New England Patriots Free Agency: Bill Belichick is Gonna Pop Some Tags


July 26, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick is gonna pop some tags, only got twenty (million) dollars in his pocket
He’s, He’s, He’s hunting, looking for a come-up, this is … awesome

After a flurry of activity around the NFL on day one of free agency, the New England Patriots dipped their toes into the market tentatively at first, but are now positioned to be one of the major players after the big money contracts have disappeared.  With apologies to Macklemore and the hit song Thrift Shop, the New England Patriots plans this off-season have seen Bill Belichick ignore the Gucci prices and delve right into the bargain bin at the thrift shop known as free agency.

Bill Belichick has certainly been resisting the temptation of high priced free agent much like last season when other teams spent wildly on big name players like defensive end Mario Williams and cornerback Cortland Finnegan, the Patriots sat back and brought in bargain players to supplement their roster and provide competition.  After letting wide receiver Wes Welker go to the Denver Broncos and then cutting wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (who was due a cap hit of $4.9 million), the Patriots have already brought in former St Louis Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola and former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Donald Jones.

The Patriots lost running back Danny Woodhead to the San Diego Chargers in free agency as another piece of the offense left for greener pastures (i.e. more money than the value the Patriots front office determined his worth to be.)  With former New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks kick returner/3rd down running back Leon Washington signed this week at a bargain price, the Patriots have a special teams ace who can contribute with running back Shane Vereen in Woodhead’s place.

With Steelers restricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in town for a visit, the Patriots have made clear that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is going to get every chance to remake the Patriots offense around quarterback Tom Brady and the two dynamic tight ends. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd could still return on a more team-friendly deal provided there are no suitors with cap space still available.  Right tackle has not been addressed yet either (other than depth free agent Will Svitek who is likely a back-up at tackle), with incumbent free agent Sebastian Vollmer still on the market.

On the defense, the Patriots have brought back cornerbacks Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib on the Patriots’ terms, as Talib is back on a one-year “prove-it” deal and Arrington is locked-up for four years as he returns to fill that vital nickel cornerback role (really where is he is best suited). Hard-hitting, multi-Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson was let go by Arizona and comes to New England to provide some much needed swagger and veteran experience in the secondary.  With other veteran defensive players in Foxborough this week to let the Patriots kick their tires (defensive ends John Abraham and Dwight Freeney), and a glut of free agents not finding their expected long-term contracts at top dollar, the Bill Belichick Bargain Bin is still in position to replicate their previous success in finding free agent veterans for short money.

As the Patriots patiently wait for the veteran free agents market prices to drop with each day that draws closer to the draft and cheap, young talent, here are some potential targets for the bargain-hunting Belichick & Co to look at this off-season:

Oct 2, 2011; Green Bay, WI, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (84) Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Brandon Lloyd, WR:
There is still a chance that Lloyd returns for a 1 year $2 million deal or 2 years with additional incentives.  His market was weak last year, and with the recent rumors of his being an issue in the locker room, his value is likely continuing to drop.  He could yet be back to New England as a bargain.

Jan 20, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham (55) takes the field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

John Abraham, Osi Umenyiora, and Dwight Freeney, DE:
These three All-Pro defensive ends are likely still waiting and hoping for a team to swoop in and overpay them on the open market at some point, but with the three veterans likely to end up looking for a one year deal with a base salary and incentives.  Their agents are going to be trying to convince them that they need to take a chance to try their luck again after a strong season as a situational pass rusher.  Considering how Mark Anderson did fleecing Buffalo after one year in New England, one of these three will likely bite for the exposure of playing in New England and re-establishing market value next off-season.

September 10, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (27) following a tackle by Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Ray Maualuga (58)

Karlos Dansby, Daryl Smith, Nick Barnett, Brian Urlacher, D.J. Williams, James Harrrison, Justin Durant, Shaun Phillips, and Ray Maualuga, LB:
The Patriots need at linebacker leans more towards drafting an athletic, young linebacker who can cover running backs and tight ends.  That said, with the value available with bringing one or two of these many linebackers flooding the market in as “Brandon Spikes Injury Insurance” and the possibility of flipping to a 3-4 base defense on occasion, any depth and tackling skill is welcome for the Patriots defense in 2013.

November 18, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton (98)  Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Casey Hampton, DT:
Hampton was let go by the Steelers and has had little news or activity this off-season. Hampton, although 36, would be a good fit in New England as a back-up to Vince Wilfork to give him 20 snaps a game off to keep him fresh. Although a 3-4 nose tackle, the Patriots 4-3 defense has two-gap tendencies and resting Wilfork during games can keep him fresh to contribute in the pass rush collapsing the pocket later in games and throughout the season.  Hampton is hardly the Pro Bowl player he once was 5 years ago, but he can still step in and fill a role like Ted Washington once did in New England prior to Wilfork arriving via the draft.

Jan 20, 2013; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez (81) is tackled by Baltimore Ravens strong safety Bernard Pollard (31)  Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

DeAngelo Hall, Quentin Jammer, Antoine Winfield, and Sheldon Brown, CB; and Charles Woodson, Quintin Mikell, Kerry Rhodes and Bernard Pollard, S:
Like the linebacker market, there are going to be plenty of veteran secondary players on the market soon to be signed at below-value prices.  Adding another cornerback in case of Alfonzo Dennard’s legal issues or Ras-I Dowling being Ras-I Dowling is vital (in addition to drafting another cornerback to add to the mix), and the team can always add another safety to be an upgrade over Steve Gregory or allow Devin McCourty to move back to cornerback. As these former Pro Bowl and starting secondary players are looking at 1 year deals at the veteran’s minimum, having the cap space to sweeten the deal with a few extra dollars or signing bonus could allow for some exceptional depth in the secondary and turn a huge weakness into a dependable and deep unit over one off-season.

The Patriots have the opportunity to turn their patience in not overspending over the past few seasons into building a powerhouse unit on both sides of the ball with a mix of youth and veterans, much like the Patriots Super Bowl teams of the early 2000s.  The Patriots have stayed true to their plan to not overspend and build a deep a team.  This year they are vindicated in their opinion that a flat cap is going to saturate the free agent market with great deals on veteran contributors.  Now they need to take advantage of their position and bring in some bang for their buck this off-season.

Bill Belichick is gonna pop some tags, only got twenty (million) dollars in his pocket
He’s, He’s, He’s hunting, looking for a come-up, this is … awesome