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New England Patriots Opinion: Breaking down top three free agents

Sebastian Vollmer is viewed by most beat writers as the top priority for the New England Patriots in this year’s version of free agency, and I agree with the writers who list Vollmer as the No. 1 priority for the Pats. Mike Reiss already said he views Vollmer as the Pats top priority, and now Zuri Berry  believes that Vollmer is the top guy to re-sign for the New England Patriots this offseason.

On the poll on the right side of the Musket Fire site, a different story is shared by you fans. You guys view Aqib Talib as the biggest priority for the Patriots, while Wes Welker is just behind him in second place. Vollmer, however, is far off in the distance in the poll behind Talib and Welker.

It all starts with positional value, and the Patriots would be in a huge funk at tackle if Vollmer is not re-signed. If you look at the tackle position, the Patriots have just three useful players in Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, and Marcus Cannon. Solder and Vollmer make up one of the best tackle pairings in the NFL, and Vollmer is the best right tackle in the league right now (even with chronic back injuries). While Cannon isn’t the best right tackle in the world, he’s a more than capable young backup with upside and came up big on Thanksgiving Day against the New York Jets.

If Aqib Talib isn’t re-signed, then the Patriots still have Alfonzo Dennard at corner (he’s better than Talib and the advanced numbers prove it) and could move Devin McCourty to corner (I hope that doesn’t happen) if it comes to that. Kyle Arrington isn’t as bad as people think, and he and Marquice Cole can play the slot at a decent level when asked to. While Arrington is maddeningly inconsistent, he’s actually one of the better nickel corners in the league. Talib allowed 8.3 yards per attempt with the Patriots, so he isn’t this great cover corner. He’s more of a playmaker with solid coverage skills but with lapses that lead to him getting burned.

Talib isn’t irreplaceable, even though he is a valuable component of this team and somebody we would like to have re-signed. The Patriots are reportedly reluctant to give him a multi-year deal, as CSNNE reported that a source close to the team said that the Pats are afraid he will react poorly to a multi-year deal and showed a lack of work ethic on a couple of occasions this year.

I think Talib is actually the third priority on the Patriots “Big Three” hitting the free agent waters this offseason, because franchising him is too expensive, there are still concerns about him, and he will likely command a large multi-year deal. Wes Welker will also want a lump sum of money, but Welker is extremely difficult to replace with his quickness, ability to fill in on returns, and ability to move the chains. Sure he had 13 drops, but he caught 118 passes and had a drop rate that was the 59th-highest in the league. I’m not worried about Welker’s drops, and the schematic importance and overall talent that Welker brings to the table far outweighs some of the drops he’s had in key situations (that seems to be the main qualm with Welker for Pats fans).

The crop of wide receivers in his free agent period either don’t meet the Pats needs or are even more expensive (or worse) than Welker. Anquan Boldin is the only guy who makes sense to me as a prospective free agent signing for the Patriots, but I’d rather have Welker’s short-area quickness and route-running as the league’s top possession receiver than Boldin’s athleticism. I like Boldin, but I’m sure most people will agree that Welker is the better player.

Anyway, this piece isn’t about Welker but rather Sebastian Vollmer. He proved this past season that he is the league’s premier right tackle with exceptional run blocking, lockdown pass blocking (granted, when he’s fully healthy), and terrific leadership. That last category is a key on the offensive line, where cohesion is of paramount importance. That’s especially true for a zone-blocking line like the Patriots, and you can tell that the right side of the line melted down (except in the Jets game) when Vollmer was off the field. He is the Pats second-most talented player set to hit free agency this season (after Welker), but he is their top priority. There is little doubt that Vollmer wants to stay above all else, and that the Patriots want to re-sign him above all else.

I doubt he gets hit with the franchise tag. I have a feeling the Pats will get a deal done with him, and then they’ll use the tag on Talib. That would leave Welker as a free agent, but I have this uncomfortable gut feeling that the Pats will have to grind out a deal with Welker the hard way…and that it probably won’t work. I hope Welker realizes that no amount of money is worth losing a legacy with the team like the Patriots, and losing the chance to catch passes from Tom Brady and, possibly (hopefully, from my perspective), win a Super Bowl with New England.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.

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Tags: Aqib Talib New England Patriots Sebastian Vollmer Wes Welker

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