Grading the New England Patriots' Free Agency Moves so Far
Grading the New England Patriots' moves in March might seem premature, as free agency has barely begun. That said, you can begin to make some initial judgments on how teams' strategies have worked out so far.
The Denver Broncos, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Patriots have certainly executed on their plans, while other teams like the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets have left their fans wondering if there was anyone sailing the ship.
Here are initial grades for six moves that the Patriots have made and three they didn't.
A nightmare for New York Jets fans—Revis in a New England uniform—is a dream scenario for New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. With Revis' ability to lock down one side of the field, he can use the rest of his defense in a more exotic manner.
Only two concerns surround Revis' landing in Foxborough: his contract and his health. The former could lead to Revis being a mere rental for New England, while the latter could put the Patriots in a spot—missing their top cornerback—that they are all too familiar.
Revis doesn't seem too concerned about it, however. Hetalked about his recovery from surgery with local media on a conference call:
I was slow and maybe sluggish in the beginning of the season but week to week, I got stronger and stronger. Toward the end, I probably felt my best as a football player. That’s a thing where it took some time and I thank [the] Tampa Bay Buccaneers for everything they did to help me with my rehab throughout the course of the year. It was a big process to get through that and fight through it but right now I feel great. I’m just ready to play ball.
If Revis is just starting to feel at the top of the game, that is a scary thought for the rest of the AFC East, regardless of how many years he plays in New England.
Initial Grade: A
Brandon Browner likes to hit people on the football field. He was brought in to be a press corner and intimidator in the secondary.
There has been a lot of speculation on whether Browner will see time at safety, but he has downplayed that potential change. "No, they haven’t talked to me about playing safety. So far, I’m here to play cornerback. I’ll play wherever need be. I just want to play football and I’m fortunate to be playing for a team like the Pats," Browner stated on a conference call with local media.
If Browner can prevent big receivers and tight ends from getting off the line of scrimmage and make receivers think twice about catching the ball, this signing will be a success.
Browner will miss the first four games of the season due to a suspension, but the New England Patriots have enough depth at the corner position to handle it.
Initial Grade: B-
Many receivers that have come to New England—Joey Galloway and Chad Johnson come to mind—have struggled acclimating to the Patriots' complex offense. LaFell, however, might not have that problem. He elaborated on that point in a conference call with the media:
First, we did a lot of post-snap reads when I was in Charlotte. We always had two or three when we came to the line of scrimmage. We always had to go on the fly based on what the defense was in, it was right before the snap.
If LaFell can jump in right away and show he comprehends the playbook, he will be a valuable player that can fill in at any receiver position.
LaFell has the height—6'2"—and hands to play the "X", while having the sharp routes and quickness to excel at the "Z" or inside at the slot. He might not be a starter at any one position, but his ability to back up all three positions is quite valuable.
Initial Grade: B
Julian Edelman: A
Tom Brady and New England Patriots fans had to be thrilled to have Edelman back for another four years. Not only does he provide Brady with a reliable option in the passing game, his prowess on punt returns gives him an added dimension that increases his value on game day.
Michael Hoomanawanui: B-
Copy editors in the greater Boston area may be the only ones excited by Hoomanawanui re-signing with New England, but he is a solid blocker and pass-catcher that knows his role and is as consistent as they come. If the Patriots land some "Y" tight ends in the draft, Hoomanawanui might be in a fight for his job.
Danny Aiken: C+
Signing long snappers just isn't very sexy. Aiken had a good 2013 season—despite one memorable snap over his punter's head—and the work put in 2013 with his battery-mates Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski will pay off in the future.
Aqib Talib: A-
If Darrelle Revis hadn't been signed, this could easily have been an "F." Talib signing with the Denver Broncos isn't ideal for New England's Super Bowl chances, but the Patriots have certainly upgraded the position.
Brandon Spikes: C+
Spikes was one of the few intimidating presences on the Patriots defense, but his relationship with the Patriots coaching staff had deteriorated so much that both sides needed a fresh start. Dont'a Hightower can slide over into his intimidator role and New England can replace Spikes with a smaller linebacker more adept in coverage.
Dane Fletcher: D+
Speaking of coverage, Fletcher was one of the few Patriots linebackers that excelled in that aspect of the game—Jamie Collins the other. Letting him go to Tampa Bay could bite the Patriots in the behind if they are unable to replace his production in coverage and on special teams.
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