The dust has settled on the free agency frenzy as NFL teams have mostly turned their attention to the upcoming draft.
The New England Patriots are not done addressing needs, with some holes to fill at tight end and on both the defensive and offensive lines. There are still some talented players available, and the Patriots may have been waiting for the market to die down a bit so they can make those last few value signings to round out their roster.
There are still some in-house free-agents to take care of, including running back LeGarrette Blount and center Ryan Wendell. With just $4,019,036 in cap space, the Patriots don't have money to waste, but there are still questions to answer. Let's get to some of the questions on the minds of Patriots fans.
The market has been slow to build for Blount, but there seems to finally be some interest. The Baltimore Ravens have expressed interest in Blount, and Blount will visit with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday, according to Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun. He could still end up back in New England, but it's no longer as certain as it appeared before, when there was no market for his services.
Both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are free agents after the 2014 season, so it strikes me as a little puzzling that the Patriots appear to be taking such a lackadaisical approach at running back. Unless one or both of those players is re-signed, the Patriots could be looking at a brand new stable of backs as early as Week 1 of the 2015 season.
@ErikFrenz why the pats didn't do anything about the middle of the O-Line? IMO that was their biggest need before offseason, still nothing— fega (@_fega_) March 27, 2014
Wendell remains a free agent, and he has yet to make any visits according to ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss. The Giants expressed interest, according to Mike Garafolo of USA Today, but nothing has happened there yet.
There is a chance he could still be back with the team; however, it's also possible that the Patriots are looking to move on from Wendell and field a new starting center for the first time since the 2011 season. That year's starting center: Dan Connolly, who has played right guard over the past two seasons and could feasibly make the transition back to the middle of the line. If that's the route the Patriots choose to take, they would then be left with a hole at right guard.
Either way, the Patriots will probably have to make a move at either center or guard before the offseason is over, whether in free agency or the draft.
@ErikFrenz think offense or defense rd 1? Pass rush or WR/TE— Evil Bill Belichick (@evil_belichick) March 27, 2014
Between tight end, offensive line, defensive line and running back, there are enough needs on both offense and defense that the Patriots shouldn't worry about addressing a specific need with their first-round pick. It's hard to do that at the end of the first round, anyway.
That being said, I think the better value in that spot at the end of the first round will probably be on the defensive line, with plenty of defensive tackles and defensive ends likely to be still on the board.
If you're hoping the Patriots draft a wide receiver, don't forget that they recently signed both Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell to contracts. They also just signed Danny Amendola to a contract last season, and drafted Aaron Dobson in the second round, so they probably don't want to put too many resources into one position.
Between Edelman, LaFell, Amendola, Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Josh Boyce, there is already a logjam at the position. Adding more receivers would just mean more receivers have to get cut to make it down to a 53-man roster.
@ErikFrenz With Allen now a Bear. Who is the Pats best option for FA DE? And how about SS?— Glenn B Gutierrez (@GBGutz) March 27, 2014
I have a nice full breakdown of the best remaining options at defensive end, both in free agency and the draft, over at Bleacher Report.
The best free-agent fit at defensive end is Robert Ayers. He was on my free agency wish list before the market even opened, and he's still on the market over two weeks later. He generated pressure on 13.2 percent of snaps in which he rushed the passer in 2013, and he ranked 10th in Pro Football Focus' pass-rushing productivity among 4-3 defensive ends.
At strong safety, the best option on the market is Steve Gregory. He was a salary cap casualty, freeing up $2.85 million in cap space, but the Patriots might be willing to bring him back at a reduced salary. They might just be better off handing the keys to Duron Harmon and seeing how he does with an increased role. He played well last season, showing good range, play recognition and tackling ability.
@ErikFrenz Gronk status/Wilfork status/ Lafell or Thompkins or Dobson on outside next season— Adam Bailey (@BaileyUK1131) March 27, 2014
Way to fit as many questions as possible into 140 characters.
- Gronkowski's status, according to Bill Belichick: "Are you seriously asking that question right now?"
- Wilfork's status, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter: restructured to a new three-year, $22.5 million deal.
- LaFell or Thompkins or Dobson on the outside next season: Well, there are two outside receivers, so it could be a rotation of those three, or LaFell could be seen as competition to one of the two younger receivers (probably Thompkins, just based on skill set).
@ErikFrenz random question: Besides Revis, who's the best player ever to go from the Jets to the Pats or viceversa.— Rodolfo León (@thefofo) March 27, 2014
It has to be either Curtis Martin or Ty Law. Martin will always stand out because he made the switch so early, and went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Law stands out because he was a key to the Patriots' Super Bowl wins, and was let go immediately afterward, only to register a league-leading 10 interceptions the next year. Law was nearing the end of his career, but he was still a talented player.
For that reason, I'll go with Martin. His impact was greater for both teams, where Law's impact was felt most greatly with the Patriots.
Pepper Johnson will be coaching the defensive line, and that is one incredibly talented group. It's understandable why he would leave New England for the opportunity to go to Buffalo and coach talents like Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes. Three of those four (the Williams' and Hughes) logged 10 or more sacks in 2013, and Dareus fell just short with 7.5.
Johnson expressed a desire to one day become a defensive coordinator, and Buffalo may provide him a better opportunity to eventually step into that role than New England, where he had already been passed over twice for the opening in favor of Dean Pees and Matt Patricia.
As far as what Johnson brings to the table, Bills head coach Doug Marrone indicated he really likes Johnson's combination of playing and coaching experience, which helps him connect with players.
"The tape never lies," Marrone said of Johnson at the scouting combine. "When we played New England and Pepper was the defensive line coach, I thought those guys did a great job up front. Obviously, we know a lot about him as a player. I think he brings a lot to our organization, someone that's obviously been a part of five Super Bowls, someone that has a great intensity about himself. He was a great pro. I think he'll bring a lot to our football team not only in the classroom, but some of the stuff on the field and off the field as our team continues to grow."
Thanks for reading, everyone. Further questions can be sent to me on Twitter or in the comments section.