The Patriots have thus far followed a simple strategy when it comes to free agency: re-sign their own key players. However, it’s been their big splashes in the trade market that have captured headlines and Patriots fans’ attention since the NFL lockout ended. There are likely still signings yet to come, as Matt Roth, Raheem Brock, and Quentin Moses have all been in for workouts and haven’t signed anywhere.
Let’s grade the Patriots based on what they’ve done thus far.
Grading the Patriots’ free agent moves is a tough prospect if you look at it from purely the free agent scope and leave out the trades. I’ll break down their grade into two sections: free agency and trades.
The amount of free agents that have signed with the Patriots is a long but familiar list. Pro-Bowl guard Logan Mankins signed his franchise tag and is back with the team for at least one more year. His return is key to the offensive line being a strong unit, as is the return of left tackle Matt Light, who signed a two-year deal that could be cut short if rookie Nate Solder develops. With the return of Mankins and Light, the Patriots have their full starting offensive line from 2010 in tact. They also added centers Chris Morris (Panthers) and Jonathon Compas (Buccaneers) as depth moves. They represent the only two signing in free agency outside the organization.
The Patriots also brought back veteran running backs Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Law Firm was a restricted free agent and wasn’t likely to go anywhere anyway, but his return does bolster the large running back corps. Green-Ellis lead the team last season in rushing with 1,008 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. Kevin Faulk and Sammy Morris face a tough battle with all of the young legs in camp to make the final roster, but their veteran presence and leadership in the locker room, especially the case with Faulk, is welcome and necessary.
In the secondary, the Patriots re-signed corner Kyle Arrington and safety Brandon McGowan. Arrington started most of last season and did a good job opposite Devin McCourty, but struggled late as teams began realizing they shouldn’t throw McCourty’s way. McGowan missed last season due to injury and figures mostly to be a special teams contributor if he sticks, as the Patriots already have Patrick Chung, Brandon Meriweather, and James Sanders atop the safety depth chart. The Patriots also brought back linebacker Tracy White, who was a solid special teams contributor.
I’d love to give the Pats an “incomplete” for a grade because they haven’t really signed any new bodies through free agency, but that would be a cop-out. Re-signing Matt Light and having Logan Mankins sign his tag and return were key moves that would have left the Patriots looking awfully soft on the offensive line if they signed elsewhere. That boosts their grade.
Overall Grade: B-
The first trade the Patriots made was for DT Albert Haynesworth, giving up a fifth-round pick in 2013 to the Washington Redskins. Haynesworth’s past is certainly checkered, to put it lightly, but “so far so good” seems to be the appropriate phrase right now. He’s practicing with his teammates and seems to be happy where he’s at right now. If Haynesworth plays hard this year, this is a HUGE steal for the Patriots. If not, he could get cut with little lost. My worries come if he gets unhappy enough that he becomes a problem in the locker room. Depending on the damage done there, should it happen, is he worth it?
The same can be said for WR Chad Ochocinco, who is VERY happy where he’s at right now, calling it, “Heaven.” He runs crisp routes, which Brady loves, but has had some drops thus far in camp. It’s not anything to be worried about at this point, but it’s something to monitor. He has said he’s committed to buying into the Patriot Way, and I have to believe him at this point based on his actions thus far and his contentment being in New England. He, like Haynesworth, bears watching if the Patriots hit a tough patch in the season.
Overall, these players should improve the team, at least on paper. It’s the risk factor and possible disruption to a locker room that’s full of young players that worries me slightly.