Bill Belichick will be looking for some bargains in free agency this offseason.
As Mike Loyko from NEPatriotsDraft.com pointed out, the Patriots could have anywhere from $7 million to nearly $30 million in cap space this offseason. Whether they are at the top or bottom end of that range, they'll be looking to get the biggest bang for their buck.
Here are eight players who could be available at a discount this offseason.
Note: Players were chosen based on scheme fit, projected league interest and overall talent.
All statistics courtesy of NFL.com.
Other than Rob Gronkowski—currently rehabbing his knee—and D.J. Williams—who barely saw the field in 2013—the New England Patriots don't have any tight ends under contract for 2014.
Scott Chandler would give the Patriots a reliable receiving threat that is comfortable in-line and split wide. His blocking isn't phenomenal, but he is certainly serviceable.
He provides another big frame to target in the red zone and could step in and provide a reasonable facsimile of Gronkowski if he were to go down with another injury.
Projected Contract: Four years, $14 million
Jerricho Cotchery caught 46 balls for 602 yards and 10 touchdowns in the 10th season of his career. Three of those touchdowns came against the New England Patriots. If you can't beat him, let him join.
Cotchery isn't an explosive target at this point of his career, but the savvy route-runner would have no problem coming into Tom Brady's offense and contributing right away.
If the Patriots are looking for a cheap—he earned $1 million in 2013—and reliable fourth or fifth option, they could do a lot worse than Cotchery.
Projected Contract: One year, $1.2 million
If the New England Patriots want to bring in a more youthful receiver than Cotchery, they may look to a more familiar name.
Tiquan Underwood—from Rutgers no less—spent time with New England in 2011 before being cut on the eve of the Super Bowl. He caught on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year and finished the season with 24 catches for 440 yards and four touchdowns.
Underwood has the ability to stretch the defense down the field and is also able to contribute on kickoff returns.
Projected Contract: Two years, $2.85 million
Gil Brandt from NFL.com tweeted last month that he wouldn't be surprised if the Houston Texans targeted New England Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett in a draft-day trade. If that exchange comes to fruition, Bill Belichick will need to have a veteran backup at the ready.
Henne certainly isn't going to be mistaken for fellow Michigan alum Tom Brady, but he did account for 3,241 yards and a 76.5 passer rating while leading the Jacksonville Jaguars.
If the Patriots want a backup that can come in and win a game in a pinch, Henne isn't a bad option.
Projected Contract: Two years, $3.75 million
It is no secret that Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich need some help rushing the passer. Whether that help comes from the inside or outside is the question that will be answered this offseason.
Why not both?
Marcus Benard spent time at the New England Patriots' training camp in 2013 and impressed me there with his quick moves rushing the passer from both the defensive tackle and edge rusher positions. He was ultimately released, but the Patriots' familiarity with Benard might bode well for a return in 2014.
Benard didn't see a lot of playing time on the stacked Arizona Cardinals defense last season, but he could fill an important role in New England's nickel package.
Projected Contract: Two years, $2.35 million
If the New England Patriots want someone bigger than Benard, they might look to poach a player from AFC East rival Buffalo.
Brian Galliford of Buffalo Rumblings describes Alex Carrington as a player who could fit what the Patriots are looking for:
In his three games played this season, Carrington averaged 52 snaps per game, working both in the base defense and as a rotational pass rusher in nickel and dime sets. He looked ready to become a major player for the Bills on the defensive line, but wound up registering just 10 tackles before the injury, then watched Branch flourish as a run-stuffer in his spot in the base defense.
If the Bills are too heavily invested in Alan Branch, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, New England just might be able to lure Carrington away.
Projected Contract: Four years, $13.25 million
If the New England Patriots fail to re-sign Aqib Talib this offseason, they will surely be scouring the free-agent market and 2014 NFL draft for talent to compete with incumbents Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard.
Antoine Cason has been a disappointment thus far in his career. After failing to improve on his solid 2009 and 2010 seasons with the San Diego Chargers, Cason was an afterthought on the talented Cardinals defense.
A team like New England—always on the lookout for cornerback talent—might get a good bargain with some decent upside in Cason.
Projected Contract: Two years, $2.35 million
Pat Angerer has never been one of the top run defenders in the league, but his ability in pass coverage has masked some of his deficiencies. He hasn't been at his best the past two years—he ended 2013 on injured reserve—but he still has something to offer.
If the New England Patriots elect not to bring back Dane Fletcher, Angerer is a player who could fill in on passing downs and on special teams.
Projected Contract: Two years, $4.5 million
You can follow James Christensen on Twitter @NEPatriotsDraft.