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Ranking Patriots' Best Remaining Free-Agent Options

Mike DussaultSenior Analyst IMarch 19, 2013

Ranking Patriots' Best Remaining Free-Agent Options

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    The Patriots have already made significant moves early in free agency that signal some major changes for their offense, while keeping a level of continuity for their defense. They might've been quiet in the opening days of free agency, but teams with as much cap space as New England won't stay on the sidelines for long.

    While they've solidified their secondary by bringing back Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington and adding safety Adrian Wilson, the receiver position is in for a complete overhaul with the departure of Wes Welker to Denver and the release of Brandon Lloyd.

    Though Danny Amendola and Donald Jones have been brought in, and the Pats are mulling an offer to restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders, there are still moves to be made and holes to be filled at wide receiver and other positions.

    Traditionally, New England likes to have all their needs filled by the time they get to the draft so they can truly take the best player available on their board without having to reach to fill a need.

    Here's where we stand one week into free agency, and here's some available players who could still be brought in to round out the roster.

E.J. Biggers

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    Biggers was a seventh-round pick by the Buccaneers in 2009. He is coming off his best-rated season according to ProFootbalFocus.com (3.8 overall, 6.2 pass coverage).

    He might not be the sexiest name still left on the market like Brent Grimes is, but Biggers is a solid corner with experience playing both sides and special teams.

    The Patriots still have a big question mark surrounding Alfonzo Dennard's availability this season with his pending sentencing on April 11th. They'll need to add at least one more veteran cornerback to round out their depth prior to the draft. Ideally, an addition in the slot makes the most sense to pair with Arrington, though an outside corner as insurance for Dennard to compete with Ras-I Dowling is needed as well.

    No one seems to get more banged up than cornerbacks, and you can never have enough talented ones. Expect multiple corners to be added via free agency and the draft, with Biggers one of the leading candidates to join his former teammate Aqib Talib.

Domenik Hixon

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    The Patriots must continue their "throw-it-at-the-wall" approach to finding a new set of receiving weapons for Tom Brady. Domenik Hixon would be another great addition alongside Danny Amendola and Donald Jones.

    Stuck behind Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks in New York, Hixon would have a chance to compete to start in New England. At 6'2" he also brings an element of size that the Patriots have long lacked on the outside. He's coming off his second-best season statistically but is now two full years removed from an ACL injury, when players fully return to normal.

    Hixon also has experience returning kicks and punts, an area where the Pats always like to have depth.

    Overall, Hixon is just the kind of mid-range free agent that the Patriots have had success with.

Alan Branch

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    Alan Branch might not be the interior pass-rusher the Pats need, but he's a massive man who would form a formidable partner for Vince Wilfork. The Patriots tried a similar approach in 2011 by bringing in Albert Haynesworth, but that didn't work out.

    At 6'5" and 331 pounds, Branch has the kind of size that would allow Bill Belichick to move him anywhere on the defensive line and take away the ability for opponents to just worry about blocking Vince Wilfork.

    While Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick have been workable options next to Wilfork for the last two seasons, neither is the kind of dominant player that Branch can be. The Patriots need to find a better complement to Wilfork, or at least just add some depth around him to protect from a potential injury to Big Vince.

Elvis Dumervil

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    After a botched fax made Elvis Dumervil a free agent, the Patriots were one of the teams to express interest in him. They already have some connection to Dumervil, with Josh McDaniels having coached him in Denver. 

    Dumervil is a little undersized for what the Pats traditionally like from their edge players. But his pass-rushing skills are undeniable, and in a passing league you can never have enough guys like that.

    New England's pursuit of Dwight Freeney and John Abraham prove that they're not longer so beholden to their old personnel ideas where every defensive end and outside linebacker had to be a minimum of 6'4" and 250 pounds.

    At just 29 years old, Dumervil is the youngest and best option of any of the defensive ends the Patriots are considering, and to land him would be an absolute coup that would only throw gasoline on a building fire between the Patriots and Broncos.

Emmanuel Sanders

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    The Patriots are reportedly still mulling what to do after hosting Emmanuel Sanders on a visit last Friday. Sanders is a restricted free agent. He would cost the Patriots a third-round pick if the Steelers chose not to match any offer the Pats make.

    For a receiver-needy team like the Patriots, it would be a third-round pick well spent. Sanders has the versatility to play multiple receiver spots in the Pats offense.

    However, the Pats front office must be judging if Sanders has the football savvy to gain Tom Brady's trust. 

    The Patriots have time to wait. Offers don't need to be made until April 19th, and by then the Steelers might welcome the cap relief that would come with letting Sanders walk to New England. Sanders is the best wide receiver option left on the market for the Patriots, and with just Matthew Slater left as the only wide receiver to catch a pass from Tom Brady in 2012, there's no bigger hole left to fill.

Sebastian Vollmer

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    It has been a slow year for the tackle market, but with Jake Long agreeing to a deal in St. Louis, it's likely that the tackles like Vollmer could start landing now. The Patriots did sign veteran backup swing tackle Will Svitek as some protection if Vollmer walks. At this point, the safest move is still to bring Vollmer back.

    Despite injury concerns, Vollmer missed just one game last year and still has elite size and movement skills for a man his size. If Vollmer's body fully heals this offseason, he could re-emerge as one of the best tackles in the game. 

    With no heir apparent already on the Patriots roster, and a market that likely favors whatever average offer the Patriots are making to him, it seems like the simplest and best move the Patriots could still make in free agency is to bring Vollmer back.

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