Like it or not, the Denver Broncos were not able to complete a restructured version of defensive end Elvis Dumervil's contract before it became guaranteed at 4 p.m. ET on Friday. The blame is irrelevant—Denver was forced to cut Dumervil instead, and he will now hit the open market.
One man's trash is another man's treasure, and the New England Patriots should be jumping for joy that Dumervil joins a group of DEs headlined by John Abraham and Dwight Freeney on the open market.
Now that Dumervil—a three-time Pro-Bowler who totaled 11 sacks and six forced fumbles in 2012—is an available free agent, the Patriots should waste no time in meeting whoever is representing Dumervil right now (he reportedly parted ways with Marty Magid on Saturday, via The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson) to show the 29-year-old that he's priority No. 1.
If you haven't yet heard the story, Dumervil's Friday saga was one of the most interesting in NFL history.
As reported by Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today, Dumervil and the Broncos reportedly had a deal in place to reduce his $12 million salary to an $8 million base for the 2013 season, saving some cap space and keeping a valuable member of the defense in place in the process.
However, Magid did not get the revised paperwork back to the team in time for the procedures to be completed by the league office, forcing the Broncos into a corner with only a few minutes remaining before Denver spent $4 million more than it wanted to.
Instead of taking that chance, team president John Elway and management decided to release Dumervil, a move that will draw the ire and criticism of both sides if the Broncos suffer a letdown on defense and/or Dumervil has a career year in a new uniform.
The news took the NFL by surprise, and there's little doubt interest has been running rampant for a guy who led the league in sacks in 2009 and has 63.5 of them in just six NFL seasons.
The Patriots are certainly one of those teams.
ESPN's John Clayton speculated that the Patriots could be interested in his most recent report on the situation in Denver, and the fact that both Freeney and Abraham left town on Friday night after a visit with New England coaches and players (via ESPN) could be an interesting sign of Bill Belichick's next move.
After a 2012 season that saw New England's defense suffer through injuries and uninspired play, defensive end was one of the team's biggest needs heading into the offseason.
The Patriots finished 25th in total defense in 2012, low-lighted by 29th ranking in passing yards allowed per game (271.4 yards). While injuries to starters and inexperience in the secondary were factors to that return, finishing tied for 15th in sacks (37.0) also had something to do with it.
By comparison, Denver finished first in sacks (52.0), with Dumervil collecting almost a fourth of the team's quarterback takedowns.
That's exactly the kind of production that will allow New England to enjoy very little drop-off from last season to next year. Heck, it might even be a move that catapults the Patriots to being dominant on both sides of the ball—something they haven't been over the last few seasons.
Of course, Dumervil isn't going to come cheap.
As evidenced by what would have been an $8 million salary in Denver, the market for this guy could be somewhere in the neighborhood of $6-$10 million per year, depending on the length of the contract. Taking a reduction in salary from a contender was fine when it stood, but it seems more likely that the 29-year-old Dumervil—coming off another double-digit sack season—will try to cash in with a contender on a long-term deal in the prime of his career.
Additionally, other teams are going to show interest. As noted by Jones on Saturday, the Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants are all teams with a potential need for a pass-rusher like Dumervil. That could force the bidding war to go higher than the Patriots are comfortable with.
Greg A. Bedard brings up a great point, too, on Twitter, when he notes that the Patriots have generally looked for cheaper guys to come in and platoon at positions of need rather than throw money at them—especially on the defensive line:
& much more expensive, in-prime starter. Patriots MO is cheaper and situational “@smuldy: Dumervil also younger, better”— Greg A. Bedard (@GregABedard) March 16, 2013
Rob Ninkovich is a prime example of that kind of player, and Freeney and Abraham both figure to be guys who will demand a lower salary and limited commitment, as they are chasing a Super Bowl and not necessarily looking for a big contract.
That doesn't change the fact that Dumervil brings an element to the defense that would allow New England to be more versatile on early downs and be more fearsome in passing situations.
Which DE should New England prioritize?
Oh, and it would be a nice slap in the face to Denver for signing former Patriots wideout Wes Welker to a two-year contract earlier this week, giving Peyton Manning a new weapon in the slot and subtracting one from Tom Brady.
That's not a reason to make this signing, though. New England is, and will likely be for a long time, one of the premier franchises in the NFL because it knows when to pull the trigger on a free agent and when to hold off.
Management will make its own evaluation over the next few days, but all the evidence suggests that Dumervil and the Patriots would be a match made in NFL heaven. The team has addressed other defensive needs (CB, S) during the first few days of free agency and has a chance to plug another hole with more than just a spot-start guy.
Dumervil is in the prime of his career. He could spend the bulk of it in New England if the Patriots take the plunge and commit to the fact that he's the best DE on the market in the form of a contract.