The 5 Moves the New England Patriots Must Avoid in Free Agency
The New England Patriots have often made progress in free agency by avoiding the bad deals that handicap other teams for years. Give yourself outs. Don't chase old running backs. Know when to let go.
A measured approach may not be as exciting for fans, but the Patriots have been able to stack success on account of their ability to stay away from awful contracts.
Here are five moves that Bill Belichick and the Patriots front office need to avoid this offseason.
Breaking the Bank for Julian Edelman
In economics, "commoditization" is when one good or service is rendered widely available and interchangeable with one provided by another company. For a football example, you need look no further than the slot receiver position for the New England Patriots.
Exit Wes Welker and his 100 catches, and enter Julian Edelman and his 100 catches. Whether it is Edelman, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce or T.J. Moe, somebody will catch 80-plus balls from the slot position for the Patriots in 2014.
While Edelman gives added value on special teams, that shouldn't equate to an average salary over $5-6 million. If Edelman wants more than that—he just might find it in Houston—New England should be prepared to let him walk.
Signing Hakeem Nicks to a Big Contract
I'd sign the 2010-11 version of Hakeem Nicks to a big contract in a New York minute. Unfortunately, that player is long gone.
Nicks totaled 155 receptions, 2,244 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2010 and 2011 but managed only to record 1,588 yards and three touchdowns on 109 catches in 2012 and 2013. Despite injuries and ineffective quarterback play, it is clear that Nicks' best football is behind him.
That doesn't mean Nicks is devoid of value.
Just reading tea leaves, best guess for Hakeem Nicks is he winds up taking fairly cheap one-year contract after hitting the market.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) March 3, 2014
If the New England Patriots can land Nicks on a one-year "prove-it" contract, the risk and reward is in their favor. Give him a small deal laden with incentives, and everyone will walk away happy. Give him a big deal, and the only person other than Nicks who will walk away satisfied will be his agent.
Giving Eric Decker No. 1 Receiver Money
If a team is going to ink a receiver to a huge contract, it needs him to be the guy. It remains to be seen if Decker has that ability.
Jeffri Chadiha of ESPN.com concurs:
There were several things that went wrong for Denver in that 43-8 blowout loss to Seattle, with Decker's disappearance ranking right near the top. Before that contest, he was primed to benefit from being the top receiver available on the open market. When it ended, the entire world could see that the expectations placed upon Decker in future years should be lowered quite a bit.
Decker didn't just hurt his stock by catching one pass for 6 yards in that game. He reminded everybody who witnessed that performance of why football evaluators make distinctions between No. 1 and No. 2 receivers.
If the Patriots are going to spend $10 million per year on a weapon for Tom Brady, he is going to be more than just a No. 2 receiver.
Letting Aqib Talib Walk
According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, cornerback Brent Grimes signed a lucrative contract with the Miami Dolphins on March 3.
Dolphins gave Pro-Bowl CB Brent Grimes a four-year, $32 million deal that includes $16 million guaranteed, per ESPN source.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 3, 2014
It is safe to say that Aqib Talib's camp will use that figure as a starting point in negotiations with the New England Patriots. However, $32 million may seem like a lot of money for a player who hasn't finished either of the last two AFC Championship Games.
If New England can structure Talib's contract to have larger payouts later in the contract—when the salary cap is expected to rise—that figure seems a bit more palatable.
No matter how much you think Talib is worth, there is no denying that the Patriots defense is a different entity with him on the field. If New England lets him walk, it needs to have a backup plan ready to go.
Trading Ryan Mallett Without a Veteran Backup
Backup quarterbacks seem useless right up to the point where your season depends on one. While Mallett has only seen a handful of snaps in his three years in New England, Patriots fans have seen that backup quarterbacks—Tom Brady and Matt Cassel—sometimes have a big impact on a season.
Therefore, if the Patriots don't have a plan for what to do post-Mallett, taking a second-round pick in a trade looks far less appetizing.
Chad Henne and Shaun Hill, who played with the Jaguars and Lions last year, respectively, are two savvy veterans who can come in and win a couple of games if needed. They aren't going to win the Super Bowl on their own, but they are far better than replacement-level throwers.
With a veteran in place, the Patriots would be in a good position to trade Mallett for a Day 2 pick and spend a late-round choice on a new quarterback to groom.