Keep or Cut Decisions for Patriots' 2015 Free Agents

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IFebruary 6, 2015

Keep or Cut Decisions for Patriots' 2015 Free Agents

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    The confetti has barely ceased to fall on the New England Patriots' Super Bowl 49 win, but they are already in preparation mode for the 2015 season.

    Every team wants to be in the Super Bowl, but it has its disadvantages, too. The Patriots are already behind the 30 other teams in their scouting for the NFL draft and in their self-scouting as it relates to free agency.

    The Patriots' list of free agents reads like a who's-who of first-round picks and some of the more prominent players to suit up for the Patriots over the past few years, so let's dive right into a look at which players they should keep and which players they should move on from this offseason.

Restricted Free Agents

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    Tender or Re-Sign: Sealver Siliga, Brian Tyms, James Develin, James Morris

    Siliga and Develin both had very important roles on the team, contributing on more than 20 percent of the snaps on their side of the ball, according to Pro Football Focus. The Patriots need Siliga like a camel in the desert needs water, with a lack of depth at defensive tackle and an aging Vince Wilfork in the middle. Morris had the potential to be a core special teams player and backup linebacker before a preseason injury took him out of the lineup. Tyms is part of a wide receiver depth chart that lacks, well, depth, and needs all the big bodies it can find to complement the likes of Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman.

Darrelle Revis

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    Prognostications of Revis' demise were premature, to say the least.

    One of the key cogs in New England's championship defense, Darrelle Revis yielded completions on only 51.8 percent of the throws into his coverage, with four touchdowns, three interceptions and 12 passes defended, according to Pro Football Focus

    Revis proved he can still track a team's best receiver and provide blanket man-to-man coverage, but he also proved that his immense skill set can be adaptable to the Patriots' versatile scheme. His ability to fit the Patriots' game-plan style defense made him a huge commodity on a week-in and week-out basis.

    Verdict: Bring Him Back

    When the Patriots signed Darrelle Revis to a two-year, $32 million deal, there was immediately speculation over whether the team would exercise the $12 million option due to Revis at the end of the 2014 season to keep him on the roster at a whopping $25 million cap number in 2015.

    Decision time is upon us.

    The Patriots should try to renegotiate Revis' deal, getting him on a long-term deal at a more team-friendly number. Revis will not come cheap, and he has been one of the league's highest-paid cornerbacks for years now, but bringing him back is a no-brainer given his value to the defense.

Devin McCourty

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    With major additions like Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner to the secondary, the Patriots called on one of their own veterans to act as the glue that would bring it all together.

    Safety Devin McCourty did not have one of his flashier seasons, picking off only two passes, but he was a steady presence on the back end and helped the Patriots be the last defense in the NFL to surrender a pass play of 40 yards or longer against them.

    McCourty has long been one of the more durable players on the team, and he started every game for the Patriots this year, participating in 92.1 percent of the Patriots defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Verdict: Bring Him Back

    A two-time team captain, McCourty's leadership in the locker room and on the back end of the Patriots' defense have been vital for the team over the past two years as he has ascended into one of the best safeties in the league.

    The Patriots put a lot of stress on McCourty as the lone deep safety in Cover 3 and Cover 1, making it his responsibility to cover the entire back end and make sure no long plays went over his head. He was mostly up to the challenge, and the Patriots should reward him for his efforts.

Dan Connolly

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    Very few offensive linemen have truly embodied the Patriots' thirst for versatility the way Dan Connolly has. In his career, the veteran lineman has started at all three interior offensive line spots: left  guard, center and right guard. 

    In 2014, he began as the team's starting center before shifting over to the left guard spot as the Patriots sorted out the offensive line combination that worked best for them. His move to left guard, along with Bryan Stork's insertion at center and Ryan Wendell's insertion at right guard, heralded the beginning of the renaissance for the Patriots offensive line.

    Verdict: Bring Him Back

    The Patriots paid a high price for Connolly's services in 2014, with a $4.083 million cap hit. If they are going to bring the 32-year-old guard back for another run of service, they should try to have him at a more team-friendly number, considering that cap hit put him in the top 15 guards in the NFL. That being said, he has value for his status as a team captain and as a versatile player who can play just about anywhere he is asked. 

    Regardless of what happens with Connolly, the Patriots should be looking to get younger on the inside of the offensive line, but they probably should not do so by forcing the likes of Jordan Devey and Marcus Cannon into the starting lineup.

Stephen Gostkowski

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    Adam Vinatieri finished the season with the highest percentage on field goals at 96.8 percent accuracy. Stephen Gostkowski finished with the second-highest percentage at 94.6.

    Bill Belichick would be proud.

    Gostkowski was good for a 50-yarder and hit 12 of his 13 attempts between 40 and 49 yards. He also helped the Patriots finish with the sixth-highest number of touchbacks per game at 3.2, and with an average of 6.3 kickoffs per game, Gostkowski was disallowing returns on more than 50 percent of his kickoffs.

    Verdict: Bring Him Back

    This one is a no-brainer. The Patriots have been fortunate to have some of the best kickers in the league on their roster over the years, and Belichick places a high value on having a solid special teams unit. There could be some penny-pinching going on in Foxborough, MA this offseason, but Gostkowski should be safe from that axe.

Shane Vereen

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    When the Patriots drafted Shane Vereen in the second round in 2011, it was clear that they wanted to groom him into the Kevin Faulk/Danny Woodhead role for the future. His performance in that role has been solid but unspectacular. 

    The 2014 season marked the first time Vereen crossed the threshold of 100 touches, as he finished the season with career highs in receptions (52) and carries (96), leading to a career high in scrimmage yards (838) and touchdowns (five). 

    Verdict: Let Him Go

    The Patriots will always have a need for a versatile, explosive back on passing downs, but the question is whether Vereen will be back at the price the Patriots will ask. Vereen can add "Super Bowl champion" to his resume, which may make him a more expensive commodity than the Patriots would be willing to pay. That's especially true considering Vereen played a key role in the big game with 11 catches for 64 yards and four carries for 13 yards.

    Think back to players like Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who both enjoyed fair success but were not brought back by the Patriots. Wisconsin running back James White was the Patriots' fourth-round selection in last year's draft, and he could be in line to move into Vereen's role if the two sides can't reach an agreement.

Stevan Ridley

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    The Patriots showed a lot of confidence in Stevan Ridley when they did not re-sign LeGarrette Blount as a free agent last offseason. Then, they added some competition right back to the running back spot when they selected James White in the fourth round.

    Ridley's season came to an early end after he suffered a knee injury against the Buffalo Bills, but before that, the running back was on his way to his worst season to date with an average of 3.6 yards per carry and a total of two touchdowns at that time. However, he was doing a good job of holding onto the ball, and he didn't have a single fumble in the first six games of the season.

    Verdict: Let Him Go

    The knee injury may actually work out in the Patriots benefit. Ridleys' stock on the open market surely took as big a hit as Ridley himself did, which means the Patriots should be able to get him back on a one-year prove-it deal. If the Patriots approach Ridley with such a deal, it would be wise of him to take them up on the offer, since he probably won't find much better elsewhere.

    That being said, given Ridley's history of fumbles and the uncertainty of his talent level coming off the knee injury, it is not likely the Patriots will be too keen on putting the hopes of their backfield on Ridley's shoulders.  

    All contract and salary cap information cam via Spotrac.


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