Buying or Selling These 5 Patriots Free Agents Back in New England in 2013
The AFC Championship Game stung, but it's time for New England Patriots fans to move on. After all, if you're a hardcore fan, the signing of CFLer Armond Armstead should have you fully in offseason mode.
The Pats reportedly have about $18 million in cap room to spend on free agents. But before Pats fans start fantasizing about Ed Reed starting alongside Devin McCourty or Mike Wallace burning cornerbacks deep, their hometown squad has some tough decisions to make on some of their own free agents.
There are playmakers on both sides of the ball entering free agency for the Pats, and it will be tough to retain everyone. Let's buy or sell the Pats re-signing five of their top free agents.
CB Aqib Talib
The transformation of New England's secondary into a competent defensive backfield didn't happen solely because of Talib—in fact, a lot of the improvement came from the second-half performances of rookie Alfonzo Dennard and (surprisingly) Kyle Arrington.
But Talib's presence did wonders for the Pats defense.
With Talib at corner, New England was able to shift Devin McCourty to FS, giving them a safety with good range and ball skills for the first time in years. That helped Arrington and Marquice Cole in the slot and benefited the linebackers in coverage as well.
Talib also gave the Pats a true top corner—very few cornerbacks can shadow Andre Johnson around the field in a playoff game with success.
The market for Talib's services should be strong but not unruly—Talib's value is checked by his injury history (he hasn't played more than 13 games in a season since 2009) and his off-the-field issues.
Look for the Pats to sign him to a reasonable deal. I predict something like a $5 million base for four years with a $12 million signing bonus and the first two years guaranteed. That's not unlike the contract of another corner with a reputation as a talented malcontent—Antonio Cromartie.
WR Wes Welker
If I'm forced to choose between Talib and Welker, I pick Talib. Welker's talents don't ideally complement the skill sets of TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, and the drop-off on defense without Talib will be greater than that on offense without Welker.
But I don't think it will come to that.
Welker is re-signable, and though a three-year deal that lowers his cap hit is a risk, it's one that's worth it to retain QB Tom Brady's favorite binky.
Welker has shown no signs of slowing down with another 1,300-yard season this year. A lot of fuss has been made about his 15 drops, but he was also fourth in the league in targets (and drops are more likely for a player that runs in-breaking routes and gives up his body).
The soon-to-be-32-year old receiver is likely looking for a last big payout while he's still putting up big numbers, so don't expect a hometown discount. Still, a three-year deal with an average annual value of $8 million could get this done.
RT Sebastian Vollmer
Vollmer played at an extremely high level in 2012-13. According to ProFootballFocus' grading metrics, Vollmer was a top-five RT at pass and screen-blocking and among the top 10 in run-blocking.
He's a monster. But he's also one with chronic back problems, and he's a season away from 30.
Vollmer will be looking to get paid like a LT, and teams in need may be willing to invest in him as such. The Pats already have a ton of money tied up in guard Logan Mankins, and they've got an emerging LT in second-year Nate Solder.
They've also demonstrated skill in identifying and developing talent along the line, regardless of pedigree. Thank coach Dante Scarnecchia for finding ways to protect Brady with whatever personnel he's given, be it Solder or Russ Hochstein.
Vollmer is a great player, but of the Pats' big three free agents, he's the worst investment.
Look for the Pats to target a more affordable lineman or two in the draft or free agency, and don't be surprised if we see a step forward from a player like Marcus Cannon next year.
CB Kyle Arrington
Surprise, surprise, Arrington actually yielded the lowest completion percentage of any Patriot in coverage during the second half of the season at just 43 percent.
Yes, he's oft-maligned, but Arrington is underrated by Pats fans. He's a solid corner in sub packages and did a good job in replacing Talib in the AFC Championship Game (seven targets, three catches for 49 yards).
He's also a valuable player on special teams as a key cog in the Pats coverage unit.
Arrington is versatile and durable, and though he'll never be a shutdown corner, he serves as the kind of depth every secondary needs.
He may be infuriating to watch at times, but Arrington should come cheap, and the Pats would do well to retain him.
S Patrick Chung
With the emergence of Jairus Byrd in Buffalo, it has become more and more apparent that the Pats took the wrong Oregon safety.
As the season progressed, it only became more clear that Patrick Chung will not be a New England Patriot next season.
The former second-round pick isn't built for coverage and is wildly injury-prone—how's that for a dynamic duo of tendencies? Though he's only 25, his play has diminished quite a bit over the past few years, and he gets regularly torched by bigger TEs.
Another team will pay Chung for his wood-laying tendencies (that's why Brandon Meriweather still has a job). He'll be looking for a starting role, and he most likely wasn't too happy about losing his gig to McCourty.
Chung was a nice piece for several years, but 2012-13 was a make-or-break season for him, and he broke. It's time for New England to move on.