New England Patriots: Top 3 Items on Offseason Agenda
By Hal Bent
CURRENT FREE AGENTS:
The Patriots have two key free agents: defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and running back LeGarrette Blount headlining their offseason. In addition to these starters, key role players such as safety/special teams aces Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner, defensive tackle Sealver Siliga, and offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Finally, injured veterans such as cornerback Tarell Brown, linebacker Dane Fletcher, fullback James Develin, and guard Ryan Wendell are free agents this offseason
Hicks is a talented, young, and explosive defensive tackle. New England stole him from New Orleans in a trade for backup tight end Michael Hoomanawanui earlier in the season. While Hicks did little in his time in New Orleans, he was fantastic in New England showing elite athleticism to go with his massive size. He was able to contribute against the run and provide an inside pass rush.
Hicks may have played his way out of New England: with his strong performance at a position with few players of his talent another team is likely to pay him much more than the Patriots have budgeted for him. Look for him to get a multi-year deal at twice what New England offers.
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Blount had an up-and-down season before landing on injured reserve. Blount seemed to lack the explosiveness he had shown in previous years and unless he takes a bargain-basement deal, he will not get a lot of money from New England. The Patriots consider their running backs interchangeable but Blount may not get much interest on the open market. He should return at a veteran’s minimum contract.
New England will likely only pay for one special teamer out of Wilson and Ebner. Wilson has the ability to contribute on defense more than Ebner, but rookie Jordan Richards took his playing time this season. By the end of the season Wilson was a DNP-CD and that likely indicates his time in New England is over. Look for Ebner to return with a reasonable and cap-friendly deal and Wilson to leave.
Young defensive tackle Sealver Siliga showed a lot of promise in 2013 after being signed from the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad. However, injuries and the emergence of young defensive tackles Malcom Brown, Dominique Easley, and the surprising strong play of veteran Alan Branch have cut into his playing time. Siliga is an elite run-stopper and is a restricted free agent if the Patriots make a qualifying offer. With Hicks likely gone, although he saw little playing time he could return for short money next year.
Patriots 2016 Free Agency Yes/No: LB Dane Fletcher
Offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle is another restricted free agent who is difficult to predict if he will receive an offer from New England. He barely played before an injuries shut him down. He did not have any suitors before the Patriots signed him and he could return to push Marcus Cannon for the swing tackle role in training camp.
Veterans Tarell Brown, Dane Fletcher, James Develin, and Ryan Wendell all had minimal impact in 2015 and seem unlikely to return in 2016. Of the four, Develin may be the most likely to return if he is fully recovered from his broken leg. He is a restricted free agent and he had a positive impact on the running game as a blocker in his time in New England, contributed on special teams, and is a favorite of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels who loves having a fullback in the offense.
Wendell and Fletcher seem likely to retire this offseason after health issues derailed their season entirely. Wendell may be a depth option, but with the influx of young interior linemen on the roster it seems unlikely that Wendell would be asked to return. Fletcher was a longshot to make the roster to begin with and will probably not return. Brown is an intriguing option as he would provide quality depth as a slot cornerback if he is healthy enough to play in 2016. However, he would likely not sign anywhere until he is fully healthy and right at the start of training camp.
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