With Wes Welker looking to test the free agency market, and with their franchise tag unused, the New England Patriots have been inactive early this offseason outside of giving Tom Brady an extension that opened up even more cap space for them.
With a number of their own free agents set to hit the open market, along with a frightening lack of depth at both wide receiver and cornerback, many thought the Patriots would try to take care of their in-house players early to prevent their needs from getting even bigger.
But the Patriots have been rumored all along to be waiting to take advantage of what many term a "buyer's market" this year in free agency, and doing so could net them even more talent at reduced costs.
The Patriots currently sit with the 9th most free cap space in the league, the third highest for a playoff team next to the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals. Most of the NFL's competitive teams are in bad cap situations.
With five teams still over the cap, and an additional 12 with under $10 million in cap space, that leaves less than half the NFL that will have any money to make any kind of splash in the free agent market. Many teams will have to reduce or even cut some best players, as we saw Wednesday with the Chiefs and Eric Winston.
Broncos like pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, but not at $12M/year. They are seeking a lower deal, and situation could end up with his release...— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) March 6, 2013
While teams like the Dolphins have been making early moves to lock up some internal pieces, the Patriots have been content to wait and see what could fall into their lap, because the surprise releases should keep coming.
A week from now the free agency market will look a lot different than it does now, and those flush with cap space will be able to get some great bargains.
The Patriots themselves are doing the same thing with Brandon Lloyd, who's due a $3 million bonus on March 17th. There's no reason for the Patriots to make a decision on him just yet. They can allow the receiver market to fully develop, then see if there's comparable talent available at a better value.
But it's possible that Lloyd will soon be available, just like plenty of other starting-quality players.
Of course this assumes a risk that Wes Welker, Sebastian Vollmer, Aqib Talib and the other internal free agents could get better offers on the market and walk. But likely it would be to a lesser team, and one that couldn't offer what New England could in terms of coaching, talent and competitiveness.
The Patriots will always have that trump card for those interested in being in the hunt for the Super Bowl.
Ultimately, the Patriots' patience should pay off, with the open market giving them even more leverage once Welker and the rest find a bigger paycheck in Cleveland, which isn't as desirable as staying put for a little less.
It's impossible to predict which other quality players could suddenly find themselves as free agents, but the Patriots have plenty of money to spend and needs to fill. It should make for an exciting couple weeks.
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