The New England Patriots are going to have some tough decisions to make this offseason, provided that there’s a new CBA in place and free agency happens as scheduled. The team has 14 potential free agents hitting the market, and while there are not as many big names hitting the market, there are some key cogs that the Pats could potentially see walk away. Let’s take a look at the free agent list and who’s likely to stay and who’s likely to go.
RB Kevin Faulk – Faulk’s season ended early due to injury and little Danny Woodhead came in and filled in Faulk’s third-down back role quite nicely. He will be 35 next season, and I think it’s more and more likely that he will retire and not return. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take up some other role with the team, as his leadership was evident all season and he was seen in the facility throughout the season.
RB Sammy Morris – Another back who’s getting up there in age, I don’t see Morris returning to the team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play elsewhere, but he won’t be back with the Patriots.
RB Fred Taylor – This could have been the great back’s final season. He was with the Pats for two seasons but barely saw the field at first due to injury, but then when he was healthy, BenJarvus Green-Ellis had taken the lead role over and was not giving it up. Taylor will likely retire, ending a successful but injury-riddled career.
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis – Green-Ellis is a restricted free agent so his return to the team after rushing for 1,000 yards is a virtual lock. The only thing that may stand in the way of his return is if he and the Pats don’t see eye to eye on a contract and he holds out. I don’t foresee that and he will likely be leading the way with a new, youthful backfield that will include Danny Woodhead and probably a draft pick.
OL Quinn Ojinnaka – The Patriots traded for Ojinnaka towards the end of training camp and he saw limited action this season. He will likely return in a back-up role.
LT Matt Light – Light has been with the Patriots for 10 years and made yet another Pro Bowl this season. His play was thought to have dropped off the last couple of seasons but he did a phenomenal job protecting Brady’s blindside this season. I don’t think that Light will look for big money as he nears the end of his career and will likely return to the team on a 2- or 3-year deal while the Patriots groom the left tackle of the future (possible draft pick). I think that Sebastian Vollmer will stay at right tackle. The wild card at this position is Nick Kaczur, who suffered a back injury early in camp.
LG Logan Mankins – Mankins is the biggest name in this free agent pool and the most important for the Patriots to keep. Despite holding out for 8 weeks during the regular season, when he returned he didn’t miss a beat and was selected to his 3rd Pro Bowl. That goes to show how much respect Mankins has throughout the league, and Tom Brady made mention during his radio appearance earlier in the week that he would like to see Mankins back. This is probably the toughest free agent to figure out. I think that the two sides will try once again to work out a deal, and I could see this going either way. The new CBA will likely play a huge role in the negotiations. The Pats need to know how much cap space they have before signing anyone to a big contract. If the franchise tag remains, the Pats can play that card, but if they do, Mankins is gone. He felt insulted by the Pats offering him the restricted free agent money last time and franchising him will likely be, in his view, the final “slap in the face.” When push comes to shove, I think (“hope” is maybe a better word) that the two sides can reach an agreement and Mankins will remain a Patriot.
CB Kyle Arrington – Arrington is an exclusive rights free agent, so he isn’t going anywhere. He was a starter throughout much of the season opposite Devin McCourty and did a good job, but he was targeted often by opposing quarterbacks as the season progressed. If Leigh Bodden returns to his 2009 form and starts opposite McCourty, Arrington will be a very good nickel corner.
S Josh Barrett – Barrett is a special teamer and will likely return in that role.
S Jarrad Page – The Pats traded for Page on cut-down day but injuries limited his contributions this season. When he was on the field, he did a solid job. If he’s looking for a starting role and starter’s pay, which is why he was a holdout in Kansas City, he will not return. If he’s willing to take less money and be a role player like he was this season, the Patriots will keep him. I think that Page is more of a “must keep” than the next player on the list, though their futures are intertwined. If Page elects to sign elsewhere, then the Patriots will re-sign…
S Brandon McGowan – McGowan was one of a slew of players on IR this year, and his injury likely led to the Patriots trading for Jarrad Page. If the Patriots lose Page, then I feel they will bring back McGowan. I don’t see the Pats keeping both of them, especially with Pat Chung, Brandon Meriweather, and James Sanders already on the roster.
DL Gerard Warren – Warren stated that he would like to return to the Patriots next season and is he’s willing to play for around what he was making this year, I think that will indeed happen. Warren’s probably an “unsung hero” this season because he did a very solid job playing on a defensive line that was riddled with injuries, but he didn’t get much public recognition. He would add some quality depth and be part of the rotation when Ty Warren returns.
LB Tracy White – Another cut-down day trade for the Patriots, White was second on the team with 18 special teams tackles. I feel that White will return to fill that special teams role. As the stat indicates, he did a good job on special teams and helps to solidify that unit. Belichick does put a premium (though a cheaper premium) on good special teams players.
K Shayne Graham – Graham will not be back with Stephen Gostkowski returning from injury. Graham did a good enough job to likely land a job elsewhere in the NFL.