      Players to cut:
      Trevor Scott

      • AM says:

        My concerns about Talib and Vollmer are the same: injury protection. Vollmer seemed to manage okay this season, although there were some instances where he was clearly playing through pain. Talib did so much for the secondary that it would be tough to let him go; I like the idea of franchising him.

        Respectfully disagree on Welker. If he leaves, someone is going to have to pick up the slack. Edelman hasn’t proven that he can stay healthy, and his good numbers this year might just have been a fluke. Amendola, Hartline, and the others on the market are good, but they aren’t Welker. It’s true that Welker gets more out of the Patriots system than he would most other teams, but the converse is true as well–because of skill, toughness, and familiarity, Welker is worth more to the team than most receivers would be. We’ve learned from Ochocinco/Johnson, Galloway, and others that not everyone can come in and handle either this offensive system or Brady’s temperament and zeal. I’d give him two years, $18 million, with guaranteed money for injury but not skill. Draft a faster, stronger receiver to boot, and go in with Welker, Lloyd, Edelman, Gronkowski, Hernandez, and the rookie WR as options in the passing game.

        I agree on most of the cuts. Arrington would be a nice keeper, but only for 3rd or 4th corner money. Stallworth could be interesting as a 5th wideout, at a veteran minimum deal, if there’s room. The one that gives me pause, oddly, is Larson. After seeing how the team struggles to run when faced with a physical defense, I wonder if using a fullback could help. Roster spots are tough to come by, though, so he’s probably a luxury they can’t afford.

        • Russell Easterbrooks says:

          Remember in the NFL change is good. Welkers pass routes are in every D game plan, there is alot of tape out there on every move he makes. Someone new running the same routes looks differant, and brings differant things to the game. When Hernandez runs out of the slot, it is very differant than Welker, running the same route. I agree he has value and would offer him a contract BUT 7mil a year tops. If welker leaves yes the O has to do somethings differant to take up the slack. This leaves the D quessing who and were.The O may play two WR , two TE, and no slot guy. I think the Patriots O is to perdictable.

      • kdog says:

        I’m concerned about the price tags on Vollmer and Talib. (In fact, I’m surprised that the anticipated prices are not front and center in this whole discussion, back to the OP.)

        I like what you say here about Welker – make him an offer and try to keep him, but let him follow the $$ somewhere else if he wants to max out. I was thinking 20/3, so we’re in the same ballpark.

        But Talib – a tag? That’s roughly $9MM for the transition tag, and $10.7MM for the franchise tag. I think that’s way over his value. I might offer him 10/2 or 6/1; that’s it. I don’t know what his market value is going to be given his baggage and his injury history. But if he goes, I would offer that same contract to Ed Reed and move DMac back to CB.

        Vollmer, OTOH, I might put a tag on. The franchise tag for OL is projected to be $8.6; that sounds reasonable to me for 1 year. Long term, I wouldn’t give him he big bucks. Too much injury risk, and in the end I can’t afford to pay top $ on both OTs.

        I agree with your other cuts, although I slightly prefer Arrington to Cole.

  7. acm says:

    supposedly better than either Mayo, Spikes, Hightower. Would mind the Pats drafting Khaseem Greene for that role. Was high on CJ Mosley but he went back to school.

    • mjp says:

      If Dion Jordan slides even remotely out of the top-12 the Pats should pull the trigger on a trade, don’t care if he takes a 2nd and a 4th next year, at 6’7” 250lbs the kid is an elite athlete who would have had 10+ sacks last year had he not been dropping into coverage half the time (on slot WR’s nonetheless). He’s silky smooth in space, just blankets receivers and has a great burst and closing speed in the open field and as a pass-rusher. Put him next to Chandler Jones who should slide over to a shaded DT position on passing downs and we have a dangerous pass-rushing duo.

      • acm says:

        don’t see that happen, not even close, tbh. Expect that 1st rounder to be traded down – too much good talent in the 2nd a dn3rd round this year. In the first, I’d say only Ansah sticks out with his potential and is worth trading up but just don’t think the conditions for trading up are there this year.

        • Russell Easterbrooks says:

          I agree , a GREAT amount of talent for the Patriots in the 2d, 3d, 4th rounds this year. So many in fact we could use extra 3d’s and 4th’s !!

        • mjp says:

          I know Tampa Bay wants to trade back and follow any slide of Johnathan Banks, risky for them, could just take him but I’m willing to bet a couple of teams will want to trade back.

          Still hard to pull off but Dion Jordan is well worth it, 2 birds with 1 stone for this Pats D.

  8. Nick says:

    Is Fletcher a good coverage LB? The pats could def. use one of those

    • Russell Easterbrooks says:

      Yes Fletcher is a good cover LB. I’m projecting S/LB DeVante Holloman, 6’2″ 230+ runs a 4.64 40, as a 3d-4th pick to play sub-packages at SS as well as at LB, to start at least.

      • kdog says:

        I haven’t seen this guy, but I love the idea. We should add a couple of such players, IMHO, to replace White and Kouts on the roster. If one of them develops into our starting SS, all the better.

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