Buying or Selling the Latest Buzz on the Patriots Free Agency Rumor Mill

James ChristensenContributor IMarch 9, 2014

Buying or Selling the Latest Buzz on the Patriots Free Agency Rumor Mill

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    Belichick's smile could fade by the start of free agency.
    Belichick's smile could fade by the start of free agency.Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

    The New England Patriots free agency rumor mill is in overdrive. While most of what you hear from reporters—especially in the Patriots' case due to their tight lips—is fed by NFL agents, there are some truthful statements to be found.

    While the Patriots have been quiet on the actual transaction wire, they have been mentioned in multiple trade scenarios and have some interesting decisions to make with their own free agents.

    Separating fact from fiction can be tough, but here is my take on if I'm buying or selling these rumors.

Ryan Mallett Headed to Houston?

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    Gail Burton/Associated Press

    Finding consistent information on the status of Ryan Mallett is tougher than figuring out who the Yellow King is in HBO's True Detective. 

    Some sources say that Mallett is on the block and the Houston Texans are interested. Nick Underhill from MassLive.com explains:

    The Texans, who hold the first pick in May's draft and are in need of a quarterback, have expressed interest in acquiring Mallett, according to a league source. However, the source also noted that nothing is definite and classified the current level of involvement as "talk."

    If a deal were struck, the move would reunite Mallett with Houston head coach Bill O'Brien, who worked with the quarterback while serving as New England's offensive coordinator in 2011.

     Others, like John McClain from the Houston Chronicle, disagree.

    I told you last week Texans wouldn't be signing Matt Cassel. And they won't be trading for Ryan Mallett, either.

    — John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) March 9, 2014

    While it might not be for a second-round pick as many have speculated, a deal could still be struck. If former Patriots offensive coordinator and current Texans coach Bill O'Brien doesn't fall in love with a quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft, he may fall back to a somewhat known commodity.

    One other name to look out for in Houston is former Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer, who spent time with O'Brien while in New England.

     

    Verdict: Buy

Aqib Talib Too Expensive?

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    A year removed from the buyer's market of 2013, cornerbacks are getting paid left and right. Brent Grimes re-signed in Miami for four years and $32 million, while Sam Shields was inked by the Green Bay Packers for four years and $39 million.

    According to Jason LaCanfora of CBS Sports, Vontae Davis is set to sign on Monday and will further constrict the market.

    All this adds up to Aqib Talib swimming in dollars Scrooge McDuck-style.

    If Talib wants to try and break the bank, he might end up near $10 million in average compensation—close to the amounts that Cortland Finnegan and Brandon Carr received in 2012. Unless the Patriots have some salary cap magic up their sleeves (looking at you Mr. Wilfork), it would be shocking to see them shell out that sort of cash.

    If Talib is deemed too expensive, the newly released Antonio Cromartie might be seen as a fallback option. While his talent level isn't as high at this point in his career, Cromartie will come much cheaper and still has some value.

     

    Verdict: Weak Buy

Julian Edelman Returning to New England?

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    Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

    According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, the New England Patriots and Julian Edelman have had talks concerning a new contract. Mike Giardi of CSNNE.com also has heard that there is interest in Foxboro regarding bringing Edelman back.

    According to team source, there's strong push in bldg to keep Edelman. Coaches love his work ethic & production as dual threat #patriotstalk

    — Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) March 9, 2014

     

    However, sources have told Bleacher Report that the Cleveland Browns are also interested in Edelman's services.

    If the Browns or another team with plenty of cap space want to throw money at Edelman, it might be tough for him to turn down millions to stay in New England. Mike Loyko of NEPatriotsDraft.com summed it up nicely.

    Julian Edelman is about to be in the situation where he has to determine if he wants to be rich or relevant. #Patriots

    — Mike Loyko (@NEPD_Loyko) March 9, 2014

     

    The allure of Tom Brady throwing you the football is strong, but so is the almighty dollar.

     

    Verdict: Sell

MIchael Johnson out of the Picture?

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    Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

    Former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson was one of five splash players available in free agency I detailed back in January. That dream for many New England Patriots fans might already be over, before free agency even starts.

    According to Kevin Patra of NFL.com, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals are pushing hard to sign Johnson. As signing Johnson would have been difficult to begin with, that level of competition could easily price New England out.

    Unless the Patriots jettison any hopes of signing Talib or Edelman, don't look for Johnson to be flying to Foxboro any time soon.

     

    Verdict: Strong Buy

     

Vince Wilfork Restructure Looming?

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    Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

    Vince Wilfork's salary-cap figure, along with his age, keeps steadily rising. Mike Reiss from ESPN.com has the figures:

    Wilfork is due to earn $7.5 million in base salary in 2014, the final year of his deal. His salary-cap charge is a hefty $11.6 million. He turns 33 in November and is coming off a torn Achilles injury that ended his 2013 season after four games.

    Meanwhile, the Patriots can absorb the salary, as they aren't snug to the salary cap like the Pittsburgh Steelers or Dallas Cowboys, both of whom recently restructured and extended contracts because they needed the space. So New England's hand isn't forced. But every bit of salary-cap space helps when building a roster, and Wilfork could provide a significant amount of it by reworking his deal.

    As Reiss states, the Patriots don't have to do anything. However, if they want to add—or retain—some impact players this offseason, they need to free up some cap space. The easiest way to do that is to re-sign Wilfork to an extension, convert his 2013 salary into a signing bonus and spread out the damage over the next three years.

    If that can be accomplished—it worked with Troy Polamalu—the Patriots would be in the driver's seat to hang on to both of their coveted free agents: Aqib Talib and Julian Edelman.

    Will Vince Wilfork be amenable to helping out the only team that he has played for? If he wants to retire a Patriot, he'll need too.

    Verdict: Strong Buy