Best and Worst Moves the New England Patriots Have Made in Free Agency
As the first wave of free agency ends and owners meetings begin, it is time to take stock of how the offseason has started for the New England Patriots.
Every team goes into free agency with a plan of action. Some teams—the Denver Broncos, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Patriots—are able to execute all or part of that plan. Others—the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets for example—don't get the job done.
Where have the Patriots succeeded this offseason? Where have they tripped up? Read on for the three best and two worst moves they've made so far.
Best: Exchanging Aqib Talib for Darrelle Revis
Fans of the New England Patriots were readying their pitchforks when Aqib Talib signed with the Denver Broncos. The angry mob became a jubilant one, however, when Bill Belichick was able to sign Darrelle Revis to replace him.
In addition to being one of the top two cornerbacks in the league—I won't say the best to avoid upsetting Richard Sherman—Revis is quite durable. He has played a full 16 games in five of his seven seasons, missing three games in 2010 and 14 games in 2012. On the other hand, Talib has never played a full season, missing at least one game in each of his six seasons.
With Revis' ability to lock down a team's top receiver, look for ball hawks Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan to get plenty of opportunities to create turnovers.
Worst: Muddying Vince Wilfork's Situation
Vince Wilfork has been a stalwart of the New England Patriots defense since he arrived from the University of Miami. That tenure may be coming to an end. Karen Guregian from the Boston Herald explains:
Following the initial discussion between the Patriots and Vince Wilfork over altering his contract, the nose tackle not only asked for his release, but also made a stop in the locker room to grab his belongings before walking out of Gillette Stadium.
According to two sources, an angry Wilfork ripped his name plate off his locker stall, and cleaned out his locker. That's how Big Vince felt about the proceedings. Naturally, time and distance can change perspective, but Wilfork seemed convinced he was done in New England.
Two weeks have passed since Wilfork's outburst, so things certainly may have changed in his camp. Logan Mankins looked like he had both feet out the door during his extended holdout in 2010 but eventually came to an agreement with New England.
Some are treating Wilfork's departure as a fait accompli, but I wouldn't be shocked to see No. 75 patrolling the interior of the Patriots defensive line in 2014. If he isn't, the Patriots are going to have to scramble in the 2014 NFL draft, with Louis Nix III (DT, Notre Dame) as a top prospect.
Best: Signing Brandon Bowner
In addition to the electric acquisition of Darrelle Revis, a thunderous boom was heard when Brandon Browner put ink to paper in New England. Doug Farrar from SI.com had a good bead on how Browner might be used in New England:
When the Seahawks signed Browner out of the Canadian Football League before the 2011 season, they turned him into a hammer. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Browner was tasked to be as physical as he possibly could with opposing receivers at the line, looking very much like a super-sized version of a 1970s pass defender. Browner had the trail speed to keep with receivers after he forced them outside, but as that speed wore down in 2013, he became a bit of a liability in coverage.
However, given that Bill Belichick has always had a great knack for putting his players in hybrid roles to best exploit their strengths, one might expect to see Browner playing different roles in New England’s defense. Against teams with bigger No. 2 receivers, Browner might be outside, but imagine him as a mega-safety or nickel backer in passing downs.
Browner is a chess piece that can be moved around to check bigger pieces on the board. With Browner and Revis adept at press coverage, that should make things easier on Devin McCourty and whichever safety he lines up next to.
The corners will funnel players to the sideline or to the middle of the field right into the awaiting arms of their friendly safeties.
Worst: Letting Dane Fletcher Walk
With all the hoopla surrounding the acquisition of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, the loss of Dane Fletcher didn't get a lot of press. Coming out of Montana State, Fletcher converted from a defensive lineman into a fine nickel linebacker that made a huge impact on special teams.
In addition to his special-teams acumen, Fletcher was a better option in coverage than Dont'a Hightower and Brandon Spikes while pressuring the quarterback on seven of his 33 blitz attempts according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Fletcher only played in 211 snaps, but rarely was he just along for the ride. Look for New England to try and find a replacement for him in the 2014 NFL draft. Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey is a good fit that should be available in Round 3 or 4.
Best: Solidifying the Receiver Position
Fretting over the New England Patriots receiver situation came to a head when it was announced that Aaron Dobson would miss part of the offseason program due to foot surgery.
The worrying—or most of it anyway—came to an end when Julian Edelman was re-signed and Brandon LaFell was brought into the fold. Suddenly, New England had six receivers—Dobson, Edelman, LaFell, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins—fighting for five probable roster spots.
Competition for roster spots between receivers that are still improving has been nearly unheard of in New England over the last few years. Mixing a young group of players—no rookies—with some talented veterans in their prime is a good sign for the offensive outlook in Foxborough.
If the Patriots can add another tight end to the duo of Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui, Tom Brady may have a full arsenal at his disposal in 2014.