In order to ascertain whom the New England Patriots will target during free agency, we first have to identify the weaknesses in the current roster and also any potential losses that the team may incur over the off-season.
Patriots Impending Free Agents
Trying to second guess Bill Belichick when it comes to roster moves is more blind luck than accurate insider knowledge, but the Lateral View will try anyway. What is important to remember here is that this is not my view on what the Patriots should do, but what I think the Patriots will do.
- LeGarrette Blount, RB – Resign – Will most likely compete with a 2016 draftee or veteran Free Agent
- Tarell Brown, CB – Release – Too injury prone to be counted on.
- Nate Ebner, S – Resign – A Belichick favourite, a lot of value to the Patriots, not much value to other teams.
- Dane Fletcher, ILB – Release – Veteran that missed the whole season
- Brandon Gibson, WR – Release – Looked intriguing in off-season, maybe too similar to Edelman and Amendola.
- Akiem Hicks, DT – Release – Hicks will likely reject approach from Patriots to test Free Agency after an excellent season.
- Steven Jackson, RB – Release – The Falcons were right, he was done.
- Dekoda Watson, OLB – Resign – He will be knocking around the 53rd spot on the roster at some stage in 2016.
- Ryan Wendell, C – Release – The Patriots already tried replacing him last season, may fully move on from the undersized interior man.
- Tavon Wilson, S – Release – Either Ebner or Wilson will not be kept, whilst Wilson played a bit more on Defence this year, Ebner is the better Special Teams player.
Current Roster Weaknesses
- Workhorse Running Back – A between the tackles running back is required to compete with Blount (if he is resigned). Bolden and White are ample 3rd down backups. Lewis will most likely not be a factor until later in the season due to his knee injury.
- Outside the Numbers Wide Receiver – Basically a Brandon LaFell replacement who showed nothing of his 2014 form. The Patriots theoretically should have this guy on the roster in Aaron Dobson but he has been too inconsistent.
- Backup Tight End – Scott Chandler has been a disappointment with inconsistent hands. Michael Williams is about as likely to catch a pass as I am.
- Swing Offensive Tackle – Perhaps controversially I don’t think the Patriots need to do a whole lot with their starters. Marcus Cannon was poor this year and is being paid a lot of money for his efforts (or lack thereof). Solder and Vollmer are both capable starters (Solder’s contract situation mean he will be the LT this coming year).
- Veteran Guard – Possibly to start over Mason or Jackson but mostly to push them in camp and maybe provide some leadership to a quiet group.
- Backup Linebacker – In Hightower and Collins, the Patriots have their starters locked up and could also have a lot of money invested in them before the season starts. A veteran starter could be brought in to do the job that they hoped Jon Bostic would do.
- 2nd Cornerback – Ideally Logan Ryan and Tarrell Brown (if he is kept) compete for the 3rd Cornerback spot and the Patriots sign either a Free Agent or build through the draft.
Potential Free Agent Signings
Time to put my money where my mouth is. But first, a few things to take into account before reading this list:
- The Patriots generally don’t make a splash and sign expensive free agents.
- Players who I believe will be resigned (e.g. Josh Norman and Von Miller) won’t be looked at.
- I won’t include other teams potential cap casualties. As hard as it is to predict what Belichick will do, predicting the other 31 teams and reading their cap-situations is another job for another time.
- I will try and pick 3 potential players for each position of need.
- Workhorse Running Back
- Matt Forte – Ok, this might be a long shot, but as a player coming off a down year by his standards and the fact that he is at the wrong side of 30 (just) and the lack of premium Running Back contracts in the league now make Forte a possibility for the Patriots (and the other 30 teams in the league).
- James Starks – Despite being 29, he has very little tread on his tyres, averaging 92 carries per year. Would be a good 1, 2 punch with Lewis or Blount
- Chris Johnson – He showed he has still got it before his injury last year. At 30, his price might be similar to Forte and the Cardinals have a ready-made replacement for him in David Johnson.
- Verdict – The free agent class is a mixture of guys who were available already during the year (Thomas, Draughn, Brown, Turbin, Dunbar, Cadet, etc.) or guys that will most likely command a decent price that the Patriots might not be willing to pay. Realistically they will probably look to the draft, if not Forte is the man.
- Outside the Numbers Wide Receiver
- Nate Washington – I am a big fan of Washington, and whilst he didn’t have a great season last year he does 2 things that the Patriots value, being healthy (missed 2 games since 2006) and has reliable production.
- Andre Holmes – The practice squad prodigal son returns! He had a decent few years in Oakland, more than likely good enough to compete with Martin, Dobson, Tyms and Harper but maybe not much else.
- Rueben Randle – A guy that doesn’t look like he will be back in New York and may be more productive as the 3rd or 4th target on an offense rather than the 2nd guy which he was at times. Randle’s form dipped last year which could represent the value that the Patriots so desperately crave during Free Agency
- Verdict – Randle would be the high ceiling, low floor signing. Washington would fit the bill of what the Patriots need in every department, apart from his age (33). I think they will add a Free Agent WR that has produced in the league. Holmes has improved since he left New England. Sensible choice would be Washington.
- Backup Tight End
- Clay Harbour – Not an exciting choice, but a player that might be more productive in a team that uses their Tight Ends more than the Jags did.
- Logan Paulsen – Similar in height and weight to Rob Gronkowski, Paulsen, when healthy has had some success. 2012 and 2013 were his best seasons but he still only had around 25 catches.
- Coby Fleener – Lost his starting role to Dwayne Allen his availability really depends if someone is willing to play and pay him as a starter. He might command a high price but if there is value, Fleener would be a big upgrade on Chandler.
- Verdict – The Tight-End Free Agency market is made up of talented guys that will likely be resigned (Gates, Green, Lewis and Watson) and guys that were hanging onto roster spots. Fleener would be a great signing, Harbour I think has the ability to surprise if given the opportunity.
- Swing Offensive Tackle
- Tyler Polumbus – Has not really been a career starter but has been a solid backup throughout. Age might count against him but an experienced Tackle should always be able to find work.
- Mike McGlynn – Often maligned at times with the Colts, McGlynn’s career mirrors that of Polumbus, a capable backup that probably doesn’t have the talent to start on a year in year out basis.
- Eric Winston – A priority free agent a few years ago, Winston never played up to the price he was paid by the Chiefs. Two years backing up Smith and Whitworth in Cincinnati might see him released if the Bengals no longer have a need for him.
- Verdict – Offensive linemen are so hard to evaluate, as they don’t have career statistics to measure them. The signing of a swing tackle is predicated on the potential cut of Marcus Cannon who is on a big contract that his play has not deserved. The Patriots may already have his replacement in L’Adrian Waddle, if not, I think Polumbus could be the guy.
- Veteran Guard
- Mackenzy Bernadeau – Experienced starter? Check. Good value on open market? Check. Positional versatility? Check. Suffered a debilitating injury? Check.
- Ted Larsen – One of those players that the Patriots missed on. Drafted by them in the 6th round in 2010, Larsen has carved out a career as a capable starter. He brings the versatility of being able to play Guard and Centre that the potentially departing Wendell also provided.
- Jamon Meredith – With Shaq Mason, Brian Stork, Tre Jackson and David Andrews already in the interior a player like Meredith who can play Guard and Tackle might have represent decent value and should be available at the veteran minimum.
- Verdict – A player like Meredith is more likely to come in than a starting calibre Guard. Despite their issues in the interior last year most of their incumbents are very young and have the potential to be starters for the next 10 years.
- Backup Linebacker
- Tahir Whitehead – The Patriots played primarily in two Linebacker sets in recent years. Whitehead would add good veteran depth and keep the average age down too.
- Emmanuel Lamur – Showed plenty of promise as an undrafted free agent eventually becoming a starter for the Bengals. His 2015 season was cut short by a knee injury. If the Bengals let him walk he could be a Patriot.
- Philip Wheeler – An outside bet for the Patriots but he has talent but has kept it well hidden for the last few years. An Indian Summer in New England could bring out the best in him.
- Verdict – Lamur would be ideal but Patriots fans should not be disappointed with Whitehead. It is doubtful to me that they make a big splash and spend a lot of money on a Linebacker.
- 2nd Cornerback
- Janoris Jenkins – Jenkins is a playmaker not too unlike Asante Samuel in style. Jenkins has proved his maturity but he is likely to command a big contract. Paired with Butler they could be one of the most dynamic cornerback partnerships in the league.
- Sean Smith – Strongly linked with a trade during the 2015 season to the Patriots. He isn’t the type for personality that the Pats normally go for, (DUI, marijuana charges). Still though, there is usually no smoke without fire when it comes to trade rumours.
- Nolan Carroll – Coming off a broken ankle this year, Carroll is a solid no.2 corner His current contract of $2.5million per year would suit the Patriots penchant for value.
- Verdict – Jenkins would be the ideal choice, but will St. Louis, sorry L.A. let him walk. A lot of teams will look to him as a realistic target if he does hit the open market, which could drive up the price.