Since the start of Free Agency, some clubs stamped on other clubs Front Office’s face – “Free Agency Here I come”, while other clubs acted as if they never got the memo or the facsimile transmission, for that matter. Though classifying teams as “winners” or losers” at this early stage of team building is premature; on the other hand, it does serve as a measure stick or a preview, if you will, on the structure, development of the team and game plan that we are so eagerly waiting to see in September.
In my previous piece, (New England Patriots Opinion: “In Bill Belichick I Trust”) the New England Patriots didn’t buy into the frenzy or overspent, as many other teams did. Although, the Patriots did do their due diligence with a significant signing of former St. Louis Rams Danny Amendola to fill in the void (or to enhance the wide receiver slot position) upon the end of the Wes Welker’s Saga.
So far, Amendola’s signing has been the biggest contract (5 year $28.5 million; $10 million guaranteed) the Patriots has engaged since the beginning of the free agency period. Whether Amendola is an upgrade to Welker, I think that the Patriots saw potential in Amendola and just like Welker has developed into a great wide receiver in the Patriots system, there’s a good chance Amendola will develop in the Patriots system. Bill Belichick has a gift in seeing and developing a player’s strongest strengths and with his ability already to play in the slot and outside, it’s a perfect fit for this offense. The only side back is injury, but any player is subject to injuries.
Former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Donald Jones will probably have to fight for a spot light, but interesting enough, last season he played his best two games against the Patriots with 2 receptions for 90 yards and one touchdown in the first meeting, and 6 receptions for 74 yards and one touchdown in the second time they met. It’s not uncommon for Belichick to pick-up talent from divisional adversaries and turn them into their worst nightmare.
If there’s a “bargain” in free agency in terms of talent, need and cost, the Patriots got former Seattle Seahawks running back Leon Washington (1 year $1.3 million) at the “thrift store”. Washington is the bomb in the running, receiving and returning game as in 103 NFL games with 14 starts he recorded 473 rushing attempts for 2,213 yards and 16 touchdowns; 146 receptions for 1,127 yards and two touchdowns; returned 168 punts for 1,668 yards and 244 kickoffs for 6,315 yards and eight touchdowns. Stay healthy and keep production up, Washington! That’s exactly what the Patriots need.
Former Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson is the cheaper version (3 years $5 million) of Ed Reed (3 years $15 million). While the 33 year-old, 13 year-veteran is being pounded whether he still has “gas left in the tank”, nobody is asking if Ed Reed 34 year-old, 12 year-veteran has gas left in the tank. In his 181 career games with 162 starts, Wilson has compiled 716 tackles, 25.5 sacks and 27 interceptions in his 12 years with the Cardinals. I would say, he is thirsty for a ring.
Will Svitek, a former Atlanta Falcons tackle, is a very under the radar player that most people wonder who he is. Spending the entire 2012 season on injured reserve due to an arm injury didn’t help much, but before joining the Falcons in 2009, Svitek was a Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman. He has played in 61 NFL games with 16 starts during his seven NFL seasons. Svitek could be a “sleeper cell” in this team’s offense and a fall back in case of injuries in the depth chart if he makes the 53-man roster.
The Patriots made free agency more interesting with the re-signing of offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer to a 4 year $17 million contract. Vollmer is one of the best right tackle who also possess the ability to play left tackle. With Vollmer locked up, the Patriots front 5 remains the same as from 2012. The Patriots also brought back Kyle Arrington, Aqib Talib, Marquice Cole and Niko Koutouvides.
The New England Patriots moves in free agency might have been slow, but it was steady, solid and covers the team’s needs; whereas our divisional opponent Buffalo Bills, the moves have not been so “smarty pants”.
The fact they cut quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in a free agency and draft market that is currently unfriendly to quarterbacks was a big mistake. While Fitzpatrick’s passing rating of 83.3 for 3,400 yards and 24 touchdowns doesn’t even compare to Tom Brady’s passing rating of 98.7 for 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns, I don’t think that Tarvaris Jackson stats (79.2 passing rating for 3,091 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2011) is promising for a top place in the Bills depth chart. Also losing top guard Andy Levitre to the Tennessee Titans was another mistake that doesn’t make-up for the sole signing of linebacker Manny Lawson so far in this free agency period.
In the New York Jets side, not much has happened either. Tebow’s fever with the Jets has diminished to a low-grade fever, and as just as the Jets vision throughout the season on how to utilize Tebow was a blur, it remains blurry. As for now, we can count on quarterback Mark Sanchez being the starter until further notice. And yes, Rex Ryan is happy to know Wes Welker is no longer a Patriot. In the mix of the Welker’s story, seems like Ryan totally forgot he might have gotten a worse headache – dealing with Danny Amendola (I love football).
“Staying or Going” is the main dilemma for cornerback Darelle Revis as his knee injury appears to recover faster than the talks between the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers can show progress on a possible trade, which from a Bucs perspective, they should do all their due diligence giving the risk and cost of the trade in question.
Since the start of free agency the Jets only signed linebacker Antwan Barnes, defensive lineman Antonio Garay, guard Willie Colon and running back Mike Goodson. It clearly leaves top positions open as they lost Shonn Greene, Dustin Keller, Mike DeVito and LaRon Landry.
Going south, the Miami Dolphins got into the free agency shopping spree with a big smile as if money was not a problem – which wasn’t. The Dolphins got some good acquisitions such as wide receivers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson, linebackers Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe and tight end Dustin Keller. For a moment, I thought that the Dolphins could “easily” become a division contender, which I think they are in the right track in comparison to other teams. But with the loss of major talents such as Reggie Bush, Jake Long, Sean Smith, and good players like Chris Clemons and Anthony Fasano, it sets them a bit behind if these positions are not addressed.
In sum, based on the on-going transactions in the past weeks, the New England Patriots is the team who is steadily heading into the right direction of all the AFC East division. I would like to see Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in a Patriots uniform as the Patriots still need a wide receiver, and Musket Fire Lead Editor Joe Soriano could not have said it better when analyzing the benefit of having Sanders in terms of draft pick.
The Miami Dolphins looks to be a threat to their opponents – the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, but as far as being a threat to the New England Patriots, they would have to work a little harder than normal. Nevertheless, the Patriots don’t ever underestimate their opponents. Anything can happen in any given Sunday.
Follow Celia Westbrook on Twitter @celiawestbrook