New England Patriots: Position-by-Position Primer to Free Agency
The New England Patriots came up just short in their quest for their fourth Super Bowl, losing 26-16 to a tough Denver Broncos team in the AFC Championship game. Patriots fans need not despair too long.
New England has a young, talented roster that will welcome the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork and Sebastian Vollmer returning from injury.
However, not everyone on the 2013 roster will be coming back. Here is a position-by-position look at who might be leaving the Patriots in free agency and who New England may replace them with.
Pending Free Agents: None
Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett are both under contract in 2014 but that doesn't mean that they both will be on the roster. The New England Patriots will likely field some calls about Mallett during the draft, perhaps from the Houston Texans.
Likely Target: Chad Henne
If Mallett is moved, the Patriots will need to sign a veteran backup as well as drafting the future heir to Tom Brady.
The Jaguars will likely pursue a new quarterback in the draft this year, leaving Henne looking for a new job. He isn't a flashy name, but he has the skills and experience to come in and win a game or two if you need him to.
Pending Free Agents: LeGarrette Blount
Blount came on strong for the New England Patriots down the stretch and all signs point to trying to bring him back in 2014, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. It seems like the feeling is mutual. Ryan Hannable from WEEI.com spoke with Blount about returning to the Patriots in 2014:
Monday could be the last time Blount sets foot in the Patriots locker room as the 27-year-old is now a free agent, but that doesn’t mean Blount isn’t open to a return with New England.
'I’d like to be here, but we’ll see how it goes,' Blount said.
His contract this past year was reportedly for the four-year league minimum of $630,000 with an added $50,000 workout bonus.
Unless Blount prices himself out of New England, anticipate seeing the three-headed monster of Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Blount next season.
Likely Target: Toby Gerhart
If negotiations break down with Blount, Minnesota Viking Toby Gerhart might be fielding some calls from New England. He is a hard-nosed back with plenty of power inside.
Pending Free Agents: Julian Edelman, Austin Collie
While Austin Collie won't get too many looks in free agency, Julian Edelman will likely be a hot commodity. Unless he is willing to give the Patriots a hometown discount, he will likely hit the open market.
It wouldn't be out of the question to see Edelman let New England try and match his best deal, but the Patriots certainly have a figure that they won't go over.
Likely Target: Emmanuel Sanders
If Edelman leaves—or even if he doesn't—the Patriots may try and add another "Z" receiver to complement Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins.
The Patriots signed Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders to a restricted free agent offer sheet last offseason, but Pittsburgh ended up matching the deal and retaining his services. Expect Sanders to get an early call from Bill Belichick this offseason.
Pending Free Agents: Michael Hoomanawanui, Matthew Mulligan
Hoomanawanui and Mulligan have both done their jobs this season, but their upside is quite limited. The New England Patriots need some tight ends that can fill in if Rob Gronkowski ends up injured again in 2014.
Likely Target: Scott Chandler
Buffalo Bills tight end Scott Chandler has the size and receiving ability to be a reasonable facsimile of Gronkowski and can block a bit as well. He is one of the better tight ends likely to hit free agency, so his contract might be too rich. In that case, look for the Patriots to target college tight ends Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro, C.J. Fiedorowicz and Troy Niklas in the 2014 NFL draft.
Pending Free Agents: Ryan Wendell, Will Svitek
Ryan Wendell had a disappointing season for the New England Patriots, giving up far too many pressures in pass protection. If he isn't re-signed, however, there aren't many free agents available. One option could be slotting Dan Connolly—currently a guard—in at center, with Marcus Cannon at guard and Sebastian Vollmer at tackle.
Will Svitek proved to be a nice value at swing tackle this year and has a good shot at being re-signed.
Likely Target: Alex Mack
If the Patriots don't choose to keep Wendell or promote from within, Alex Mack is the best free agent center available. Unfortunately for New England, he should command a big payday. Mack was the fourth highest rated center in the league according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
If the Patriots eschew free agency and look toward the draft, Colorado State center Weston Richburg could be an option in the middle rounds.
Pending Free Agents: Andre Carter
Carter will turn 35 this offseason and it is clear his best football is behind him. Expect the Patriots to keep him on a list of possible injury replacements but it is very doubtful that he'll get a contract at the start of free agency.
Even if New England isn't able to upgrade in free agency, rookie Michael Buchanan deserves a chance to win the job of nickel pass-rusher.
Likely Target: Michael Johnson
Johnson was a crushing run-stopper for the Cincinnati Bengals and was able to get pressure on nearly 11 percent of his pass rushes according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He ended up totaling five sacks on the year, which truly understates his effect on the game.
Johnson will likely command a top-flight contract—although smaller than the deal Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy could receive—so the Patriots would need to restructure the contracts of Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins to have a chance.
Pending Free Agents: Dane Fletcher, Brandon Spikes
Brandon Spikes has likely played his last game for New England. Despite his inspired and passionate play on the field, his mercurial demeanor off the field might prevent the former Florida Gator from earning a second contract with the Patriots. Unless Spikes' knee injury drives his price down drastically, it is doubtful that he will be re-signed.
Dane Fletcher should continue to provide value on special teams and as a nickel linebacker. Expect him to be back next year.
Likely Target: None
Other than re-signing Fletcher and perhaps having a go at Spikes, I don't see the Patriots testing the free agent waters at this position. Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins played incredibly well down the stretch and Jerod Mayo will be back at full strength in 2014.
If New England looks at the linebacker position in the draft, Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith could be an option.
Pending Free Agents: Aqib Talib
Despite his injury history, Talib has earned a long-term contract in New England. With the rest of the defensive secondary in place for next year, a healthy Talib can make quite the difference.
In each of the past two seasons, Talib's absence has exposed flaws in the secondary. New England fans don't want those flaws to be permanent.
Likely Target: T.J. Ward
If Talib isn't re-signed, look for the Patriots to make a splash in his absence. Adding Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward—who knocked Rob Gronkowski out for the year—would give New England two of the top three safeties in the league according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Devin McCourty ranks No. 1, while Ward logs in at No. 3 on the list.
Having two premier safeties would help cover up for any deficiencies at the cornerback position.