Setting Realistic Expectations for Each New England Patriots Signing
After a quiet first 24 hours of free agency, the New England Patriots exploded into the action by signing cornerback Darrelle Revis and kicking off an active first week of filling holes for the perennial Super Bowl favorite.
Things looked bleak when the Patriots lost Aqib Talib to their AFC rivals the Denver Broncos, the team that ended their season in the AFC Championship, but the Pats have always been known for their patience. Revis, Brandon Browner and last year's leading receiver Julian Edelman headline just a few of the significant moves the Pats have made in week one, and it doesn't look like they're done yet.
Let's take a closer look at the Pats' signings and figure out just what we can expect out of their newest additions.
Darrelle Revis got most of the press last week, but Michael Hoomanawanui was a underrated signing that gave the Pats back a tight end who played 57.6 percent of the snaps in 2014.
Hoomanawanui isn't Rob Gronkowski, but it's hard to imagine what would've happened to the Pats' offense after they lost Gronk if it weren't for "Hooman." He came through with a spectacular touchdown catch against the Miami Dolphins and graded out with a solid 1.0 pass-block grade for the season from ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).
He finished 2013 with 12 catches for 136 yards and one touchdown.
Hoomanawanui gives the Pats a baseline of protection should Gronkowski not return immediately from his ACL injury. He knows the system, will be just 26 years old when the season starts and he should continue to improve in his third season in New England.
Will he ever be an elite tight end? No. But great teams have great depth, and that's what Hoomanawanui provides.
After re-signing Julian Edelman this past weekend, the Patriots also added another receiver in former Carolina Panther Brandon LaFell.
LaFell is a versatile receiver who played both inside and outside, and he has good size at 6'2", 208 pounds. LaFell has improved in each of his four seasons with the Panthers, finishing 2013 with 49 catches for 627 yards and five touchdowns.
He had his best game of 2013 against the Patriots with seven catches for 59 yards and a touchdown.
LaFell is a classic Bill Belichick signing—a mid-range veteran who has shown promise in another system and doesn't break the bank. Put him in New England's football-first environment with top-notch coaching and a Hall of Fame quarterback and see what happens.
Perhaps he blossoms or perhaps he doesn't make it out of training camp. Either way, he will provide another element of size to the receiving corps outside of Aaron Dobson and provide depth and competition for training camp.
People seem to get so concerned with immediately figuring out how each signing like LaFell fits into the team's plans and what it means for the receivers already on the roster, but that doesn't need to be determined at this point. Training camp and injuries will determine it.
For a team that needed more weapons, LaFell is a solid addition who is a proven NFL receiver.
The Patriots locked up their second cornerback of the free-agency period Friday night when they signed Brandon Browner to a three-year deal worth $17 million.
At 6'4", Browner towers over the traditional Patriots cornerbacks we've come to know like Ellis Hobbs, Asante Samuel, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard. This size alone brings an entirely new element to the Pats' secondary and gives them another option to cover big receivers and tight ends.
Browner will be serving a suspension the first four games of the season, so the Pats will have to wait for him to make an impact, but once he returns he should give them an excellent outside corner who can play physical press coverage.
The Pats protected themselves from any potential issues that might arise for Browner in the future by only guaranteeing $1 million of his contract.
It's hard to know exactly how all these pieces in the secondary will come together, but Bill Belichick will have a number of different options that he's not used to having. Given Browner's size and skill set, it's a good bet he'll be on the outside doing what he does best—physical press-man coverage.
Expect Browner to play a significant role on the boundary of the defense. He could likely be a starter by mid-October across from Darrelle Revis, giving the Pats their most intimidating defensive backfield since the days of Rodney Harrison and Ty Law.
After testing the market in the early days of free agency, Julian Edelman decided a return to the Patriots made the most sense. Terms of his deal have not yet been disclosed, but it's a great move for the Pats to prevent them from losing their leading receiver for the second year in a row.
Edelman emerged in 2013 as Tom Brady's favorite receiver almost because he was the only one who remained healthy the entire season. It was the first season of full health for Edelman in his five-year career.
Edelman tallied 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. He also chipped in with a career-best 374 punt return yards.
If he can stay healthy in 2014, there's no reason to think Edelman won't surpass 100 catches and 1,000 yards again. With a new contract and reinforced confidence, Edelman is poised to build on his breakout season, and with better weapons around him, he should see even less attention from defenses.
For all the talk in recent seasons of the Patriots' inability to draft and develop wide receivers, Edelman is one of their biggest success stories. Drafted in the seventh round of 2009's draft after playing quarterback at Kent State, Edelman slowly improved and now could be the latest Pats slot receiver to be a first-down machine.
Expect to hear a lot more from Edelman not only this season, but for the length of his contract as he hits the prime of his career.
In what will surely be the headline of the Patriots' 2014 offseason, Darrelle Revis is now a Patriot.
Revis comes to the Patriots a full season removed from his 2012 ACL injury. In most cases, this is when players truly return to their pre-injury level, so it's not unreasonable to expect Revis should be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in 2014.
It's technically a two-year, $32 million deal, but with a second-year cap hit of $25 million, it's more like a one-year deal. Revis should be motivated to prove that he is the best cornerback in the league, and the Pats should be motivated to get a long-term deal. Either way, it's a win for both sides as far as 2014 goes.
Schematically, Revis brings many of the same elements the Patriots had with Aqib Talib in their defense—a cornerback who can lock down the opponent's No. 1 option in the passing game.
As good as Talib was, Revis is even better.
Revis was misused at times in Tampa Bay, perhaps due to his recovery, but Bill Belichick will know exactly how to employ the cover corner. Belichick didn't hesitate to have Talib follow a single receiver all over the field, and he'll surely be willing to do the same with Revis.
Not only will Revis have a big impact on the game field, but also on the practice field. He'll force Tom Brady and young receivers like Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins to bring their best every day, while also helping a young secondary that includes second-year players Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan and third-year player Alfonzo Dennard.
It's hard to know just how much one of the best corners in the game can elevate a defense, but it's clear Revis' impact will be immediate and improve the entire Patriots team.