We’re in a little bit of a dead spot in the NFL offseason. The combine has come and gone. Free agency doesn’t officially begin until March 11th.
So what happens in these two weeks of dead space? Rumors. Lots and lots of rumors.
The New England Patriots are no different than any other team. There are plenty of needs, plenty of speculation about satisfying those needs, and plenty of (futile) attempts to guess what lies in the mind of Sith Lo- I mean head coach and mastermind Bill Belichick.
Let’s take a look at some of the juicier ones.
Will The Patriots Draft A Safety?
On Friday, the Patriots released veteran safety Steve Gregory. One of the key experienced members of this young Patriots defense, Gregory’s game IQ will absolutely be missed. But his release does save the Patriots $2.8 million, pushing their cap room to almost $12.5 million. With the needs to resign Aqib Talib and Julian Edelman, that 2.5 mil will absolutely help.
But his release sparked one question: will the Patriots take a safety in the upcoming draft?
There are two answers, one dependent on the other.
The first is how do the Pats feel about Duron Harmon? As Secretary of the Official Duron Harmon Fan Club and creator of 60% of a bronze statue in his image, my first instinct is: of course. All things considered, Harmon had a great rookie season. Even though he only played 36.9% of defensive snaps, he showed great poise, and showed off his one asset that makes him a good replacement for Gregory: his game-IQ. He’s not an explosive athlete, but he knows how to be at the right place to make that tackle or break up a pass. What bumps he did show over the season will be smoothed over with another season.
But…let’s say Bill Belichick doesn’t have enough faith in starting Harmon full time (doubtful, considering where he drafted him). And let’s say Adrian Wilson is the next cap casualty? Do the Patriots turn around and spend that money on another safety in free agency?
Hard to say, but my initial reaction is no. TJ Ward is going to be WAAAAYYY out of New England’s price range. Same goes for Jairus Byrd, Chris Clemons, and Donte Whitner. A possibility could be a prove-it one-year deal for Kerry Rhodes, but he’s an unknown after a long time out of football.
Which leads us to the draft and to one player in particular: Calvin Pryor.
Yes it would mean using that first-round pick, and maybe even trading up. But for a team that eschews the usual FS/SS marks for two safeties who can cover the field, doesn’t a bigger Bob Sanders 2.0, who has great range but also loves slamming into running backs sound good? Especially next to Devin McCourty? It makes you think…
But yeah. The real answer is the Pats will most likely stick with Harmon. Which is the right thing to do. (Thinking twice…) Yup.
Will the Pats Go After Red Bryant?
This is tempting.
The Patriots chased after Red Bryant hard in 2012, before he signed a five-year $35 mil contract with Seattle (leading to his Super Bowl win this past season). Bryant was then released last week, again opening the possibility he ends up in a New England uniform. He has spoken quite highly of Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft, and would probably enjoy playing for another Super Bowl contender. He’s apparently a great locker room presence and has been a great run-stuffer (a huge need for the Patriots).
The question (again) is cost. At 30, Bryant probably has one more bigger contract in him before he starts considering the short, “veteran-looking-for-a-ring” deal that the Pats gave to, say, Andre Carter. With other teams having more space to sign him (the Gus Bradley-coached Jaguars spring immediately to mind), it’d be a tough call. He would also be more of a two-down player in the Patriots’ scheme, as a 4-3 DT next to Vince Wilfork. You can never have too many interior linemen (as the Seahawks defense proved), but this might be another hole better filled with a draft pick.
That being said, the Patriots will be looking into signing Bryant up to the bitter end and he would be a great addition for the right price.
Will the Patriots keep the 29th pick?
Probably not. Moving on…
But seriously, will they keep the 29th pick?
Ugh, alright, fine. With the team as young as it is, New England is probably looking for blue-chip talent rather than several young pieces. But the second round is filled with intriguing prospects at the three positions the Patriots need to upgrade: defensive linemen, tight end, and interior offensive linemen.
This would mean making a trade down into the second round a lot more intriguing option (and maybe trading their 3rd/4th back into the second?). But there are a few players who could be worth taking at 29 (Louis Nix III, Ra’Shede Hageman, Jace Amaro spring to mind).
But yeah. Don’t bet on New England keeping that pick.
The Danny Amendola Situation
There’s been a lot of hullabaloo about Danny Amendola either being traded or released in the upcoming weeks. Here are my quick thoughts:
- Trading Amendola would be silly because his stock is at an all-time low. Coming of a statistically unimpressive, injury-plagued season? The Patriots would be looking at a low draft pick, if anything.
- Cutting Amendola does not help the Patriots’ cap situation in the short-term. They take less of a cap hit if they release him before March 11th, but that’s a helluva risk.
- Speaking of risks, even considering dropping Amendola before knowing for sure Julian Edleman will be back in a Patriots uniform seems silly to me. And as Edelman is finally up for a big payday, it’s hard to think he won’t seriously test the market.
- I truly believe that, if healthy (obviously a huge if), an Amendola/Edelman/Dobson trio at WR is a great group, especially with Year 2 for Dobson/Kenbrell Thompkins/Josh Boyce, and Year 2 with Brady for Amendola. Yes, watching a hobbled Amendola this past season was frustrating, but that doesn’t mean pulling the plug on him immediately is the right idea.
My guess is he’ll be playing in New England next year, and the team will be better for it.
Will the Patriots draft a running back?
A little bit lost in the free agent shuffle is LeGarrette Blount. Despite an positively ludicrous stretch at the end of the season, Blount ended the year on a bit of a sour note after being swallowed up by the Denver defense, putting up only 6 yards on 5 carries in the AFC Championship Game. At only 27, “Winnebago” Blount would still be a huge asset for the team and seemed to honestly enjoy his time in New England (he hugged Bill Belichick during a game! Hugged him!!!!).
But there’s a chance he leaves, and, if so, the Patriots will absolutely draft another running back. The days of a bell-cow back are fading away, and the Patriots flourished with a rotation of backs: Ridley’s more finesse-style of running, Vereen’s pass-catching ability, and Blount’s physical, bruising runs.
A player who fits Blount’s description is Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, who’s a big dude (6’0, 236) who can bowl over defenders at the second level, yet has the acceleration to pull away when he sees a hole. But Hyde is projected to be taken in the 1st/2nd rounds, and the Patriots have many more pressing needs than RB.
A possible pick in the later rounds that I love is Syracuse back Jerome Smith. He’s not the fastest or most athletic player, but he’s a big bruising guy at 6’0, 217. Despite being constantly swarmed by opposing defenses, Smith still put up 840 yards and 11 TDs in his junior year. He may never be a full-time starter in the NFL, but could be a key rotational piece and a goal-line stud.
Should Blount resign, there will be no need for another running back. But if he doesn’t, look for New England to fill this need through the draft rather than free agency.