Ed Reed is sure to grab the headlines wherever he signs, but who else might help New England with less fanfare?
As superstar players potentially on the move, they deserve all the attention and money they can get. That does not mean, however, that there aren’t other lower-profile players capable of having major impacts for the New England Patriots in 2013.
According to ESPN’s John Clayton, New England has roughly $18.6 million of salary cap space heading into next season.
With most of its core players already under contract, that leaves the team in excellent position to pursue a host of quality options, even if they forego the big names in favor of more cap-friendly contracts as Bill Belichick has been wont to do.
Here are five such players who would make substantial contributions to an improved Patriots squad in the 2013 season.
This depends entirely on whether or not the team re-signs Wes Welker. The Patriots won’t franchise him for a second time as his salary would climb from $9.5 million in 2012 to nearly $11.5 million next season.
If they can agree on a team-friendly contract, then New England will welcome back the "Slot Machine."
If not, they may be able to land a capable replacement for significantly less money. Amendola has been an integral cog in the Rams offense, so I imagine they have every intention of re-signing him.
However, based on the success Welker has had in New England with Tom Brady, one must wonder if Amendola might not leave St. Louis for greener pastures.
Replacing Welker would be nearly impossible, but if anyone could do it, Amendola would be the guy. He filled Welker’s role in Josh McDaniels’ offensive scheme while the two were together in St. Louis and performed admirably given the middling state of the Rams offense.
He took his game to another level in 2012 as the unquestioned go-to guy for Sam Bradford. If you toss out the game in which Amendola caught one pass then left due to injury, he averaged 6.2 receptions per game.
His numbers over a full season would amount to 99 receptions for 995 yards. Those aren’t exactly Welker stats, but Sam Bradford isn’t exactly Tom Brady either.
Amendola does come with some risk as he’s battled injuries the past two seasons, playing in only 12 of a possible 32 games, but at age 27, he appears to be on the verge of erupting into a legitimate weapon for a team willing to roll the dice.
Considering he could cost roughly half of what Welker will command on the open market, Amendola is certainly an option the Patriots will consider.
Patriots fans are already familiar with Byrd as the hard-hitting safety who led the NFL with nine interceptions as a rookie.
Of course that was way back in 2009, and while Byrd hasn’t quite met expectations in the three seasons since, he’s still an upper echelon playmaker at a position the Patriots sorely need.
This of course is assuming New England doesn’t win the bidding war for Ed Reed’s services this offseason.
Byrd is obviously not of the same ilk as the future Hall of Famer, but as a 26-year-old who recorded five interceptions, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 76 total tackles in 2012, he might be the next best thing available this offseason.
Just now entering his prime, Byrd has proven incredibly durable since the Bills drafted him in the second round four years ago, playing in 62 of a possible 64 games during that time.
Buffalo would love to lock up one of its best defensive players long term, so this may be a moot point by the time the Patriots are ready to make a move.
Additionally, if negotiations fail, the Bills could elect to franchise Byrd at a fairly reasonable $6.8 million price tag for one year. With the franchise tag in their back pocket, it’s unlikely Buffalo allows Byrd to actually hit the open market, but if he does, he’ll have no shortage of suitors, including the Patriots.
In each of their last two playoff losses, the Patriots have learned the hard way that without a healthy Rob Gronkowski, their receiving corps doesn’t have the size and strength to create matchup problems downfield.
Wes Welker does a fantastic job underneath and across the middle, but he presents a small target for Brady, and for all we know Welker may not be with the team in 2013.
Brandon Lloyd has nice hands but again can be overmatched by bigger, more physical defensive backs. Even Aaron Hernandez is more of a tight end in a wide receiver’s body, standing at 6’1”.
Ramses Barden would give Brady his biggest target aside from Gronkowski. Standing at 6’6”, the former third-round pick is definitely a work in progress, having caught just 29 passes and zero touchdowns in his career.
However, he has shown glimpses of what made him so attractive coming into the league, most notably a nine-catch, 138-yard performance versus the Panthers in Week 3.
For the most part, Barden spent his time in New York buried behind Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham on the depth chart.
Before that he sat behind Steve Smith. All of those players were very productive for New York, so I don’t necessarily take that as an indictment of Barden. It just seems he could benefit from a change of scenery.
Are you telling me that Brady wouldn’t love looking to the outside and seeing a 6’6” giant (no pun intended) dwarf whoever happens to be covering him, even in just a limited role of say 15-18 snaps a game?
Not to mention a receiver that big would open things up in the red zone, especially if Gronk develops a propensity for injuries.
Barden will likely command somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million annually as a low-risk, high-reward signing. If I were the Patriots, I’d be knocking down his agent’s door to make sure he’s commanding it in New England.
The Patriots need more from their power running game. Stevan Ridley is a nice all-purpose back. Danny Woodhead—a free agent himself—and Shane Vereen do a nice job in the passing game/third-down role. None of those players are exactly punishing runners.
Hillis is a bruising downhill runner with surprising athleticism and underrated pass-catching skills. (He totaled 61 receptions in 2010.)
He would certainly be the team’s best short-yardage option, and with his receiving talent out of the backfield, he could spell Ridley and Co. on virtually any down and distance.
Hillis has seen his numbers decline in each of the past two seasons, but he was embroiled in a bizarre dispute with Browns’ management in 2011 before serving as the backup to Jamal Charles in 2012.
If he can even approach the level of play he displayed with Cleveland in 2010, he would add a physical dimension to the running game New England hasn’t had since Corey Dillon.
The beauty with Hillis is that, unlike Dillon, he wouldn’t be the team's feature back, so even if he’s not the same player who rumbled for over 1,600 total yards and 13 touchdowns three years ago, he could still be effective as a complementary player.
Considering the miserable season he just had in Kansas City, he may command even less than the $2.8 million he earned in 2012.
After biding his time on hapless teams like the Browns and Chiefs the past three years, one has to imagine Hillis would relish the chance to play for a contender like New England.
If so, he might be open to a one-year deal on short money to try to win a title and rebuild his value for this time next season.
I know Seymour isn’t exactly low profile, but he certainly isn’t the household name he was when he first left New England via trade. He can play inside or outside on the defensive line and would bring some much needed attitude back to the front seven.
I would love to see the Patriots bring him back as long as the price was reasonable. He won’t be cheap by any means, but he also won’t command nearly what he made during his prime.
I’d like to think leaving Oakland would give Seymour a new lease on his football life and that Belichick could coax a few more productive years out of the former All-Pro.
In a similar vein, if the Patriots deem Seymour too expensive or simply aren’t interested, I’d like to see them take a chance on the Chiefs’ Glenn Dorsey.
Like Seymour, the former fifth overall pick can play inside or outside on the defensive line. Also like Seymour, I think joining a winning culture would reinvigorate him as a football player.
Dorsey has been a massive disappointment since joining the Chiefs, establishing himself as a starter but never developing into the dominant force they had hoped. After ending the 2012 season on injured reserve due to a calf injury, it’s unlikely the Chiefs will bring him back.
Given his underwhelming production to date, his price tag should be very reasonable. Playing alongside Vince Wilfork and under Bill Belichick’s tutelage might be just what Dorsey needs to reach his vast potential, and I think it’s a gamble worth taking for potentially massive rewards.