New England Patriots: Free Agency and the Dreaded “V” Word

The New England Patriots enter the free agency market on Tuesday afternoon (once this bizarre “legal tampering” period ends) flush with cash following some prudent decisions, cap space carryover, and quarterback Tom Brady extending and restructuring his contract to provide cap space.  Patriots fans have nestled all snug in their beds with visions of sugar plums, Mike Wallace, Ed Reed, James Harrison, Dwight Freeney, and Greg Jennings dancing in their heads.  Unfortunately, the Patriots have famously eschewed the big dip into expensive free-agent signings and instead focused solely on finding “value”.

Pittsburgh , PA, USA; New England Patriots offensive guard Logan Mankins (70) and quarterback Tom Brady (12) Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

 

A look at the Patriots roster shows the Bill Belichick blueprint in all its glory: A very small upper-class of $10 million cap hits consisting of quarterback Tom Brady, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, and guard Logan Mankins, a moderate middle-class of 15 players between $1.5 and $5.5 million cap hits (soon to likely be losing wide receiver Brandon Lloyd from that middle class), and a large group of small cap number players (under $1.5 million cap hit) knowing and filling their roles.  With three potential $6 to $10 million a year cap hit players from the Patriots on the open market in cornerback Aqib Talib, tackle Sebastian Vollmer, and wide receiver Wes Welker, the Patriots are likely hoping that the market moves these three down to a more team-friendly value rather than top of the market prices.

With approximately $25 million in cap space available this off-season, don’t look to the Patriots to break from their long-term plan of roster flexibility by spending the cap money on one or two big name free agents to join their small upper-class stars.  Instead, expect to see the Patriots allow the big names to go to the highest bidders and then start looking for “value”.  As fans think about big-name big-play weapons on offense and aging superstars on defense, coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft are likely thinking about $4 million in dead money that the team is unable to spend due to the cap hits of the contracts of former defensive tackle Jon Fanene and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.

Dec 16, 2012; Foxboro, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots running back Danny Woodhead (39) and wide receiver Wes Welker (83) Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

 

The Patriots, if they have a free agent with mutual interest in coming to New England at a cap-friendly deal, will spend SOME money on impact players.  Their own free agents–Talib, Welker, Vollmer, Danny Woodhead, Kyle Arrington, and Julian Edelman– are looking to make as much money as they can in free agency, as they have earned the right to do so by playing out their contracts and their agents will makes sure they maximize their opportunity. The Patriots seem comfortable to let these players go to free agency and let the market determine their price tag and see if they come back to the Patriots at the cost they have given the players’ agents.

Odds are that at least one of the Patriots’ Big Three free agents will not break the bank in free agency and come back to New England.  However, the Patriots have free agency, the draft, undrafted free agents, and training camp cut-downs to obtain players before the regular season starts in September.  History in the Bill Belichick era indicates that all of these avenues will be utilized to build a team that is expected to win the AFC East, challenge for a top seed and a bye, and get to and win the Super Bowl.

Expect the Patriots front office to ignore the pricey free agents on the market and focus on adding players who may be undervalued due to age, injury, or playing in a scheme not maximizing their talents.   After the debacle of linebacker Adalius Thomas and defensive tackle Jon Fanene, the Patriots are more likely to be looking for Mark Anderson and Andre Carter type players, not wide receiver Greg Jennings or defensive end Cliff Avril at their top of market prices.

Apr 27, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots first round draft choices Chandler Jones (second left) and Dont


The best additions to the defense last season were defensive end Chandler Jones and linebacker Dont’a Hightower. These players were added in the first round of the draft at reasonable prices for an extended period of time.  Finding impact players at reasonable cost is best done through the draft, and the Patriots should continue to be aggressive trading up to get the best players available now that there is finally a rookie salary cap to control player cost.

The Patriots may not come out on the opening night of free agency and get an A+ snap decision for free agency like other franchises may well do; however, with past Patriots history as a guide, the Patriots will stick to their on-going team-building vision, and continue to wait for the prices to drop and add “value”. It is not flashy; It does not lead to a rush to the box office (which this team  has no worries about);  and it does not win the public relations battle; but come September the team goes out between the numbers and produces victories.  It may be frustrating as a fan to watch the Patriots deliberate, value-add emphasis plan, but they have found a lot of value in being patient and looking for value in free agency.  Expect more of the same this season.

Topics: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, NFL Free Agency

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  • coldhearted

    They need a deep threat Lloyd is not the answer

  • coldhearted

    Or go after jeninngs they need some one to take the top off a defense

  • Hal Bent

    I’m all for Jennings and dumping Llloyd’s $4 million cap hit to help pay for it, but the Patriots have such a horrible record (i.e. absolutely none!) getting a big-money big-time wide receiver at anything other than dirt cheap (draft: Givens, Branch; low cost free agent: Stallworth, Caldwell, and Gaffney; trade & low-cost/paycut contract: Welker, Ochocinco, Moss). I’d love to see the Pats sign Jennings or Mike Wallace or trade for Percy Harvin to give the team a legit deep threat, but their history under Bill Belichick has them signing $2 mil per year receiver like David Nelson and drafting another WR in the third round…but you are right, Lloyd was not the answer…wouldn’t be surprised he comes back at a super low pay rate after no one else goes after him

    • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

      I am not so hot on Wallace, unless if it is somehow at the right price. I wouldn’t want to splurge $11-14 million on him.

      • Hal Bent

        I love the idea of the deep threat, but there has to be a better way. They have been unable to develop a speedy receiver through the draft, but their offense screams for a deep receiver. I imagine the most likely move, however, is Stallworth back at veteran’s minimum for a couple of deep shots a game.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ralph.ruggeri Ralph Ruggeri

    Yeah well unfortunately for the hooded genius, his past several “value” players have not panned out too well. Instead, he should change up his approach and reach into the Pats purse and put some talent in the “D” and the wide out position. Pending what happens to Welker, we would be rather solid on offense if we could pick up a wide out like Wallace. Hell, even bring back Moss for a super low price for a one year deal. He wasn’t all that bad for San Fran, although he didn’t flash the old Moss stats, he still is fast and runs a great route. The hooded genius needs also to pay out some dough for some good defensive talent. These guys we have know are mediocre at best. I hope we do not resign Talib. He is a talented player, but it seems that he spends most of his time on the IR. Not a wise investment, if the guy can’t stay healthy.

    • Hal Bent

      It’s tough because it seems they really have an aversion to going to the big money…I don’t know if it’s because they don’t want someone to challenge TB12 in salary/respect, or what. My theory (unfounded–no evidence–everyone thinks I’m stupid for thinking it, but…) is that Kraft has a bonus tied into Belichick’s contract where he gets a bonus based on how under the cap the team is at the end of the season: It gets frustrating for an armchair GM like me to see them soooooo close and not take the plunge for a game-changer and go right up against the cap and just go all out for it.
      I like Talib, but I think I like him at 3 years $15 mil and not 4 years $35 mil….and I think the Pats see that too. I think they are thinking they get him like Brandon Lloyd last year: Everyone shies away and he signs at the price they want him.

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