Free agency will begin 4 p.m. sharp March 12 and the Patriots were gift-wrapped some salary cap relief from Tom Brady to gorge on all the available talent.
With 18 free agents of their own and five draft picks, the Patriots have the opportunity to upgrade after coming off a 12-4 season and an AFC Championship appearance.
The team can lure a number of stud of players in free agency, particularly in the secondary, on the defensive line and at wide receiver. The talent is there and possibly the value, too.
Here are our top free agent suggestions. It's another list of unsolicited advice for Bill Belichick that we really think he should take. Next
Adrian Wilson, SS
A 5-time Pro Bowl safety with Arizona, Wilson was cut by the Cardinals before the league year ended to save $2.5 million in salary and another $1 million roster bonus.
The 12-year veteran saw a diminished role in 2012, coming of the field in nickel situations. But he was still productive in 15 games and 14 starts, accumulating 54 tackles, three sacks, five passes defensed, a fumble forced, and an interception.
Wilson will be 34 in October, but he could still be worthy upgrade for the Patriots at safety. Next
Sean Smith, CB
A 6-3 corner with relatively good durability, Smith has gained interest from a number of teams, including the Patriots, prior to free agency opening.
In his first four seasons while playing for the Dolphins, he's tallied 211 tackles, 40 passes defensed, and five interceptions. He had two interceptions in 2012 and three forced fumbles.
But Smith contributed to a Dolphins pass defense that wasn't much better than the Patriots, finishing 27th overall. However, he was seen as one of the few bright spots with an upside that could get a lift from Bill Belichick's coaching. While he may be looking for a large payday in free agency, if he were to accept less money with in New England—maybe Aqib Talib's 2012 money ($1.8 million)?—he would fit well with the team's plans going forward. Next
Josh Cribbs, WR
Famous for his electric kick returns with the Browns, Cribbs is going to hit free agency after eight seasons in Cleveland.
Over the years with the Browns, Cribbs' role evolved from being solely a return man to a receiving and rushing threat as well. But in 2012, he was primarily a returner again, catching only seven passes for 63 yards and getting only six rushing attempts. He had a career high 41 receptions and 518 yards for four touchdowns in 2011. In 2009 he ran the ball more (59 attempts) than catching it (20 receptions).
He has averaged 25.9 yards per kick return in his career and 11.0 yards per punt return. He could help the Patriots' lethargic return game. Next
Dashon Goldson, S
First, the Patriots should focus on the team's 29th ranked pass defense and its not-quite-abysmal, not-quite-talented secondary. Dashon Goldson could fix that up right away. He's a hard-hitting safety that has a knack for making plays on the ball and provides excellent run support.
With 69 tackles, three interceptions and a forced fumble this season, Goldson fits the bill for "talented" and "upgrade."
San Francisco hit Goldson with the franchise tag last season and it will likely do its best to keep him this time around as well. But if he even whiffs the market, he'll command big dollars. The Patriots won't be able to afford him on a short-term deal (they were rebuffed by him last year for the very same reason), but if they wanted to, they could come up with a long-term deal that could entice him. Next
Dwight Freeney, DE
Veteran defensive lineman Dwight Freeney has had his name tossed about quite frequently. An unrestricted free agent, he has played his entire 11-year career with the Colts. But last year, Freeney became a specialized pass rusher.
At 33 years old, he's not the same feared player he once was and had a considerable drop in production in 2012. But reportedly that has more to do with the scheme of Chuck Pagano's new defense in Indianapolis than it does with Freeney's abilities.
Freeney is coming of a 6-year, $72 million contract, so he'll have to take a considerable pay cut with the Patriots. But with some of that extra Tom Brady wiggle room, he could fit in nicely. Next
Charles Woodson, S
A veteran of 15 NFL seasons, Charles Woodson went from being a premier cornerback to a spotty safety. But the short takeaway from a season that was felled by a broken collarbone—Woodson played in only seven games before returning for the postseason—is that in pass coverage he only allowed one touchdown thrown in his direction.
That would be an upgrade for the Patriots. But there is an awful amount of mileage to consider. Woodson will be 37 in the middle of the 2013 season. Next
Ed Reed, S
Bill Belichick loves Ed Reed. That's without a doubt. The veteran safety got the best of the Patriots this year twice, scoring a win in the AFC Championship before helping take down the 49ers in the Super Bowl. But he's had his fair share of takeaways from the Patriots over the years (pun intended) and it wouldn't be a surprise if Belichick, who has called Reed the best safety ever, to court him in free agency.
Even after being in the league for 11 seasons, Reed is still a feared player. Balls were only thrown in his direction 38 times in 2012. For a guy with 61 interceptions and 109 passes defensed—as well as an unhealthy habit of taking out receivers—he's certainly a top-tier player that the Patriots would benefit to have. It helps that Joe Flacco's free agency could put the Ravens in a bind to retain Reed. Next
George Wilson, S
Cut from the Buffalo Bills as if he just finished some forgettable season, Wilson is one of the top rated safeties in the NFL, particularly because of his pass coverage.
The seven-year veteran tallied 104 total tackles for the Bills, including five passes defensed. He has 412 tackles in his career, 3.5 sacks and 12 interceptions.
However, Patriots fans may not be so warm to Wilson. He recorded one of his worst outings against the Patriots in Week 4 this season, particularly on run defense. Stevan Ridley (106 rushing yards) and Brandon Bolden (137) weren't so kind. Next
Osi Umenyiora, DE
Could the Patriots turn to the dark side? Umenyiora helped terrorize the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI and XLII as a part of a fearsome Giants defensive front that was able to get pressure on Tom Brady. As an unrestricted free agent, he's now facing the probability of leaving New York because of limited cap space.
The 10-year veteran, who has tallied 75 sacks in his career and has forced 32 fumbles, comes with some risk. He's 31 and now more likely a situational pass rusher wherever he lands. And wherever he lands will have to dish out some serious bucks to get him. Next
Jason Jones, DL
File this one as a possible bargain buster. Jones is coming off a season-ending knee injury with the Seahawks and moves into the offseason with questions about his durability. He's played in 61 of 80 possible regular season games during his five-year career.
But he's talented enough that some teams will still give him a shot. And his versatility as an end and tackle could help the Patriots' defensive line depth, particularly on passing downs, where Jones excels.
Jones, 26, has 122 total tackles and 18.5 sacks in his career. Next
Manny Lawson, LB
The Patriots were hurting for a good coverage linebacker this season, with both Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower unable to handle the more athletic tight ends as well as running backs out of the backfield. Lawson is the perfect kind of remedy.
An unheralded linebacker with the Bengals, the seventh-year pro provides the right kind of size (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) and speed to help dispel any matchup problems.
He has 331 career total tackles, 18 sacks, 18 passes defensed, and seven forced fumbles. Next
Leroy Hill, LB
Hill, who started 12 games this season for the Seahawks, is a tough linebacker who can provide both pass coverage and run support.
The Patriots could use his pass coverage. Quarterbacks completed 60 percent of their passes against him, which was good for second best in the NFL for linebackers who played at least 25 percent of their teams snaps, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
The eight-year veteran has 511 career tackles, 20 sacks, 11 passes defensed and eight forced fumbles. But he's run into trouble with the law. He was arrested for the fourth time Jan. 30 after allegedly assaulting his girlfriend and holding her against her will at his home. Next
Mike Wallace, WR
An unrestricted free agent this time around, Wallace is the talented, top-flight wide receiver every NFL team covets. He's coming off a contentious year with the Steelers following a holdout that lasted through training camp. So you can be sure he's expecting to get paid.
If the Patriots ever want a field-stretching wide receiver, one who specifically can extend plays vertically as has been demanded, then Wallace is the man. He ran a 4.33 40-yard dash and his 17.2 yards per catch career average is exactly what Patriots fans want.
At 26, and in the right situation, he could be good player for a long time. Next
Delanie Walker, TE
This is the man Jim Harbaugh calls the Swiss Army Knife of the 49ers. Walker has returned kickoffs, played fullback, and even lined up at right tackle in a San Francisco uniform.
As an all-around athlete, Bill Belichick could certainly find a use for him. He had 21 catches for 344 yards and three touchdowns this season. He'll be 29 going into his eighth season in the league. And with the fluctuation in both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez's health, he could be the vital backup or pinch-starter depending upon the situation. Back to the beginning
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below