Well, it’s been almost a week since free agency officially started, and things have…changed.
The Patriots one-upped the free-spending Broncos, who snatched the thought-to-be-returning Aqib Talib for an insane price, by signing Darrelle Revis, arguably the best cornerback in the game.
They then topped off their secondary by adding a former Seahawk, Brandon Browner, who, although missing the first four games of the season due to suspension, adds some much welcomed size and overall nasty to the Pats defense.
The Patriots then made Tom Brady likely very happy by not only resigning the team’s best receiver last season (Julian Edelman), but a lanky versatile wideout who had his best game against New England last year (Brandon LaFell).
Not all is well in Foxborough however. Vince Wilfork, the keystone of the Patriots defense and beloved veteran and captain, has demanded his release. I (perhaps hastily) assumed in my article on the situation that he was as good as gone. In the last few days that’s been a little less of a sure thing: there’s a distinct possibility that the Patriots and Wilfork just let this year play out, allowing him the chance to reassert his value, and allowing the Patriots another year to convince him to extend at a pay decrease.
Should that happen (not extremely likely), the Patriots have a lot more salary trimming to do. If Wilfork’s cap hit is still in effect, that leaves roughly 6 mil in cap space that needs to accommodate LaFell, Browner, and Edelman, along with anyone else they should
So here are the moves, in order of likelihood, that the New England Patriots need to make to help the salary situation:
3. Extend Stephen Gostkowski and Devin McCourty
Not the most glamorous moves, to be sure, but extending Ghost and McCourty allows them to stay under team control during their primes, but, paired with a nice signing bonus, should shave a couple million off of the cap. Win-win, and could be done easily, as both would seem open to extensions.
2. Restructure Dan Connolly’s contract.
I like Dan Connolly a lot. He’s an overachieving, versatile lineman. But he was pretty bad last season, and his $3 mil cap hit is unreasonable. The Pats could save more by cutting him outright, but with Guglielmo stepping as the new coach, some veteran continuity could be nice. I don’t think Connolly will be starting next season, but he knows his best chance of success is with this team. Think a longer-term extension closer to a $1 mil a year
1. Release Adrian Wilson
This one makes me sad. I would have loved to see how Adrian Wilson figured into this defense. But there are questions of how much he has in the tank, and Brandon Browner’s presence lessens the need for a hard hitting safety. Plus, there are some nice mid-round safety prospects with more upside and a lot lower cost.
It may be a bit before any of these moves fall through, but sooner rather than later would be best for the team, as, after all, there all still some nice pieces to be found on the market.
Is Kenny Britt the Next Patriot Project?
I’m not the biggest Kenny Britt fan. He’s got the not-so-enviable distinction of being both an injury problem and a locker-room problem, which is fun. He’s can’t make it on the field, and when he isn’t on the field, he’s getting in trouble with the authorities. He’s got a serious motor problem, and was a mess in his time with the Titans.
But….I see why the Patriots like him. At 6’3, 225, with top-line speed and a good vertical, he’s brimming with upside. In a vacuum he should be a #1 receiver for any team. If he was brought in on a one-year, prove-it deal, then sure, why not. Plus, he went to Rutgers, which, as we know, means he has a full leg and arm up above his competition in Bill Belichick’s eyes.
I’d like to ask a quick question, though. How many receivers does this team need? Edelman, Amendola, Dobson, LaFell, Boyce, Thompkins (and Gronk, of course). It’s not the most exciting group, but it’s not bad by any means. More importantly, it’s constructed around what helps Tom Brady right now, which are receivers who can separate on short-to-intermediate routes, as Brady’s accuracy on deep passes has been not up to his standard of late.
Should Britt be brought in, who’s bumped off the roster? Would the Patriots really carry 7 WRs on their active roster? Would they even carry 6? I’m just saying, it’s a group that needed, and now has been, upgraded. Is Britt worth the potential aggravation?
A Dwindling Market
Right, so last week, I wrote about the Patriots needing to sign a veteran defensive lineman before the market ran dry. And that was before Julius Peppers, Jason Hatcher, and BJ Raji all found homes. Needless to say, the Patriots should strike sooner rather than later, if they really want to find a vet to spell Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich on occasion, or to plug into the middle.
From everything that’s been said, I doubt very much that Jared Allen is the type to take the vet’s minimum and go for a ring. He seems content to either get the salary he feels he deserves, or walk away from the game altogether. Henry Melton would be an awesome fit for the defense, but again may be too pricey for New England’s tastes (it’s been reported that Melton is visiting with the Seahawks, which is the most horrifying thing I can think of. I mean…my God). The Pats might go the route of one of Terrence Cody, Pat Sims, Corey Wootton, Letroy Guion or Robert Ayers but…I mean do you want any of those players taking significant snaps this year?
Here are my two favorite potential targets: Kevin Williams and Shaun Phillips. Because of their ages, both have flown way under the radar, despite the fact that both have something to offer in a limited role. The 34-year old Williams probably won’t ever rack up double-digit sacks again, but he still had 3.5 last year and is incredibly durable (only 5 missed games in 11 seasons). He’s a great locker-room presence, and could help groom the defensive lineman brought in through this year’s draft.
Shaun Phillips, on the other hand, had a remarkable season last year in Denver, racking up 10 sacks, two forced fumbles, and an INT, despite many believing that he had seen his last days of glory. It’s that same pervading thought that most likely leave Phillips unchosen thus far in free agency, but the Patriots would be remiss not to check in on the 32 year old.
Outside of Britt, a potential defensive lineman, and the possible return of LeGarrette Blount, I would expect most of the Patriots’ other positional holes to be filled in the draft.