What's Next for the New England Patriots Following the First Wave of Free Agency

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What's Next for the New England Patriots Following the First Wave of Free Agency
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Will the Patriots add to their already impressive offseason haul?

Fans of NFL teams—especially the New England Patriots—are rarely satisfied. After the first wave of free agency, they immediately want to know what signing or trade will happen next, no matter if their team just landed an All-Pro cornerback.

The Patriots, however, did far more than just sign Darrelle Revis. They added a valuable press corner in Brandon Browner, re-signed 100-catch receiver Julian Edelman and brought in competition at the position with the addition of Brandon LaFell.

Even with the impressive haul the Patriots have landed, the offseason is still young.

The limiting agent for Bill Belichick's plan this spring is space under the salary cap. According to OverTheCap.com, the Patriots currently have just north of $6.4 million of room. That number is far from set in stone.

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Vince Wilfork is a possible cut or trade possibility that would free up $8 million, while extensions to Devin McCourty and Stephen Gostkowski could free up even more. Cutting Dan Connolly or Adrian Wilson are two other options for alleviating cap problems.

Here are a few possible options for Belichick's shopping list.

 

 

Free Agent Possibilities

 

The slowest moving position this offseason has been running back. The Patriots may be able to take advantage of a depressed market by adding a veteran presence to complement Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden.

LeGarrette Blount performed well down the stretch in 2013 and has value on special teams as a kick returner. He has proven to be a durable, bruising back. Whether the Patriots are willing to match other teams' offers for Blount remain to be seen. Running backs know that they have a short shelf life and need to cash in when they can.

Knowshon Moreno is a player who Belichick may elect to pay a bit of a premium for. He has always been fond of players who have given the Patriots trouble—think Wes Welker in Miami—and Moreno memorably racked up 224 yards in the Denver Broncos' first meeting with New England in 2013.

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Moreno will only turn 27 this offseason, so he should have at least two or three more productive years in the tank.

The last big name target would be former Jacksonville Jaguar Maurice Jones-Drew. According to Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, he is seeking $3.5 million per year. While the Patriots aren't likely to pay that much for a player just shy of 30 years old, they could certainly kick the tires and see what he has left to offer.

 

 

Draft Needs and Targets

 

Free agency isn't the only grocery store in town. The 2014 NFL draft is just around the corner—May 8 through May 10—where NFL teams can pick up cheap, young options to fill in the cracks of their roster. Expect the Patriots to prioritize four positions in the draft.

 

 

"Y" Tight End

 

New England needs insurance in case Rob Gronkowski isn't able to start the season due to his knee surgery, and Michael Hoomanawanui—while a solid player—isn't going to trouble opposing defensive coordinators.  

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On Day 2 of the draft, there are three main prospects to read up on. Look for Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas, Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins to get long looks from New England.

 

 

"Move" Tight End

 

The Patriots haven't had a true "move" tight end since Aaron Hernandez was incarcerated. People with his sort of skill set just don't come around very often.

In the 2014 NFL draft, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron has the most talent but will probably be off the board before he enters the territory where New England could trade up for him. Texas Tech prospect Jace Amaro—not a true "move" or "Y" tight end—has some desirable traits—size, mainly—but has had some concerning injury and off-the-field issues during college.

Perhaps the best fit for New England would be former Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla. His troubles are well-documented, but if Bill Belichick feels like gambling a late-round pick, Lyerla has the talent to be an NFL superstar.

If Lyerla is deemed too much of a risk, the Patriots could look at Marshall FB/TE Gator Hoskins as a different sort of option for their offense. Hoskins is a decent blocker—better than Hernandez—and has a knack for scoring touchdowns.

 

 

Defensive Tackle

 

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The lingering uncertainty surrounding Vince Wilfork may prompt New England to invest in a defensive tackle sooner rather than later. In Round 1, Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III is the premier option. While he isn't a dynamic pass-rusher, Nix holds his own against double teams and is a sure tackler.

After Day 1 of the 2014 NFL draft, things are a little sparse. Princeton defensive tackle Caraun Reid, Louisiana Tech defensive tackle Justin Ellis and Arkansas State defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers are all options for late Day 2 or early Day 3.

 

 

Interior Offensive Line

 

If New England doesn't re-sign center Ryan Wendell, adding an interior lineman to provide depth and competition for Dan Connolly and Marcus Cannon would be a prudent course of action. Ideally, a prospect would be added who can play multiple positions.

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If the Patriots elect to make this a priority, UCLA lineman Xavier Su'a-Filo and Notre Dame lineman Zack Martin are the two options most likely to be around at the end of Round 1. Su'a-Filo projects as a mobile guard or center, while Martin can play either tackle or guard.

On Day 2, true centers Marcus Martin and Weston Richburg, from USC and Colorado State respectively, will likely pique the interest of new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo.

Iowa guard Conor Boffeli would provide some depth as a late-round pick. He doesn't have all the physical tools to be an NFL starter, but his background with Kirk and Brian Ferentz at Iowa would allow him to contribute as a rookie.

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