What We've Learned About the Patriots After the Start of Free Agency

James Christensen@@nepatriotsdraftContributor IMarch 13, 2014

What We've Learned About the Patriots After the Start of Free Agency

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    Gone.Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Just when you think you have the New England Patriots figured out, they teach you something new.

    Just as fans were starting to panic and the local media had begun to gather their torches and pitchforks, Bill Belichick pulled a Darrelle Revis-shaped rabbit out of his hat.

    At the very real risk of being proved wrong, here is what we've learned about New England's intentions thus far in free agency.

Patriots Still Committed to Long-Term Success

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    While the 2014 offseason is far from over, it seems like Belichick is still committed to building a team that will compete well into the future. He hasn't neglected the back end of the roster by splashing around, and the depth and corresponding injury resilience is still in place.

    While the Denver Broncos have moved "all-in" with their recent flurry of free-agent acquisitions, the New England Patriots may have equaled their net effect with a much more measured approach.

    They upgraded at cornerback by signing Revis, but they didn't have to mortgage the future to do so. While that doesn't mean the Patriots won't sign him to a long-term deal—they very well may do so, according to Albert Breer of the NFL Network—they have some time to figure out the right strategy with Revis under their control.

    Also sounds like the Patriots are open to eventually making the marriage with Revis a longer-term one. Power move by New England, no doubt.

    — Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 13, 2014

New England Letting Wide Receiver Market Form

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    Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

    Julian Edelman's absolute ceiling formed Wednesday night, with the New York Jets signing Eric Decker according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

    Jets are giving former Broncos WR Eric Decker a 5-year, $36.25M deal, including $15M gtd, per source.

    — Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 13, 2014

    The Patriots, however, seem to be interested in creating the floor. If Edelman can't find a significantly better deal in free agency—or just doesn't want to leave Tom Brady—look for him to come back to New England within the next week.

    If a deal with Edelman doesn't get done, look for New England to pursue the services of former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, whom they signed to an offer-sheet in 2013. Hakeem Nicks—a New York Giant in 2013—is another player to keep an eye on.

Pass-Rushers Perhaps on Back-Burner

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    With DeMarcus Ware in Denver and Jared Allen pondering retirement, the New England Patriots may have tabled adding a pass-rusher until prices come down.

    While pressuring the quarterback wasn't a strength in 2013, there would be some hope in 2014, even if New England was unable to land an upgrade through free agency. Rookie Michael Buchanan showed some flashes, while Chris Jones and Chandler Jones each were able to improve their game in 2013.

    There are also some intriguing options available in the 2014 NFL draft. Auburn outside linebacker Dee Ford, Minnesota defensive lineman Ra'Shede Hageman and Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy all are players who can win from a variety of different positions and techniques.

They Want to Add Speed to Their Linebacking Corps

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    Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

    With Brandon Spikes likely seeking greener and less stifling pastures, the New England Patriots seem to be wanting to replace him with a speedier model. Wesley Woodyard—formerly of the Denver Broncos—was the first linebacker they had in for a visit.

    Lost somewhat in the Revis and Aqib Talib shuffle is that Wesley Woodyard left Foxboro without a deal. Woodyard, however, told Josina Anderson of ESPN that the visit was anything but bad: "The visit with the Patriots went great. I got to sit down with the coaches. I talked to (Bill) Belichick too. He told me how he sees my role with the team. I respect him a lot."

    If a deal with Woodyard can't be reached, there are plenty of options in the 2014 NFL draft. Christian Kirksey from Iowa covers well, can rush the passer and has the sideline-to-sideline range necessary to play the run.

Veteran Contracts Still Up in Air

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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    With the New England Patriots running low on cap room following the Revis deal, there will be some nervous looks exchanged between Patriot veterans and their agents in the coming days.

    Vince Wilfork is a prime candidate to restructure his contract—his $11.5 million cap number has become a bit unreasonable for a player of his age—and could be released if he doesn't acquiesce.

    Sopoaga release had #Patriots at just under $17m in cap space. Revis will now take up $12m. IMO Wilfork def must redo his contract, or else

    — Ben Volin (@BenVolin) March 13, 2014

    Adrian Wilson and Dan Connolly are the two other likely suspects to receive unpleasant calls from a Foxboro area code in the coming days. Devin McCourty could also provide some cap relief by signing an extension, lowering his 2014 cap figure.

    Look for New England to move quickly to continue being relevant in the 2014 offseason.