5 Available Free Agents Still Within the New England Patriots' Reach

James Christensen@@nepatriotsdraftContributor IApril 15, 2014

5 Available Free Agents Still Within the New England Patriots' Reach

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    Nearly $8 million under the salary cap, the New England Patriots are still able to look for value in free agency. They have added a lot of talent on defense and brought back many of the important pieces on offense, but there are still some holes that could be filled.

    Any player still on the market this far into free agency is unemployed for a reason. They either want too much money, are recovering from an injury or might not have much left in the tank.

    Look for the Patriots to be trolling the free-agent waters for value prior to and after the 2014 NFL draft.

Will Smith (DE, New Orleans)

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    The most likely candidate to sign with New England is former New Orleans Saints defender Will Smith, a once dominant edge-rusher. Doug Kyed from NESN.com explains Smith's evolution over the last few years:

    Smith tore his ACL in training camp last summer. Smith recorded six sacks with the New Orleans Saints in 2012. His best season came in 2009, when the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV, and he had 13 sacks, 49 tackles and one interception in 16 starts.

    Adding Smith would give the Patriots a true third option at defensive end, behind Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones. Michael Buchanan is raw but had some flashes as a rookie, while Jake Bequette hasn't been able to earn his way onto the field.

    If Smith is interested in playing for a contender on a one-year prove-it deal after exhausting his potentially quixotic quest for a lucrative long-term deal, look for Bill Belichick to snatch him up.

Andre Carter (DE, New England Patriots)

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    If the New England Patriots can't land Will Smith, they may go back to the well and sign two-time former Patriot defensive end Andre Carter. Carter racked up 10 sacks in 2011 before leaving for Oakland in 2012. He returned halfway through the 2013 season and was able to notch two sacks in a down year.

    Carter may have played his last football in 2013, as he was pretty ineffective rushing the passer. His chances of making the 53-man roster would be low, unless New England strikes out on pass-rushers in the 2014 NFL draft.

    Nevertheless, adding Carter to a deal at the veteran minimum really has no downside for New England. At worst, they are getting a solid presence in the locker room who will be a good teacher and role model through training camp.

Ed Reed (FS, New York Jets)

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    If only Ed Reed were 26 again. Like Andre Carter, Reed's best years are clearly behind him.

    Reed has lost multiple steps and—despite notching three interceptions in 2013 for the New York Jets—doesn't have the range that made him so dangerous. He can still bait a quarterback, but he doesn't have the speed to recover to the receiver that he once had.

    That said, it might be tough for Bill Belichick to pass on bringing in such a great football mind to tutor his young safety group.

    If Reed is willing to accept a back-of-the-roster spot and take on a teaching role, the Patriots could find a use for a player on his last legs.

Michael Bush (RB, Chicago Bears)

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    With LeGarrette Blount—now a Pittsburgh Steelerno longer a member of the team, the New England Patriots need to find another bruising back to provide insurance for Stevan Ridley's fumble addiction. Former Chicago Bears running back Michael Bush is a potential fit.

    Mike Reiss from ESPN.com analyzed the potential acquisition after Bush visited New England:

    Bush turns 30 in June, but his relatively light workload in 2013 contributes to there being a little less wear on his tires; he averaged about eight offensive snaps per game and didn’t play on special teams. He can still help a club as a complementary back.

    While it would be easy to look at his bigger build and compare him to a bulldozing-type runner, he's actually more of a cross between Blount and third-year Patriots running back Brandon Bolden because we could see him as part of a rotation on early downs and short-yardage situations (Blount) and also in some passing situations (Bolden).

    While Bush might not provide everything that Blount did—including the return game—New England would be wise to sign him now to prevent themselves from getting boxed in during the 2014 NFL draft.

Pat Angerer (LB, Indianapolis Colts)

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    The New England Patriots haven't shied away from adding former Iowa linebackers to man their reserve positions the last few seasons. A.J. Edds and Jeff Tarpinian each saw limited action on defense and special teams.

    Former Indianapolis Colt linebacker Pat Angerer could be the latest Hawkeye to join the team.

    After two solid seasons to start his career, Angerer's play tailed off in 2012 and 2013, corresponding with multiple injuries to his knees and feet. He is currently recovering from micro-fracture surgery.

    If the Patriots fail to add a depth linebacker who can contribute on special teams in the 2014 NFL draft—fellow Iowa alum Christian Kirksey could do the trick—Angerer could be valuable on a one-year contract.