The New England Patriots have experienced a very turbulent offseason thus far. Some frustrating first few days watching the likes of Aqib Talib walk to the Broncos, the Patriots not making moves. But then things seriously turned around with the signings of Darelle Revis, Brandon Browner and re-signing Julian Edelman. This is an all free agency roundtable just like last week, so please, enjoy.
Q. The Patriots signed suspended CB Brandon Browner last week. How do you see Browner being used by Bill Belichick, and does his four games suspension scare you?
Hal: The last cornerback who came to New England with a four game suspension turned out alright (Aqib Talib). The suspension allows for a contract with only $1 million guaranteed for Browner. The larger cornerback opposite Revis should make for an interesting match-up.
Jed: The fact that the Patriots signed Browner despite his four game suspension tells just all you need to know about what the Patriots think about him. The Patriots have really missed having a hard hitting member of the secondary and Browner adds that dimension, albeit at the cornerback position. Having Browner and Revis in the fold really changes the complexion of the secondary and will likely have the most impact on opponent’s game plans against the Patriots. With Revis and Browner the Patriots have two very physical corners that excel in man coverage. They also have some much needed depth at a very critical position.
J.T.: The suspension doesn’t scare me. I’d rather see him play the last four games than the first four, and hopefully we won’t see any more violations from him. His strong suit is man-to-man press coverage at the corner, but he has the height to qualify at safety, so it will be interesting to see just how Belichick uses him. At minimum, his build and skill set offer a great deal of versatility.
Matt: Browner will be primarily used at cornerback, where he use his amazing physical gifts to get physical with receivers at the line, but I would also expect him to be used creatively as well. Maybe some looks at safety, but also inside as a slot cornerback, used on tight ends and even in the box almost like a linebacker against the run. And the suspension doesn’t scare me much. It helped the Patriots sign him to a very cost friendly contract.
Q. Julian Edelman recently signed his new deal, bringing him back for another four years. Were you like the rest of Patriots Nation, or are you a bit wary of this deal?
Hal: More details are necessary on the dollars of the deal, but 100 receptions are no fluke in any offense. With Amendola likely in the last year of his deal in New England length of the contract is not an issue. Three years for Edelman takes him right through the last of the Brady years.
Jed: I still think the Patriots might be contemplating releasing Danny Amendola, but that’s purely speculation. I’m glad to see Edelman back with the team for 2014, but worry that having two slot receivers featured so prominently in the offense will stunt the development of some of the other players who could really excel on the outside.
J.T.: I’m excited to see Edelman come back. I know there were quite a few fans that were ready to see him walk a year ago, but his breakout performance this past season proved that he belongs in this league. Edelman played all 16 regular season games and took over the Welker role in every way, shape and form. He did everything Danny Amendola was supposed to do. He’s the best punt returner in NFL history and has become Tom Brady’s most trusted target, so yeah, of course I’m happy.
Matt: I was pretty ecstatic. It’s really nice having Edelman coming back, someone that Brady is comfortable with, and while he won’t duplicate his numbers from last year, he’s going to have another really nice year. The contract is worth up to $19 million over four years, and it doesn’t have any big jumps, which means he’s going to be around for the duration of the deal, and will also be a very manageable cap hit for each year.
Q. The next move was bringing in Brandon LaFell on a three year contract, bolstering the Patriots wide receiver position. How does LaFell fit in this offense, and did you have preference for another receiver?
Hal: LaFell is a bigger receiver who has had a lot of production from the slot in multi-receiver sets and from being outside in two-receiver sets. His abilities give the team options in the passing game that their current receivers do not give them. In addition, there is less need to rush back wide receiver Aaron Dobson after surgery.
Jed: I like the LaFell signing. He might not light up the scoreboard from the X position like a lot of fans hope he will, but he is a big, strong target for Brady at the receiver position and he has just not had that over the past few years. I see LaFell falling into more of a David Givens type role in this offense. He should be reliable in the red zone and also give Brady an option to move the chains along the sidelines as opposed to the middle of the field. I do still think that the Patriots should bring in Kenny Britt to compete for a roster spot.
J.T.: At the time LaFell was signed, I think he was one of the better options available. He was one of the best receivers in the country during his days at LSU and was good, albeit not great, in Carolina. He most certainly has the opportunity to break through his shell with Brady at the helm. LaFell is versatile too, so expect to see him post up on the outside and in the slot, while also being tall enough to qualify as a solid red zone target.
Matt: I really liked this signing because it brings a nice physical wide receiver, and someone with some size. He’s not the prototypical downfield receiver, a deep threat like Randy Moss, but he gives them some excellent size in the slot, and can go over the middle without much fear. He gives the Patriots redzone production, and should have a solid season as the 3rd or 4th wide receiver option.
Q. Vince Wilfork is in a precarious position of being cut by the Patriots. How do you see this situation playing itself out? Will Big Vince remain a Patriot in 2014?
Hal: Wilfork has little leverage and a lot of anger leftover from his rookie contract. Public opinion is his only hope for pressuring New England’s front office to keep him at his current contract rate. Wilfork will renegotiate or be cut… But every day he remains in New England is another day another team has less money for him.
Jed: I still don’t think Wilfork will be cut. I don’t think the team is considering cutting him, actually. If the were, they would have done so days ago when he reportedly asked for his release. The team wanted him to re-structure and he didn’t want to. That doesn’t mean, in my opinion, that the team doesn’t want him back in 2014. The Patriots recognize the need they have at defensive tackle and I still can’t see them letting him go. There’s too much upside to keeping him.
J.T.: I’m hearing a lot of “this is just a negotiation tactic” stuff flying around, but it’s tough to say what the end result will be. My initial thought was disappointment that he might leave, but the more I consider his age, the magnitude of his injury, and his impact on the salary cap, the less I worry about it. I love the guy and he’s been as true a Patriot as anyone, but it is a business and I trust New England will do the right thing, whatever that may be. Either way, I expect the team to draft his eventual replacement this May.
Matt: I truly believe that Wilfork will still be a Patriot once the 2014 season rolls around this fall. The team isn’t in any rush to cut him, and he’s got to eventually realize that the DT/NT market is not very friendly right now, let alone to one who’s soon to be 33 coming off an achilles injury at 375 pounds. He probably would be smart to take a slight pay cut and get another year of security, and stay with a winner as well.
Q. It doesn’t mean anything right now, but who do you felt “won” this offseason so far? How do the Patriots rank amongst the rest of the NFL teams?
Hal: So far Seattle has signed their most important free agent, defensive end Michael Bennett, while keeping money available for 2015 for when the contracts of quarterback Russell Wilson and much of the secondary…however, the Philadelphia Eagles have been active resigning their own players, trades, and free agency for rebuilding their defense.
Jed: Honestly, it’s not really even close. The Denver Broncos have won hands down, just with what they have added on defense. The Patriots are probably in the middle of the pack in terms of free agency grading, but we won’t really know how these moves all work out until after the draft and once the season starts.
J.T.: Ugh…I really, really, REALLY hate to say it, but if I had to choose one team that has won free agency thus far, I’d have to say Denver. However, the Patriots are certainly not that far behind and in the end, they could even turn out to benefit the most. For now, I’d put the Pats right up there with Denver and Tampa Bay in the top winners category.
Matt: I think a few teams are competing for the pole position of winning this offseaosn. Right now, I think I’d give the advantage to the Broncos for bringing in so many name players, I think the Dolphins had a fantastic offseason, less name moves but a much better one than the last, but I think the team that did the overall best and was the smartest, was the Bucs. The Patriots should be right there, as they got the best player on the market. We’ll revisit this question again after the NFL Draft.
Thank you to Jed, Hal and J.T. for helping out on this week’s New England Patriots Roundtable. If you’d like to have a question answered by us on this roundtable, then feel free to send a tweet to @Musket_Fire or @MattyWinPats, or any of the guys personal twitters.