Sign or Pass on New England Patriots' Remaining Free Agents

Oliver ThomasContributor IMarch 4, 2013

Sign or Pass on New England Patriots' Remaining Free Agents

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    There is a laundry list of New England Patriots set to hit free agency.

    But while some marquee free agents are due for lucrative pay days, others are merely trying to secure a job.

    Regardless of their differing circumstances, "Should I stay or should I go?" remains the No. 1 question for New England's 19 free agents.

    It's not all up to the players, however. A big part of the decision will be up to head coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio.

    Upper management will have some more cap room to work with following the team-friendly contract extension of quarterback Tom Brady. Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald explained the details:

    His salary cap hit under his previous deal would have been $21.8 million in 2013 and $21.8 million in 2014, but the reworked contract dropped the hit to $13.8 million in 2013 and $14.8 million in 2014.

    The Patriots have the financial mobility to retain some pieces. With that in mind, which Patriots will be back in Foxborough next season?

    Here is a look at who could be re-signed and who could be passed on once free agency officially begins March 12.

Will Allen, Cornerback, Unrestricted

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    Will Allen is not the player he once was. But he is a savvy veteran nonetheless.

    When he was signed last offseason, the 34-year-old provided the Patriots with another set of eyes in the young secondary.

    Unfortunately, Allen's 2012 campaign never really got started. After playing in just two preseason games, he was placed on injured reserve for the second time in three seasons, per Rotoworld.com.

    At this point, the former New York Giant and Miami Dolphin looks to be on the final legs of his NFL career. He does provide some versatility as a reserve cornerback and safety, although he's no longer an every-down defensive back.

    Allen's base salary was $925,000 in 2012, cites Spotrac.com. He definitely won't break the bank; however the Patriots can go elsewhere to find depth.

    Verdict: Pass

Kyle Arrington, Cornerback, Unrestricted

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    A cast-off of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles, Kyle Arrington has come a long way since being signed to New England's practice squad in 2009.

    Undrafted by way of Hofstra's now-defunct football program, Arrington has started 40 games for the Patriots since 2010. The 26-year-old hasn't missed a contest in that time, also totaling eight interceptions and 31 pass deflections.

    Arrington has gotten some flack for his coverage on the outside, but he found a niche defending the slot in 2012. He's an adept open-field tackler and can play bump-and-run as the secondary's nickelback.

    Although he failed to pick off a pass last season, Arrington did allow only 51 catches and 761 yards, according to DaveBreaksDownFilm.blogspot.com. With a completion rate of just over 57 percent, it's safe to say Arrington doesn't always get the credit he deserves.

    This offseason, he may finally be rewarded for his dues.

    Arrington's representatives were in Indianapolis for the NFL combine. It was there that they met with the Patriots to discuss a contract, reports Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald.

    Then on March 1, Arrington spoke to Howard David and Keith Bulluck on Sirius XM NFL Radio’s “Late Hits” program. As transcribed by ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss, Arrington said the following:

    I love my teammates, I enjoy being here and definitely want things to work out; there’s mutual interest on both sides as far as trying to get something done. [But] it’s a business,

    Free agency is undoubtedly a business, but there's reason to believe Arrington is a fit in New England's defense. He could be in Foxborough for the foreseeable future.

    Verdict: Sign

Josh Barrett, Safety, Unrestricted

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    In August of 2010, the Patriots claimed former Denver Bronco and Arizona State Sun Devil Josh Barrett off waivers.

    Barrett, a 6'2", 225-pounder with a 4.35 second 40-yard dash time, is what a prototypical center fielder should look like. Except there's one thing holding him back: an inability to stay on the field.

    The 28-year-old has been placed on injured reserve twice since 2010, playing in just five games with New England during that span.

    For that reason, the Patriots aren't exactly counting on the 2008 seventh-round pick.

    Verdict: Pass

Deion Branch, Wide Receiver, Unrestricted

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    Longtime Patriot wideout Deion Branch is no longer a threat beyond the first-down marker.

    He is, however, a reliable pass-catcher and teammate.

    Although the 33-year-old Louisville Cardinal has diminishing speed, he knows how to get open due to his sound fundamentals. In addition, his tremendous rapport with Tom Brady has kept him in New England's plans.

    He was released by the Patriots during the final cuts in 2012. Then after being re-signed, he was released again in November and spent a month out of football before joining up in December.

    Much like his trade from the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, Branch has never shied away from a return to Foxborough. Because if this, it wouldn't come as a shock to see the 5'9", 195-pound target reach an agreement with the Patriots this offseason.

    There's no guarantee he will make the Pats' final roster next season, but Branch has come to terms with his role in New England. He always seems to be just a phone call away when the Patriots get in a roster jam.

    Verdict: Sign

Patrick Chung, Safety, Unrestricted

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    Patrick Chung may be reaching the end of the road in New England.

    The Patriots' first selection in the 2009 draft has been inconsistent of late, and so has his playing time.

    Against the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Round, the Oregon Duck logged just one snap on defense, per FootballOutsiders.com.

    In that game, he was replaced by 2012 second-rounder Tavon Wilson as the "Money" defensive back. Chung had already lost his starting job to Steve Gregory before, so was this drop-off a sign of things to come?

    Shortly thereafter, I asked Greg A. Bedard of The Boston Globe via Twitter about Chung's future with the Patriots in light of Wilson's play. He responded with a forthright, "Chung's done here."

    Chung has battled injuries in the past, missing 14 games since 2010. His decreased workload when healthy serves as a strong indicator that he is on the outs with the Patriots.

    Verdict: Pass

Marquice Cole, Cornerback, Unrestricted

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    Marquice Cole carved out a niche as a dimeback and special teamer for the Patriots in 2012.

    He did so at a very reasonable price. According to Spotrac.com, the 29-year-old Northwestern alum earned a base salary of a mere $615,000 last season.

    Cole looked like he found a role for himself in New England, after making pit stops with the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans and most recently, the New York Jets.

    In 14 regular-season tilts, Cole notched one start, 17 tackles, three pass deflections and one interception for the Pats.

    Next year, New England will need a fourth or fifth cornerback with a prowess for special teams. Cole should get a chance to be that guy.

    Verdict: Sign

Julian Edelman, Wide Receiver, Unrestricted

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    As far as seventh-round draft picks go, Julian Edelman has been one worth remembering.

    The former Kent State quarterback beat the odds and made the Patriots' 53-man roster out of training camp in 2009. Since then, he has proven to be a viable returner, wide receiver and even part-time defensive back for New England.

    Over his four years in Foxborough, the 5'10", 200-pound utility player has taken three punts back for touchdowns, rushed the ball 12 times for 72 yards and caught 69 passes for 714 yards and four scores.

    Primarily a backup slot receiver during his NFL career, Edelman was enjoying his most productive season to date in 2012 before landing injured reserve in December with a broken foot. Playing in just nine contests, Edelman still nearly doubled his reception totals from the previous two seasons. At one point, he registered four total touchdowns over a two-game span.

    That said, durability issues have been a constant over Edelman's professional career. He has never played 16 games in a season. And following his recent stint on IR, Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com opines that Edelman—an unrestricted free agent—is unlikely to garner a long-term offer this offseason:

    It might be a situation where his best option is a one-year deal in which he can return to health, ideally put up big numbers, then hit the open market after the 2013 season.

    The Patriots are in need of wide receivers, and Edelman has shown he can make a difference when healthy.

    According to Spotrac.com, Edelman's base salary was just $615,000 last season. He's a versatile option who won't break the bank.

    Verdict: Sign

Michael Hoomanawanui, Tight End, Restricted

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    Unsung heroes are often forgotten. That's not the case when your last name is "Hoomanawanui."

    When Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski missed time last season, it was Michael Hoomanawanui who picked up the slack. When the Patriots needed a fullback in short yardage situations, it was Hoomanawanui who was called upon. When the passing game needed a safety valve, it was Hoomanwanui who slipped open.

    The ex-St. Louis Ram finished 2012 with just five catches for 109 yards, but he was pivotal in doing the dirty work. And according to Peter May of The New York Times, that's something the 24-year-old relishes:

    “Whatever they need me to do to be successful, that’s why I’m here,” Hoomanawanui said. “I’m excited. I definitely didn’t have anything like this in my last two years. From Day 1, it’s been very easy to buy into what they do because they’ve been so successful over the years. It’s not an overnight thing.

    The Patriots greatly benefited from having the 6'4", 263-pounder on the field last year. Will he serve a similar role next year?

    The Illinois product is a restricted free agent, and a very affordable one at that. Per Spotrac.com, Hoomanawanui earned a base salary of $540,000 in 2012.

    That number should grow in contract talks this offseason. Still, Hoomanawanui is a hard worker who's worth holding onto.

    Verdict: Sign

Niko Koutouvides, Linebacker, Unrestricted

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    Niko Koutouvides may be listed as a linebacker, but he makes his living as a special teamer.

    The nine-year pro has been a core contributor on New England's special teams units since 2011. He's not flashy and he doesn't need to be.

    At 31 years old, the former Purdue Boilermaker isn't exactly a prized free agent. That said, he's an unheralded player used to earning his spot. He has been released by New England before, but is deserving of a chance to crack the 53-man roster once again in 2013.

    Koutouvides earned a base salary of $825,000 last season, cites Spotrac.com. He shouldn't cost much more than that to re-sign this offseason.

    Verdict: Sign


Derrick Martin, Cornerback, Unrestricted

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    Derrick Martin signed on with the Patriots in late October when fellow defensive back Sterling Moore was waived.

    A two-time Super Bowl winner as a member of the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants, Martin has been a reserve throughout his NFL career.

    Last season with the Patriots, the Wyoming product played in five games and made five total tackles. The 27-year-old surprised when given the opportunity, yet was mainly utilized on special teams.

    The cornerback/safety earned a base salary of $700,000 in 2012, according to Spotrac.com. Now an unrestricted free agent, Martin should get a chance to compete for a roster spot in training camp.

    That is, if New England re-signs him.

    Verdict: Sign

Jamey Richard, Center/Guard, Unrestricted

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    Jamey Richard signed with the Patriots last spring, but was placed on injured reserve during training camp.

    The 6'5", 295-pound Buffalo alum spent time at guard and center while playing for the Indianapolis Colts from 2008 to 2011. The 28-year-old has started 11 contests in his NFL career and participated in a total of 48 games.

    Bill Belichick and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia like guards who can play center. However, Richard does have a history of concussions and that's what kept him out for the 2012 season, cites Rotoworld.com.

    Verdict: Pass

Trevor Scott, Defensive End, Unrestricted

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    The Patriots signed former Oakland Raiders pass-rusher Trevor Scott last offseason to solidify the defensive line depth.

    Scott did the job, recording 14 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble in 14 games. The 28-year-old registered more sacks than he had in 2010 and 2011 combined.

    The 6'5", 250-pound college tight end is a high-motor guy who can spell Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones. But at first glance, it seems as though Scott would have a larger role than he actually did in 2012.

    According to Spotrac.com, Scott earned a base salary of $900,000 last year. That doesn't look too costly, except when compared to a man just as productive in Justin Francis, who earned a base of $390,000 last season.

    The Patriots have a lot of youth at end and may want to continue that trend through this year's draft. The development of both Jones and Francis makes Scott more of a luxury than a necessity.

    Verdict: Pass

Donte' Stallworth, Wide Receiver, Unrestricted

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    After stints with three other organizations, Donte' Stallworth returned to New England in 2012.

    The 32-year-old wide receiver was released in August, but re-signed with the Patriots in December. He played in one game versus the Houston Texans and caught one pass for 63 yards and a touchdown.

    Stallworth suffered an ankle injury during that Week 14 matchup and was placed on injured reserve.

    Now an unrestricted free agent, Stallworth is looking for an opportunity. He's no longer the blazer he once was and his production has faltered as well. Since 2008, Stallworth has caught just 42 passes.

    Much like Deion Branch, Stallworth is a depth receiver who can help out when called upon. Ironically, when Stallworth was moved to IR, Branch took his roster spot. 

    If Stallworth was unable to make the roster out of training camp this past summer, he is unlikely to make the roster next summer. While there's no harm in re-signing a low-cost veteran, it may only clog up a receiving group which needs to be retooled with younger talent.

    Stallworth is a nice receiver, but it's time to find a long-term deep threat.

    Verdict: Pass

Aqib Talib, Cornerback, Unrestricted

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    The NFL trade deadline saw the Patriots unload a fourth-rounder to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a seventh-rounder and cornerback Aqib Talib.

    Now, the 20th overall pick in the 2008 draft is about to become an unrestricted free agent. Should he be retained?

    Including the postseason, the 27-year-old press-man corner played in eight total games with New England. In that time, he recorded 29 combined tackles, three pass deflections and one interception returned 59 yards for a touchdown. 

    Talib gave New England an option for defending top-tier wide receivers. He also made the move of Devin McCourty to free safety and Kyle Arrington to nickelback an easy one.

    Yes, Talib's physical presence made a difference in the secondary. But is he irreplaceable? No.

    According to ProFootballFocus.com (via Nick Underhill of Masslive.com), Talib allowed the second most yards per coverage snap of any cornerback in the NFL in 2012. Granted, Talib was often facing the opposing team's best wideout, but he wasn't a lockdown defender by any means.

    It's not all about his effectiveness in coverage, though. Talib may be a contractual risk.

    Between thigh and hip injuries, Talib was on the sidelines for a fair amount of action last season. His struggles to stay healthy appeared again in the AFC Championship Game versus the Baltimore Ravens. He was sorely missed.

    On top of the injuries, Talib's effort has become a potential point of contingency. In a CSNNE.com report, a source told Mike Giardi that Talib "passed on the chance to do extra work at times this year and there are questions as to how he'd handle a long-term deal."

    The Patriots have swung and missed on some cornerback draft choices in the past, yet this year's class looks to be particularly deep with talent. An affordable high-caliber replacement could be in the mix if Talib's price outweighs New England's demand.

    Verdict: Pass

Donald Thomas, Guard, Unrestricted

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    Donald Thomas is one of the Patriots' most intriguing free agents.

    The backup offensive guard played a bigger role than expected in 2012 because of the injuries suffered by starters Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly. Thomas performed admirably in their place. The 27-year-old UConn Husky played in all 16 games, starting seven of them.

    Thomas has the potential to be a dependable starting guard somewhere in the NFL, but it may not be in New England.

    ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss explained the predicament:

    Thomas has shown he’s capable of being a starter, but that opportunity might not be available in New England. So it opens up a scenario where another team could target him for a top spot on the depth chart while upping the bidding to an area the Patriots wouldn’t feel comfortable going given his role. 

    If this turns into a high-stakes bidding war, the Patriots will be hard pressed to hold onto the five-year journeyman. But that doesn't mean the team's brass shouldn't make a run at Thomas.

    If re-signed, he could possibly challenge someone like Connolly for a starting gig in 2013.

    The key words there are "if re-signed."

    Verdict: Sign

Sebastian Vollmer, Right Tackle, Unrestricted

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    In 2012, Sebastian Vollmer performed like the stalwart right tackle the Patriots hoped he would become.

    But now, it's 2013 and the 28-year-old German native is about to become an unrestricted free agent.

    Does New England keep him around?

    Vollmer has been hit with injuries more than once, and that's a concern for a team in search of the safest investment on the market.

    He has dealt with back ailments and also had his knee scoped this February, putting his durability under the microscope. In total, Vollmer has missed 13 games since being selected in the second round of the 2009 draft.

    But when healthy, the Houston product is an anchor on the right side of Tom Brady. He looked like a premier tackle this past season. Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller made note, ranking him has the No. 2 right tackle in the NFL.

    Vollmer's 6'8", 315-pound frame makes him a tough body to replace. He is extremely athletic for his size and is capable of playing both tackle spots. Those assets make him a necessary cog on New England's offensive line.

    Per Spotrac.com, Vollmer earned a base salary of $650,000 in 2012. It will take far more than that to secure the four-year pro for future.

    Consequently, the Patriots spoke with a slew of right tackle prospects at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. Yet with only five draft picks, not having to spend a one on a tackle would be ideal.

    Holding onto "Sea Bass" is a risk worth the reward.

    Verdict: Sign

Wes Welker, Wide Receiver, Unrestricted

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    Over six seasons with the Patriots, Wes Welker has posted the following stat line: 672 receptions, 7,459 receiving yards and 37 touchdowns.

    The 5'9", 185-pound slot receiver is New England's all-time leader in catches and has been voted to five consecutive Pro Bowls.

    Not bad for a guy who was waived by the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted rookie in 2004.

    Yet once again, Welker's future is up in the air. The 31-year-old Welker wants long-term security and the Patriots want a cap-friendly deal.

    It's too soon to rule out an extention, reports NFL.com's Ian Rapoport:

    The Patriots won't apply the franchise tag to him, we know that. And yet ... Albert Breer and I have both heard that we can't rule out a long-term extension being reached before Welker hits free agency. The door is still open for him to get his money and retire a Patriot.

    Jeff Howe of The Boston Herald added to the Welker news feed:

    Receiver Wes Welker and the Patriots are discussing a contract, but nothing appears imminent, according to sources.

    The Patriots could draft a receiver or two come April, all while keeping Welker in the fold. New England's wide receiving corps needs more than just Welker. Yet that doesn't make Welker any less valuable.

    Verdict: Sign

Tracy White, Linebacker, Unrestricted

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    Howard University's Tracy White fought his way into the NFL as a gritty special teams player.

    Heading into his 12th professional season, he's still doing precisely that.

    A linebacker by trade, White has been with the Patriots since 2010. He's started only two contests in that time, but he has managed 65 tackles primarily as a special teams standout.

    The 31-year-old White was re-signed around this time last March and should be offered another contract this March. He comes at an affordable price and is a key part of New England's special teams nucleus.

    Verdict: Sign

Danny Woodhead, Running Back, Unrestricted

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    When the New York Jets parted ways with Chadron State's Danny Woodhead in September of 2010, Coach Belichick and Co. made their division rivals pay for it.

    In his three years since, the 5'8", 200-pound tailback has amassed 1,199 rushing yards, 982 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns.

    In 2012, Woodhead became the first New England rusher since Kevin Faulk in 2008 to carry the ball 40 times and catch the ball 40 times in a season, cites Michael Whitmer of The Boston Globe.

    Woodhead has the ability to keep defenses honest due to shiftiness on draw and screen plays. He's a change of pace option. The 28-year-old is not going to wear defenses down by running the ball 20-plus times a game.

    Will the Patriots re-up his services despite the full backfield of Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and perhaps even Jeff Demps?

    Like all other offseason decisions, it comes down to dollar signs. ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss explains:

    Patriots should want him back, but it comes down to the key question with any free agent, “at what cost?” With Shane Vereen and Jeff Demps already on the roster – and with similar but not exactly the same skill set at Woodhead – it could affect how far the Patriots are willing to go to keep Woodhead.

    Making an effort to re-sign Woodhead is the right move. But actually re-signing him is another move altogether. According to Spotrac.com, Woodhead earned a base salary of just $700,000 in 2012.

    That number should be on the rise.

    Verdict: Sign