New England Patriots Final Free-Agency Outlook and Predictions

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IMarch 3, 2015

New England Patriots Final Free-Agency Outlook and Predictions

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    The only thing harder than getting to the top of the NFL mountain is to stay there.

    The New England Patriots are no strangers to that challenge, and they have lived up to the challenge once before. With so much potential for change this offseason, they may find it even more difficult than it was last time.

    At least from 2003-2004, a majority of the nucleus of the roster remained in tact. From 2014-2015, the Patriots could lose several players who have meant a great deal to the team over the year, and particularly in the Super Bowl run. 

    The Patriots do have some opportunities to round out their roster, but they have a big task on their hands to retain the likes of Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty and others. Here are some predictions on how it all may go down.

Either Devin McCourty or Darrelle Revis Will Not Be Back in a Patriots Uniform

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    It was easy to sit here a few days ago and say that Devin McCourty could be franchise tagged and that Darrelle Revis could be brought back on a long-term deal, because it worked. But the Patriots complicated things when they neglected to put the tag on McCourty. Now, they are most likely forced to choose one of the two most important defensive backs on the roster.

    Patriots fans were hopeful that Revis' contract negotiations would consist of some hometown leniency but, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter (via Ryan Hannable of WEEI), Revis will test the open market if his $12 million roster bonus and $20 million team option are not picked up. It's still possible that Revis could be back in New England, but he will have his choice of top-dollar suitors on the open market.

    McCourty has developed into one of the best safeties in the NFL, as well, and he would be an asset to plenty of teams as the safety position becomes more and more valuable. He's certainly been an ultra valuable piece for the Patriots defense for years and could provide a steady presence on the back end for any number of teams. 

Both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen Will Sign Elsewhere

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    A year ago, the Patriots were facing a situation where they could potentially lose all four of their backs to free agency in a 12-month span: LeGarrette Blount was a free agent last year, and Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden were all scheduled to be free agents this offseason.

    Bill Belichick didn't have to kneel down and grab a hold of the railroad tracks to see this train coming a mile away. Almost immediately, the Patriots got started reloading their backfield.

    They drafted James White and signed Jonas Gray and Roy Finch as undrafted free-agents. They then picked up Carolina Panthers running back Tyler Gaffney off waivers, even though his torn patellar tendon had already ended his season. A few months later, they re-signed Blount as a free agent after he was released by the Steelers. They finished it off by signing Bolden to a two-year, $2.32 million contract extension back in December.

    Vereen and Ridley have been important pieces to the Patriots' backfield, but with both set to hit the open market, the Patriots are more than ready to move on from their two backs.

The Patriots Will Sign a Veteran Pass-Rusher

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Starting defensive end Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich can't be expected to bear the full burden of the snap count every season. In games they played, Jones and Ninkovich participated in an average of 86.5 percent and 94.1 percent of the snaps in 2014, respectively, per Pro Football Focus. 

    The Patriots signed defensive end Will Smith last offseason, but he didn't even play well enough to make the final roster. Rookie defensive end Zach Moore began to show signs of promise toward the end of the season, but other than him, their pass-rushing depth is as solid as Jell-O right now. 

    Luckily for the Patriots, there are plenty of veterans available on the open market. Jabaal Sheard (Cleveland Browns), Dwight Freeney (San Diego  Chargers), Brian Orakpo (Washington Redskins) and Brandon Graham (Philadelphia Eagles) are just some of the pass-rushers who could be fits in their versatile scheme.

    For purposes of cap money, Sheard may be the most reasonably priced. His production has waned since his breakout rookie year, but he has shown the potential to get after the quarterback in a rotational role. He notched 30 pressures in 353 pass-rush attempts, according to Pro Football Focus.

Dan Connolly Will Re-Sign

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Dan Connolly has never heard of a square peg in a round hole. He shaves his edges to fit whatever hole he is asked to fill.

    The Patriots value versatility on the offensive line, and Connolly has it in spades. His ability to line up at center and at both guard spots has helped the Patriots get out of some tight spots in the past, be it injury or ineffective play. This year, it was the latter, and Connolly was a rock during a tough start and through a transition to a new-look line with Bryan Stork at center and Ryan Wendell at right guard.

    One thing that was exposed in the early part of the season was the Patriots' lack of depth on the interior of the offensive line. Unless they see either Jordan Devey or Marcus Cannon as full-time starters, moving on from Connolly would not be a wise move. 

Vince Wilfork Will Be Back in New England

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Call me an idealist, but it's hard for me to see Vince Wilfork suiting up for another team. The Patriots will probably approach him about restructuring his contract, just as they did last year. He may balk at the idea once again, but he loves it in New England. His family loves it in New England. He always glows about the coaching staff.

    The only issue for Wilfork is the money, and in his 11-year career, Wilfork has earned $50.67 million in cash, according to Spotrac. That's only around $4.6 million per year. For a player who has been one of the NFL's top defensive tackles, that's not enough. The question is whether he is still one of the NFL's top defensive tackles.

    The Patriots are in need of some cap relief, and after tasting more Super Bowl glory in 2014, he may see the value in closing out his career as a lifelong Patriot. 

    Unless otherwise noted, all salary cap and contract information provided by Spotrac.