5 Big Splashes Patriots Could Realistically Make in Free Agency
When you think of making big splashes in free agency, the New England Patriots rarely come to mind. Daniel Snyder and the free-spending Washington Redskins? Yep. Cold, calculating Bill Belichick? Not so much.
However, the Patriots have made their fair share of big moves over the years. Linebackers Roosevelt Colvin and Adalius Thomas were both signed to big deals, while receiver Danny Amendola is a recent example of offensive spending.
Here are five realistic moves that could turn the dial up on New England's offseason.
Note: Players were chosen based on scheme fit, potential contract and positional need.
Michael Johnson (DE, Cincinnati Bengals)
Michael Johnson would give the New England Patriots some true flexibility with their defensive ends. Instead of dropping Chandler Jones inside on rush downs, Johnson could fill that role with Jones flanking him.
Johnson is strong against the run and despite a paltry 3.5 sacks, his 61 quarterback pressures according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) tell the true story of his rush ability.
Doug Kyed from NESN.com mentioned Johnson as a possible Patriots signing as well:
The Patriots had interest in Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson last year before he was franchised. He could also play end or tackle depending on the down and distance. Johnson’s sacks decreased in 2013, so his price tag should be lower going into 2014.
As Kyed mentioned, the Patriots might end up getting Johnson at a lower price than they would have paid in 2013. However, if a bidding war ensues for Johnson's services, it might price the Patriots out.
Possible Contract: Five years, $35 million
Alex Mack (C, Cleveland Browns)
Prying Alex Mack—the top center in free agency—away from the Cleveland Browns to replace free agent Ryan Wendell won't be an easy task.
Mack likes Cleveland. According to Pro Football Talk, he'll even let the Browns match the top offer in free agency:
Center Alex Mack is also up for a few more years in Cleveland. Mack says that he will “absolutely” give the Browns a chance to match any offer he gets on the open market.
“Being in Cleveland is nice,” Mack said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “I have good friends on the team, I like the coaches, it’s a nice place.”
If Bill Belichick can talk Mack into leaving, the New England Patriots would be getting a balanced blocker that excels against run defenders and pass rushers. He is smart and decisive with his calls and has the ability to hold up against the behemoth defensive tackles in the AFC East.
Possible Contract: Four years, $27.5 million
T.J. Ward (SS, Cleveland Browns)
New England Patriots fans don't have fond memories of T.J. Ward, safety for the Cleveland Browns. Ward delivered a brutal hit directly to Rob Gronkowski's knee, prematurely ending his season.
Ward brings a physical presence to the safety position reminiscent of a young Rodney Harrison. He supports the run like a linebacker, can rush the passer and is at least average in coverage. Ward would be an upgrade over the solid, but unspectacular Steve Gregory in nearly every category.
Unfortunately for New England, Ward feels the same about Cleveland as his teammate Mack. It will take a great offer from the Patriots—or continuing front-office troubles for the Browns—to lure him away.
Possible Contract: Five years, $31.5 million
Scott Chandler (TE, Buffalo Bills)
If you can't beat them, join them. Scott Chandler has given the New England Patriots fits while a member of the Buffalo Bills. In the last two years, Chandler has racked up 16 catches for 220 yards and three touchdowns against Bill Belichick's team according to ESPN.com stats.
He has a huge 6'7" frame and can play inline as well as split out wide. While he isn't as dynamic as Rob Gronkowski, Chandler is a solid player that can come in and contribute right away.
Possible Contract: Four years, $14 million
Emmanuel Sanders (WR, Pittsburgh Steelers)
The New England Patriots already made one run at Emmanuel Sanders—signing him to a restricted free-agent offer sheet in 2013—but the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to parry the attack. Now entering unrestricted free agency, Sanders has a good chance of trading in the black and gold for new digs.
Sanders isn't the big-bodied receiver that many New England fans are clamoring for—he measures 5'11" and 180 pounds—but he has the big-play ability, solid intermediate game and return skills that could help the Patriots if Julian Edelman departs in free agency.
Possible Contract: Five years, $26.5 million