8 New England Patriots Considering Retirement This Offseason
While perusing the roster of the New England Patriots recently, I found it odd that the team would allow 17 players to reach unrestricted free agency. Four more players will hit restricted free-agent status come March 13—the official start of the signing period.
Twenty-one players total, all with unique contract scenarios in need of attention, which certainly sets up for quite the busy offseason. But it's a little more complex than that, especially considering eight of those players may be mulling their futures not only with the Patriots, but with the league itself.
I've ranked the likelihood in which these players will return to New England.
1. Dan Koppen: Age 33 in September
There are two things I can say for sure about this specific retirement possibility.
One, Koppen sounds very likely to leave New England, but it might be with another team in mind. And two, the Patriots are likely to look to the draft to address the center position even if they sign Dan Connolly long-term.
Koppen had a lot to say on the topic when it was brought up recently by Ian Rapoport of the Herald.
“I’ve enjoyed my time here and I’ve enjoyed playing here,” Koppen said. “Do I want to stay here and play? Yeah, absolutely, I’d love to come back here and play. But I’m not shut off to the idea of going other places or seeing the opportunities that may present themselves when the free agency period comes. It’s a uneasy time, but it’s an exciting time. Because things can change or things can not change. It’s one of those things where, I’m not closing any options. I’ve been around this league a long time, I know it’s a business. I know the business, I know the business side of it. I’ve seen things that happen in the past and some things just work out and some things just don’t work out."
I felt like he might have just been voicing his veteran opinion, and he sounded pretty reasonable, and then he made the following comment.
"I understand that the Patriots have gotta do what’s best for them and I gotta do what’s best for my family. So, in the next couple weeks, if decisions have to be made, then I’m gonna make my decisions based on what I feel is right for my family.”
In other words, I understand the Patriots aren't going to bring me back for what I want to make as a ninth-year veteran. Koppen broke his ankle last year and is knocking on 33 years of age. It wouldn't be crazy to invest in him especially with his solid track record, but New England is asking another question—is there a better move out there to be made?
Yeah, there probably is.
Likelihood: Very likely to play but elsewhere in 2012.
2. Brian Waters: Age 35 in February
I can't praise the season Brian Waters had in 2011 enough.
He had played his entire career for the Kansas City Chiefs and played left guard for that 11-year stretch only to arrive in New England late, in a highly unusual offseason to play at a completely new position. His transition to right guard was flawless, and the veteran earned himself his sixth Pro Bowl nod.
Waters has himself a contract for next season but was said to be contemplating retirement initially after the Super Bowl loss, a disappointing end to his first postseason run.
I would imagine the team offers two-year deals in order to continue a relationship they valued. I would also like to think Water's Pro-Bowl season was enough that he'd return.
As of February 28th, the latest new blurb we have to go off is from Greg A. Bedard of the Boston Globe who reports Waters is "expected back." That's all we've got to work with for now, so certainty on Waters' future remains to be had.
Likelihood: Likely to remain and start at right guard.
3. Matt Light: Age 34 in June
I'm not sure if the majority of people understand the difficulty of Matt Light's situation. Light was a highly regarded, second-round pick in 2001 with many hoping he could develop into the tackle of the future.
He went on to earn five Pro Bowl selections, and he played in five Super Bowls, winning three of them. Light got an All-Pro nod for his work in 2007 when the Patriots' offensive line allowed only eight sacks of Brady while he completed 398 completions on 578 attempts.
Light has started 153 of his 155 career games, averaging nearly 14 games a season—a true model of consistency. He's been a big part of New England's success over the years, but the Patriots have been quite successful at drafting talent at tackle over the last few years.
Sebastian Vollmer, an All-Pro in 2010 was drafted in 2009, and while last season was a wash, he will regain his health.
2011 saw the addition of 17th overall selection Nate Solder who turned in a fine first season while playing at four different positions for the Patriots.
Fifth-rounder Marcus Cannon came off the PUP list in Week 10 after undergoing successful chemotherapy treatments for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
It's Cannon who's the true game-changer here. He has the potential to be absurdly good which gives the Patriots a very capable backup tackle. Here's what the scouting report says:
"For a man of his size, Cannon is astoundingly athletic and quick-footed. Proven to be an effective blocker on the move, has enough speed to slide off the line and make plays down the field... doesn't seem to take advantage of his frame in many instances, and leaves his body vulnerable to powering defenders...he has the necessary footwork and potential to develop into a devastating right guard or tackle, but needs to keep an eye on his weight and work on performing consistently if he plans on becoming a reliable starter at the pro level."
With a coach like Dante Scarnecchia, it makes perfect sense why the Patriots took Cannon when he slipped all the way into the fifth. And it makes sense why the team would move on from Light who has never been a backup and probably has no intention to start now.
It's a tough call; Light enjoyed one of his best seasons last season and would be back for a bargain in 2012, but it's looking all the like that won't happen.
Likelihood: Iffy at best, if he's willing to back up his understudies, he'd be a welcome addition. It'd be so odd to see Light in another uniform, I'm sure he'd agree.
4. Deion Branch: Age 33 in July
Speculating on Deion Branch's future in New England would be just that—speculation.
But think about this. If you're one of Tom Brady's all-time favorite receivers I'm sure you've got yourself a pretty strong voice of confidence within the organization. Considering Brady was practically pulling the puppet strings of the 2010 Branch trade, I would be very surprised if he turned on a dime.
But it's not Brady who actually calls the shots, he can voice his opinion all he wants, but it'll be Bill Belichick's wise eye for declining veteran talent that will ultimately decide Branch's fate. When asked for comment on possible contract negotiations in the future, Branch said “Gotta retire as a Pat,” so a bargain signing may very well be a backdoor in.
Time will tell, but this is definitely a situation to watch because it appears Chad Ochocinco will indeed be back in 2012 as well.
Likelihood: It's tough to estimate how much value Branch is to New England at this stage in his career. Ochocinco being retained isn't a good sign for Branch.
5. Gerard Warren: Age 34 in July
For Gerard Warren's 6'4", 330-pound frame, he walks a fine line.
New England has been the only team calling his number these days, yet the 11-year veteran and former third-overall selection has performed admirably when his jersey number has been called.
Warren made 10 starts for the Patriots in 2010 and chipped in 3.5 sacks, just two off his career best. But in 2011, Warren couldn't crack the startling lineup and looks to be unlikely to return to the team in 2012.
Don't count him out though. In an interview with the Boston Herald's Ian Rapoport, Warren was asked when he wants to retire and his answer was, “when they tear it off me”.
“This game is my life, you know?” Warren said. “Football is my life. This is my life. Sixty minutes, overtime, you can have hatred, you know? Once the game over with, you come back to being human beings again. You know?”
Likelihood: A comeback is unlikely but certainly not impossible for a player of Warren's caliber and pedigree. If the Patriots don't call, he may not play again though.
6. Shaun Ellis: Age 35 in June
Shaun Ellis signed a one-year, $4 million contract and did manage to make 10 starts in 2011 regardless of whatever else you hear, and he did play a role late in the season. Anyone remember the sack of Tim Tebow in the playoffs?
Ellis "looks to be done" though according to the Boston Glove, and it is indeed for good reason. He was consistently outplayed by seventh-round selection Brandon Deaderick and eventually lost his job to the rookie.
This was a good move though for the potential, and it was only a one-year investment that frees up a good chunk of cap space this season. For Ellis, it was a last shot at a title, and he got real close. I'm sure it was enjoyable from his perspective watching the Jets locker room implode from the inside out.
Likelihood: Ellis will be 35 in June and most likely filing his paperwork by then. I can't imagine he'd play for the veteran minimum anywhere considering the antics he pulled in New York last offseason.
7. Kevin Faulk: Age 36 in June
I recently discussed in length the hardships currently facing Kevin Faulk—a story strangely similar to that of recently retired Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek.
Both veterans, and captains for that matter, are being cast aside from their respective teams as the youth movement has finally claimed what remained of their playing time.
Faulk is the longest-tenured Patriots player on the roster by a mile. It was in 1999, under the direction of head coach Pete Carroll, that Faulk was selected in the second round out of LSU. He lasted the entirety of the Belichick-era for the same reasons Tom Brady has—work ethic, leadership and consistency.
Likelihood: Despite all of the nice things I have to say about Faulk, his time has come and retirement along with induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame, is almost assuredly right around the corner.
8. Mike Wright: Age 30 in March
Technically, Mike Wright isn't actually eligible for this ranking seeing as he's no longer under contract with the Patriots. Wright was released last week following a failed postseason physical to determine the status of his health.
New England was his one and only professional home over the last seven years, and Wright was one of the more successful undrafted free agents in Foxboro over the last decade.
In October, Wright discussed his long road to recovery and gave every indication that quality of life far surpassed football as a priority.
Here's to wishing the very best for him on that journey.
Wright finishes his career with 133 total tackles, 15 sacks and four forced fumbles in 81 games (22 starts).
Likelihood: Wright's concussion history makes his impending retirement nearly guaranteed.
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