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Words With Frenz mailbag: Examining remaining options in free agency

Posted by Erik Frenz  March 14, 2014 07:00 AM

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As of 12:00 a.m. ET Friday, NFL teams had handed out $560,825,000 in guaranteed money to free agents.

Business is booming. The NFL's salary cap rose by $10 million over the 2013 cap, and figures to rise again in the coming years. Teams are less shy than ever about their spending.

The Patriots have made a large investment of their own in signing cornerback Darrelle Revis shortly after his release, but they've been quiet otherwise. There are plenty of other moves they could make this season, but they must also be thinking long-term with regards to free agency.

patriots 2015 fa .jpgThey have 19 players under contract for 2014 who are set to hit the open market in 2015, and eight of them are projected starters at their positions.

To re-sign key players like left tackle Nate Solder, safety Devin McCourty, running back Stevan Ridley and possibly even Revis will come down to the Patriots' ability to keep cap space open for the 2015 season. That means taking it easy on long-term dollars.

That being said, there are still plenty of options available that seem to fit the Patriots' mold for value adds in free agency. Here's a look at some questions on the minds of Patriots fans as we keep refreshing our Twitter feeds for the latest news.

Matthew, the Patriots brought in veteran receivers this week for workouts: the Panthers' Brandon LaFell and the Eagles' Jason Avant.

Both receivers are over 6-foot and 200 pounds, but according to Pro Football Focus, both men spent a majority of their time in the slot in 2013; Avant ran 77.7 percent of his routes from the slot, while LaFell ran 63 percent of his routes from the slot. The Patriots are covering their bases in the event that Julian Edelman signs with another team.

LaFell was the more productive player, but both receivers have put up similar numbers over the course of their careers. They are both 40- to 50-catch guys, and like Edelman, neither one is considered a vertical threat.

Other options still on the market include former Packers receiver James Jones and former Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Those are the two most high-profile options left on the market. Sanders has made several visits over the past few days, as has Jones. The Patriots haven't shown interest in either of those players this offseason. They signed Sanders to an offer sheet last season when he was a restricted free agent, but the Steelers matched the offer sheet.

Erin, the options at tight end are starting to come off the market pretty quickly. The Bills re-signed tight end Scott Chandler to a two-year contract on Thursday; he would have made the best backup option to Gronkowski, but he will remain the starter with the Bills. Former Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew would have been another option, but it appears he's headed to the New York Jets.

Garrett Graham was on the Going Deep blog's Patriots free agency wish list as a potential replacement (albeit athletic downgrade) to Aaron Hernandez, but he has re-signed with the Texans.

There are some other options out there if the Patriots want more of a receiving tight end: Kellen Winslow was with the Patriots for a short time in 2012, and is a free agent of the Jets this offseason; the Texans released Owen Daniels, who was injured for most of the 2013 season. The Patriots could look into one of those two after the market quiets down, but after spending big on Darrelle Revis (two years, $32 million with a $20 million team option in 2015), don't expect a lot more big-ticket free-agents.

Nothing yet, Ryan, which leads me to believe he'll be back in New England. Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston reported in February that there was mutual interest between the two sides.

Again, it's important to remember that a market could always develop for LeGarrette Blount. At 27 years old, he's not yet wearing the tread thin on those tires just yet. He rushed for over five yards per carry last year. That being said, free-agent running backs are not exactly getting paid big dollars this year. If Blount was hoping for a big contract on the open market, he might be disappointed.

Aaron Hernandez's cap hit is $7.5 million for the 2014 season. According to Joel Corry of National Football Post, the Patriots could recoup all of that money if Hernandez is found guilty in the 2012 Boston double murder.

The problem is, they won't find out about any of that until long after the free agency frenzy has died down. If they get relief from Hernandez's cap hit somewhere down the line, they could still roll over the savings into next year.

Well, I think the second part of your question has been answered, but B.J. Raji would be a nice alternative if Wilfork leaves. Raji has similar size — Wilfork is 6-foot-2 and 325 pounds, Raji is 6-foot-2 and 337 pounds — and skill set as a two-gap defensive tackle or 0-technique (lined up square over the center) nose tackle. Raji has immense potential as the former No. 9 overall pick, but he is not of Wilfork's caliber.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Packers' last offer to Raji was a one-year, $4 million contract. Their hesitancy to exceed that number should be alarming for teams inquiring for his services. For that price, though, the Patriots should at least look into what he has to offer.

Right now, Frank, it doesn't appear that way. Everyone keeps waiting for the Patriots to be connected to someone like Jared Allen or Julius Peppers, but so far, there's been no news to that effect. That could certainly change in the coming days — fans often forget that free agency is a fluid process; it is that very fluid process that allowed the Patriots to land Revis.

That being said, I think defensive end is one of the under-the-radar needs for the Patriots. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich played more snaps than any other defensive end in football in 2013, and someone needs to be brought in to take the burden off them. The Patriots filled that void last year with Andre Carter, and they drafted Michael Buchanan in the seventh round as well. Perhaps Buchanan is in line for more snaps, but the Patriots should be looking for ways to give Jones and Ninkovich some must-needed rest.

This is a good question, Syvato, because I think it's a little closer than other people seem to think it is.

dennard vs ryan.jpgFrom a statistical perspective, the two had very similar coverage numbers in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus. They were three percentage points apart in completion percentage, and two snaps apart in cover snaps per reception.

Entering his third year, Alfonzo Dennard has the edge in experience over Logan Ryan, who is coming off the heels of an impressive rookie campaign. Dennard was the starter when healthy last year, and even stepped into the No. 1 role when Aqib Talib went down during the season. Dennard and Ryan will probably battle it out for the starting job in camp, but Dennard should have the inside track to the starting job.

Does Belichick get to bring Revis? Because if so, Belichick. The hurricane would wash up on the shore of Revis Island.

We sleep when every free agent in the NFL has signed with a team. Assuming no players get cut in the meantime, this should only take us another 174 days. Unfortunately, that's when the football season begins, and we certainly can't sleep then.

It's hard out here for a football writer.



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About the author

Erik Frenz delivers analysis of the biggest news with the Patriots, including insight into the AFC East and New England's biggest rivals from a Patriots perspective. Erik is an interactive writer who engages his audience in his posts’ comments sections and on Twitter. Readers are encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. More »

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