When I sat down to discuss the “buzz” surrounding the New England Patriots and who their free-agent targets might be, I asked myself two questions.
The first was, “Has there ever been a better rumor-related term than ‘buzz’?”
“Buzz”, in all its onomatopoetic beauty, sets all my fibres atingle with visions of what may be in store. No matter how far-fetched or nonsensical a scenario appears to every ounce of logic in my being, all it takes is a bit of buzz and suddenly Peyton Manning seems very willing to back up Tom Brady for pennies on the dollar.
Don’t worry Broncos’ fans, that was fictional hyperbole. Manning isn’t going anywhere.
The second was, “What buzz?”
These are the Patriots we’re talking about. The organization volunteers information about as freely as President Obama does his birth certificate.
That leaves the buzzing up to industry insiders, sources, and—to a far lesser extent—writers such as myself.
That doesn’t mean the media can’t find solid information; it just means they need to work harder for it. With diligent research and an educated insight into team needs, interested parties can plug in to the team’s thought process and start generating the buzz on their own.
After all, it’s not like Bill Belichick would ever come out and tell anyone he likes a player. Unless of course that player happens to be Ed Reed, which, shockingly enough, brings us to the first buzz-worthy player of the Patriots’ offseason.
The Case For
Reed is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. He is one of the few players Belichick praises effusively and actually seems to mean it.
Reed would bring the kind of ball-hawking, playmaking ability to the safety position the patriots haven’t had since—well—ever.
His 61 career interceptions rank 10th all time. With another year or two of solid play he could easily leapfrog Rod Woodson (71) for third place on that list.
The nine-time Pro-Bowler and five-time first team All Pro’s mere presence alters the way opposing teams attack the defense and entering his age-35 season, he’s no spring chicken, but he brings a treasure trove of invaluable experience and veteran leadership to a secondary that seemed lost during much of 2012.
Reed himself was quoted as saying he’d love to play for or coach under Belichick and given New England’s need in the secondary, it seems like an excellent fit.
The respect and admiration go both ways. Belichick has even gone so far as to tell Reed, to his face, that he’s the best to ever play his position.
The Case Against
For starters, Reed will be 35 years old in September.
After averaging 6.4 interceptions from 2006-2010, Reed has totaled just seven since then. It’s no insult to suggest the living legend has already played his best football.
That’s the key.
Belichick loves Reed, but when has the coach who made the hoodie famous ever fallen prey to sentiment?
Never. He’s as cold and calculated as they come. Reed isn’t exactly waxing poetic about wearing a Patriot uniform either, clarifying previous statements and insisting his preference is to stay in Baltimore.
Is Reed still a highly effective and respected player throughout the NFL?
Is he still at the pinnacle of his craft?
Now, a 35-year-old Reed is still better than 85 percent of safeties currently in the NFL, but based on his name alone, he stands to command top dollar.
Considering Belichick has been historically reluctant to pay top dollar for any free agents, preferring instead to groom his own in-house players, it seems unlikely he’ll change his tune just to land a player whose name will likely outweigh his production.
Signing Reed would provide an immediate boost to a secondary that needs it. It would also be financially restrictive.
Reed may very well prefer to remain a Raven, but given the team’s current salary cap crunch and impending Joe Flacco mega-deal, it seems unlikely they can afford him. Assuming he hits the open market, one has to imagine he will sign for at least $7 million or $8 million per season.
If Reed really does want to play for Belichick and is willing to accept a two-year contract worth, say, $11 million, I think the Patriots will pull the trigger. If not, I think they’ll pass and let him take the highest offer.
Perhaps the most pivotal free agent the Patriots will pursue is their own record-setting wide receiver.
The Case For
Owner Robert Kraft has publicly stated the two sides would like to get a deal done so if money weren’t an issue, it sounds like Welker would be a Patriot for life.
Welker has been Tom Brady’s
most only reliable target since joining the team in 2007, leading the NFL in receptions as many times—three—as he’s failed to suit up for a game.
Randy Moss enjoyed a career resurgence then ran himself out of town. Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in the NFL right now, but can’t seem to stay on the field. Ditto for Aaron Hernandez and Julian Edelman.
Brady’s only refuge in a sea of turmoil has been Welker. Claiming the Patriots would like to re-sign him would be like claiming the sun will rise in the east tomorrow.
For his part, Welker has thrived in the Patriots’ wide-open system and playing with the super-accurate Brady. The two are a match made in heaven as Brady has used Welker as his safety blanket en route to 45 total interceptions during their five seasons together.
That means that since New England found Welker, Brady has averaged nine interceptions per season, which is fewer than Peyton Manning has ever thrown in a single season, with the exception of 2006, when he matched that number with nine.
Before Welker’s arrival, Brady averaged 13 interceptions during six seasons.
Yes, Brady’s best seasons—at least statistically—have all come since 2007, but he didn’t wake up one day and become a more accurate passer. Having a reliable weapon like Welker to bail him out has done wonders for his efficiency.
If the two sides are in fact mutually interested in working out a deal, the Patriots would be foolish not to explore it to the fullest extent.
The Case Against
For all the wonderful things Welker does on the football field, he isn’t the kind of player opposing defenses game-plan for. He lacks elite downfield speed and stands at only 5’9” tall.
Considering he leads the NFL in receptions since 2007, Welker stands to make himself a handsome paycheck this offseason. With the exceptions of Brady and eventually Logan Mankins, the team has shown a major reluctance to pay top dollar for their players.
Yes, Kraft says the two sides both want to get a deal done, but he also added the caveat, “then we have to manage the lawyers and the agents that they don’t mess it up.”
Translation: The Patriots want Welker, but only at less than market value.
Any player who catches as many passes as he does is bound to drop a few as well, but Welker’s drops always seem to come at the most inopportune moment.
There was, of course, his infamous fourth-quarter drop in last year’s Super Bowl, which inspired the online pawn shop Pawngo to drop thousands of Butterfinger candy bars in Boston’s Copley Square.
I don’t think they’ll be getting much business from the New England demographic any time soon.
There was also his critical drop in this year’s AFC Championship game. In this case, it was an easy catch by Welker’s standards, and instead he dropped what would have been a first down and likely a field goal at the very least.
The game was still very much in the balance at that point and many fans still point to his drop as the pivotal moment.
Further reinforcing Welker’s expendability are other players, like New England’s own Julian Edelman, who show the skills to fill Welker’s role very admirably.
If Edelman can do Welker’s job for a fraction of the price, why bother paying Welker?
Given his small stature and the vicious hits wide receivers absorb crossing the middle of the field, Welker’s consistency cannot be overstated. He’s played in more games over the past six seasons than any other player on the offense, including Brady.
Because he doesn’t fit the prototype of a No. 1 NFL wide receiver, gauging his value is difficult. Last season the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement and the Patriots used the franchise tag to keep Welker. This season, franchising him would cost the team $11.4 million.
With roughly $18.5 million in cap space, that seems highly unlikely.
Eventually I think the two sides will realize how valuable they are to each other and cooler heads will prevail. He may not be Calvin Johnson, but Welker deserves a long-term contract, and I think he realizes playing alongside Tom Brady represents his best chance for continued success.
With Amendola, I’m operating under the assumption that I’m wrong about Welker re-signing.
After all, I was wrong about the Mayan apocalypse, eating that one extra slice of pizza and a good many girls passing me flirty looks at the other end of the bar, so why not Welker?
The Case For
Amendola has been dubbed the poor man’s Welker by ESPN’s Adam Schefter. If that doesn’t scream “great fit!” I don’t know what does.
Maybe a new pair of Levi's. But that’s it.
Amendola’s production doesn’t even rival Welker’s, but then again, almost nobody’s does. As I noted in an earlier piece, Amendola’s per-game numbers from 2012 extrapolate to 99 receptions for 995 yards over a full season.
Both players came out of Texas Tech as undrafted free agents. Both players began their careers on special teams as punt returners.
Now both players make their bread and butter using their quickness and elusiveness to present their quarterbacks with open targets near the line of scrimmage and churn out yards after the catch.
One thing they don’t share as of yet is otherworldly production and a high price tag.
Yes, Amendola stands to make significant money as a free agent, but nowhere near what Welker may command.
For that reason, and because of what he could accomplish with Brady as his quarterback, Amendola may very well have Patriots fans asking “Wes who?”
The Case Against
There’s a reason I had to extrapolate Amendola’s numbers over a full season, because he’s never started 16 games in a season and only played in all 16 games once.
Welker is the model of consistency and Amendola is the model of being injury-prone.
Amendola isn’t quite as fast or as quick as Welker either, but that’s nitpicking. Both players lack downfield speed but possess exceptional quickness in and out of cuts.
For all intents and purposes, the Patriots could sneak Amendola into Welker’s uniform and most fans wouldn’t notice a difference on game day.
Until he got hit.
Welker always seems to bounce back up. Amendola doesn’t.
During the past two seasons, Amendola has spent more games on the bench than on the field. Of a possible 32 games, he’s only been able to play in 12, while only starting in nine.
He figures to be cheaper than Welker, but he still stands to cost a good chunk of change and the Patriots might not deem the risk worth their time.
If he could stay on the field, Amendola would be a no-brainer as Welker’s replacement, but as things stand right now, he isn’t reliable enough to be trusted with a long-term contract.
I love Amendola. I owned him in numerous fantasy leagues. I voted for him in the Pro Bowl fan voting. If anyone could replace Welker, it’s him.
At least it would be whenever he was on the field.
Oddly enough, I could say the exact same thing about Julian Edelman.
Just as Amendola presents a cheaper, albeit less reliable, alternative to Welker, Edelman offers the same alternative to Amendola. Except in Edelman’s case, he and Amendola represent roughly equal injury risks.
Amendola may only cost half of what Welker will command, but Edelman may not command more than the league minimum.
As much as I love Amendola and hope to see him in Foxboro barring Welker’s return, I can’t see the team spending that money with a much more affordable in-house option available.
The Case For
Talib is arguably the most talented cornerback on the free-agent market this year.
What’s more, he had an indisputable impact on the Patriots’ secondary when he arrived midseason. The team allowed roughly 260 yards per game after trading for Talib vs. roughly 280 ypg without him.
He has enough talent to rank among the league’s best cornerbacks and perhaps more importantly, his arrival allowed the Patriots to shift Devin McCourty to safety, which seemed to be a natural fit.
In short, signing Talib doesn’t just fill one hole; it fills two.
Once he left the AFC Championship game, it was open season and the Ravens were the hunters. They repeatedly targeted Kyle Arrington and Marquice Cole and both proved woefully incapable when asked to step up.
For his career, Talib averages six interceptions per 16 games started and he’s returned four of those for touchdowns. Those are numbers any defensive back not named Ed Reed would be proud of.
He’ll be playing a major role in somebody’s defense next season. The only question is whether it will be New England’s.
The Case Against
For all his talent, Talib has endured a litany of off-field problems. Check out this Tampa Bay Times post for a full rundown.
So yeah, he’s something of a problem child. If a player can’t control himself in practice or in his personal life, eventually he will likely lose control during a game and cost his team dearly. Is that the type of player the Patriots want?
I don’t think so.
Perhaps more importantly, suspensions aren’t the only thing keeping Talib off the playing field.
He has only played in 60 out of a possible 80 games. Five of those were due to suspensions.
That means during a five-year career Talib has missed an average of three games per season due to injury, plus another on top of that due to conduct issues.
The Patriots cannot afford to enter next offseason without upgrading at corner, but they can afford even less to have their top defensive back unavailable when they need him most.
According to sources, the Patriots are willing to sign Talib, but not long term. They seem to have concerns about his work ethic and would prefer to sign him to a one-year deal so he can prove himself.
It makes sense. A one-year contract minimizes the team’s risk and at the same time maximizes Talib’s potential to rehabilitate his image and potentially break the bank next offseason.
If Talib is amenable to such a deal, I think the Patriots would love to have a player of his caliber. If not, it looks like happy trails.
As much money as he could command right now, that number would increase significantly if he plays well on a short contract and hits the market again next year.
The Case For
Boldin may very well be the single toughest S.O.B. currently playing wide receiver in the NFL. New England sorely needs a player like him who isn’t intimidated and gives as good as he gets.
Factor in his amazing postseason, which culminated in a Super Bowl win, and you could argue the team should pursue him over any other offensive player, including Welker.
Of course, Boldin isn’t actually a free agent.
The Ravens are expected to at least consider cutting him to make room for Flacco’s impending contract.
If that’s the case, New England should be knocking down his door to lure him to Gillette Stadium.
He isn’t as flashy as a player like Mike Wallace, or as productive as Welker, but his unique brand of toughness, overall consistency and clutch production would be welcome additions to any contending team.
Ironically enough, ProFootballReference.com lists his best career comparison as former teammate, Larry Fitzgerald. Every team would love to have Fitzgerald, and any player that compares to him deserves serious interest if and when they become available.
The Case Against
In Boldin’s case, it’s very simple. He isn’t a free agent yet.
More importantly, if the Ravens do cut him, he says he’ll retire rather than sign with another team.
In spite of his retirement claims, I think Boldin will have a hard time leaving the NFL behind at age 32.
If he is released, which is only speculation at this point, I imagine he would be looking for one final contract to end his playing career. What better way to go out than on a Super Bowl contender that appreciates what he brings to the table?
If he is indeed released, and in fact does not retire…
Oakland’s defensive lineman is generating some of that oh-so-tasty buzz locally and it isn’t hard to see why. PatsPulpit ran a great piece profiling the 27-year-old and given his Harvard education and versatility, he seems like the ideal Belichick player.
The Case For
As I just mentioned, he’s a Harvard boy, and Belichick loves smart players.
Not only is Bryant smart, but he can play all over the defensive line, which he proved when he filled in for an injured Richard Seymour. He does, in fact, profile as a poor man’s Seymour, and we all know how successful the former Patriot was in his hybrid DE/DT role.
In fact, Bryant compiled more tackles and more sacks than Seymour in 2012, even though both players started eight games apiece.
Considering he’s only started 18 games during his four-year career, Bryant should come at a reasonable price and could be a superb addition to a defensive line that has loads of expiring contracts next season.
The Case Against
His lack of an established track record could be held against him, but if anything, it will only keep his price low.
I see a whole lot of positives and almost no downside with Bryant. Provided the Patriots are in fact interested, it looks like a great fit.