A Realistic Free Agent Wish List for the New England Patriots, Based on Cap Room
The New England Patriots, those notorious bargain hunters, don't have the April arsenal we're accustomed to seeing from them. Come draft day, as it currently stands, the Patriots will have only five choices to use throughout seven rounds.
The number will likely change, but New England should nevertheless find itself being an active player on the free-agent market.
The Patriots will be in a good position once the final page of the 2012 season turns and the offseason begins. Unlike a few years ago, there is no major overhaul needed in Foxboro, no major identity shift that needs to be done quickly and on the fly.
The Patriots have the pieces in place to remain a Super Bowl contender for the next few years. They have proven players in several areas and improving youngsters to patch up the others.
What they need are players who can fill that one need they've had trouble developing solutions for. They don't need the Mario Williamses or Nnamdi Asomughas, players who (supposedly) turn teams around by themselves.
But the Patriots should eye some quick fixes. They're among the premier teams in the league as it is, but a little improvement can go a long way.
Ed Reed, S
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If the developing speculation is true and there really is a chance the Ravens could part with Ed Reed, you'd be crazy to think the Patriots wouldn't explore every chance to bring the future Hall of Famer on board.
Start with the obvious: Bill Belichick loves him some Ed Reed. According to the coach, Reed's ability at safety borders on magical. Ask Belichick about a win and you can't get him to talk. Ask him about Reed, and you can't get him to stop.
And it's not just at press conferences. When Reed is the topic at hand, Belichick is as awe-inspired as the rest of us.
Reed being on the market could light the same lightbulb in Belichick's head that Rodney Harrison's availability did in 2003. Improved as the Patriots defense is, there is still a bit of a hole at safety, where Patrick Chung's playing time has gone down, Steve Gregory and Tavon Wilson have been in and out and Devin McCourty is still trying to master playing the position full-time.
Introducing Reed into that mix gives younger players more slack in their development. It also adds a veteran presence and one of the game's all-time greatest playmakers into a secondary that has to improve next year.
The catch? If Reed asks for top dollar, it may have to be a hypothetical dream matchup. Injuries and age (Reed is 34 and has considered retirement before) are also concerns.
But if the Ravens are just looking for another direction and Reed is hungry for a job, he could be an ideal fit.
Brent Grimes, CB
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It wouldn't take much for the Brent Grimes sweepstakes to become too rich for the Patriots' blood. But Grimes is a 30-year-old cornerback coming off of a torn Achilles tendon, and teams may be hesitant to commit the big bucks.
If so, the Patriots should start listening.
Grimes established himself as a top-tier cornerback with the Falcons, showing a knack for being around the ball and always being in position to make a play. He would be a welcome infusion of aggression into a Patriots cornerback corps that too often looks vanilla and passive.
New England's cornerbacks have appeared to improve since the addition of Aqib Talib. But Talib isn't guaranteed to stick around, and last Sunday's game against the Jaguars showed how downright scary things still get when Devin McCourty has to move from safety and try his hand at the position.
Adding Grimes would make the Patriots tough against the pass and make a deep postseason run all the more likely. It's a long shot, of course, but it's hard to ignore.
Connor Barwin, OLB
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The rumors were flying about Connor Barwin being a franchise player candidate for the Texans. But with J.J. Watt's emergence, Brian Cushing still in the fold when he comes back from injury and Barwin himself having a down year, Houston's perspective may change.
If it does, Barwin could provide a major boost for the Patriots defense. New England has plenty of bigger defensive players who are solid against the run, but Barwin would give the Patriots that player that they've missed for the past few years: the one who gets to the quarterback.
He's a name the Patriots should follow, but the chances of him falling into their target range aren't high.
Devery Henderson, WR
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The Patriots offense is still missing one area. Nobody sporting the Flying Elvis on his helmet fills the role of the fast, downfield receiver that a defense always has to keep an eye on.
Since Randy Moss left in 2010, New England has explored several options to replace his top talent on the field, but the result has been lukewarm at best. Brandon Tate came and went, Matthew Slater was looked at last year and Chad Ochocinco was a believed coup that blew up in the team's face.
Brandon Lloyd has been a successful signing, but he's turned out to be more of an intermediate route receiver than a true deep threat.
It's a position where the Patriots could use an upgrade, but given the nature of their tight end- and possession-based offense, that upgrade should come at little price and hassle. Henderson could fit that mold.
Only 30 years old, Henderson carved out a niche for himself as the deep man on several potent Saints offenses. His current contract, which saw him paid $3 million per year over four years, comes to an end this year. His receptions have declined since 2009, and the Saints clearly have their attention focused on Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham.
Henderson wouldn't be a major signing, but he would give New England a guy to do what no one else on the roster does, and for a modest price.
Danny Amendola, WR
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If the Patriots aren't going to pay Wes Welker, Amendola would make a lot of sense as the replacement.
He's a reception machine playing out of the slot, and he's terrific at moving the chains. That's the kind of receiver that forms the bedrock of this Patriots offense. And at 27 years old, he has plenty of seasons left.
Welker's performance during his time in New England has been unparalleled across the league, but the Patriots might still look at that and see a player they can replace.
If they do, Amendola is the best candidate to slide seamlessly into that role.
How long it would take Amendola to build the same chemistry with Tom Brady that Welker has is anyone's guess, but he's a perfect match on paper. He catches a lot of passes, and he's efficient. According to ESPN, he caught 15 passes on 16 targets against the Redskins and 11-of-12 against the 49ers. That's how you gain your quarterback's trust.
If the Patriots need someone at that position, however, there's a better choice...
Wes Welker, WR
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There's no reason for New England not to keep Welker around.
The Patriots tried to prove that they could move the ball without relying on Welker, but the move backfired. Aaron Hernandez got hurt, Welker came on and, 110 catches and 1,260 yards later, he's headed to another Pro Bowl.
The year also showed something else: The Patriots are still at their best when Welker is getting the ball. He deserves to be paid accordingly.
New England can't afford to take Welker out of this offense, not with what he offers Brady whenever his number is called. New England is better with him on the field, and Welker would have difficulty reaching his numbers with another quarterback.
It sounds like an easy match. The Patriots should do what they can to keep it going.