Training camp may not even be underway yet for the Patriots 2009 season, but Vince Wilfork's recent no-show at offseason OTA's have brought to light his contract situation for the 2010 offseason. Here, we look ahead at the 10 most important Patriots players that are to become free agents after this upcoming season.
Ok, so I admit this might be a little premature considering he hasn't even played a game in a Patriots uniform yet, but I have high hopes for Bodden. Penciled in as one of the starters at corner for next year, it will be Bodden's job to improve on the dismal pass coverage that hurt the Patriots so often last season. As far as his future past 2009, he'll only be twenty nine years old and there will still be a need at the spot (even if Wheatley and Butler come on strong). Obviously if Leigh tanks in his first year as a Patriot, it will also be his last...but clearly I'm not planning on that.
His sack numbers took a dip last year (2, down from 6.5 in 2007), but Jarvis Green is still a prototypical 3-4 DE that knows the Patriots' system inside and out. He'll be 31 come the 2010 offseason, so his contract won't be as generous as his last one (5 years, $13 million), but for a reasonable price he should be back in 2010. (Who knows, if another player on this list gets too greedy, it could be as a starter)
This one is completely dependent on whether or not Woods wins the starting OLB job in 2009, which he is the favorite to do. Clearly Belichick and Co. see something in Woods, as they chose not to draft any OLB's or to make a splash in free agency. Sorry Tully. Woods will be twenty nine in 2010, has excellent size at 6-5, 250lbs., and was coming along well with stats including eleven tackles and a sack vs. the Jets before breaking his jaw against Pittsburgh and ending his season. The distant future on the outside may belong to fellow Wolverine Shawn Crable, but for now it looks like it's Woods job to lose.
Sure, he's getting a little old,33 come next offseason, but there isn't much wear on Kevin's tires. Faulk is coming off his best rushing season since 2003 and his best receiving season of his career (not to mention he hasn't lost a fumble in 3 years..he's come a long way). The backfield will be a little more crowded this year with a healthy (hopefully) Laurence Maroney and newcomer Fred Taylor....but as long as Faulk produces, the Patriots will try to keep him around.
Injury troubles and age land Neal a little bit lower on this list,but he is still a force at the guard position. Was it pure coincidence that Neal went down in Super Bowl 42 and so did Tom Brady's protection? Or that Neal missed the first 6 games of 2008 and returned just in time to see Matt Cassel's ridiculous sack numbers decrease suddenly? With that said, Stephen will be thirty four in 2010 and has missed fifteen starts over the past two years due to injury. If he can stay healthy in 2009, his chances at an extension will increase significantly.
In my opinion, one of Coach Belichick's most overlooked moves as Patriots' Head Coach was the decision to let Adam Vinatieri hit the open market and to draft Gostkowski as his replacement, in 2006. Sure, it was shocking at the time, but is there any doubt it was the right move looking back? Gostkowski is now one of the elite kickers in the game and made his first (of many) Pro Bowls last season. He'll be 26 in 2010 and is looking at another 10 plus years in a Pats' uniform.
Tedy's numbers are certainly down. He had just seventy six tackles last year, zero sacks, zero int, zero FF, and he will be thirty seven years old come 2010, but as long as he's not retired he will always be a priority to re-sign, in my opinion. His leadership is unmatched and his knowledge of the MLB position will be invaluable for his replacement. Sadly, there's a strong chance this could all be a moot point and Tedy will decide to ride off into the sunset after next season.
Finally healthy, for the most part, in 2008, Richard Seymour had a bounce-back season, putting up 8 sacks and 51 tackles. Seymour is widely considered one of the best 3-4 DE's in all of football. Most other years he would be the number one priority going into the offseason. Unfortunately, in 2010 there's going to be a limited amount of money to give out to a large number of core players (this all assuming that 2010 is a capped year). It's a possibility that at 30 years old, Seymour could be the odd man out if he asks for too much.
Essentially a toss-up between Seymour and Mankins, Logan lands at number two on the list. Although his selection in the 1st round of the 2005 NFL Draft may have baffled the experts...over the past 4 seasons, Mankins has established himself as the best player on a loaded offensive line, as well as one of the top guards in the NFL. He hasn't missed a start in his 4 years, and was an All-Pro selection after the 2007 season. Mankins will most likely command less money at his guard position than Seymour will at DE, making him a more likely re-signing.
No surprise here. Vince is clearly the biggest priority going into the 2010 offseason, and hopefully things will be settled long before then. He's considered one of the best,if not the best,3-4 NT in the game and arguably the most important position on the defense, is coming off his best statistical season in 2008, has started all sixteen games, four of which out of his five years in the NFL, and will be in his prime at age twenty eight years old next season. If Vince gets hungry and commands money outside of the Patriots range in negotiations, he very well could be gone in 2010, but let's hope that both sides can strike a deal before the unthinkable occurs.