The Patriots like what they have, with Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden in the power back role. Danny Woodhead will hit the free agent market. The team has seen enough flashes from Shane Vereen to believe he can handle that third-down role. Woodhead could return — the Patriots love his playmaking ability — depending on the market for him. The Patriots also have Jeff Demps coming back, so it’s a crowded spot.
There is a good deal of optimism on both sides that a three-year Welker extension will get done, but anything can happen. Odds are against Brandon Lloyd’s $3 million option bonus being picked up. There is still a lot of internal debate about what to do considering the Patriots literally couldn’t line up tomorrow at receiver. Lloyd’s erratic behavior in the locker room and on the practice field proved tiresome, according to a league and team source. If they cut Lloyd, that would save the Patriots $4.9 million against the cap this season, though there will be $2 million in dead money that can be spread out over two years. The team was smart to build in protection with Lloyd.
How the Patriots address the X (outside) receiver position will be closely watched. They are expected to be active in free agency and the draft, though the targets are unknown. The second round is where they more likely will go for a receiver. Another option, if Welker returns, is to move Hernandez to the X, let Welker and Rob Gronkowski rule the middle of the field, and perhaps put money into the Z (quicker perimeter) position to get a strong short-area playmaker such as Percy Harvin (in a trade with Vikings) or Danny Amendola (Rams free agent). Julian Edelman should return to Z but with his injury history, he can’t be relied upon to man that position himself. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui is a restricted free agent but his original round tender of $1.323 million seems way too high. If the team doesn’t tender him but re-signs him, his base salary would be $630,000.
Things have been very quiet on the Vollmer front. So either the Patriots are going to issue a surprise franchise/transition tag, or he’s likely gone. Vollmer is expected to hit the market and sign elsewhere, though the market is unpredictable at this point so a return can’t be ruled out. The Patriots have the utmost confidence that Marcus Cannon can take over at right tackle. The problem with letting Vollmer go: Who is the swing tackle who can fill in on the left side should Nate Solder get injured? That person is not on the roster at this point. Kyle Hix and Markus Zusevics are unknowns. After some discussion about whom to keep, Dan Connolly or free agent Donald Thomas for right guard, the Patriots appear set with Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Connolly, and Cannon. Thomas wants and should get a chance to start elsewhere. Connolly’s string of injuries along with the ascension of Wendell has taken some of the bloom off Connolly’s value.
This could be an interesting position. Expect the Patriots to show some interest in former Colts end Dwight Freeney, but the Falcons are believed to be the leaders for his services. The Patriots would like to find a viable third end to mix in with Jones and Rob Ninkovich, who is entering the final year of his deal. The Patriots have hope for CFL imports Armond Armstead and Jason Vega, but they aren’t being counted on considering the jump in competition. Trevor Scott will see what the market brings. Vince Wilfork’s cap numbers ($10.6 million, $11.6 million) don’t scream extension, but he’s obviously deserving. The Patriots’ No. 1 priority in free agency last year was a strong tackle with push-the-pocket ability — they wanted Red Bryant, who re-signed with the Seahawks, and Jonathan Fanene never worked out — and they never got that player, so they will probably find one in a tackle-deep draft.
The Patriots seem to be OK with Dane Fletcher as the cover linebacker on the roster. They’re more on the lookout for veterans who can provide an upgrade on special teams. Brandon Spikes is entering a contract year, but it doesn’t appear that an extension is in the offing.
As it stands, the Patriots are planning to go with Devin McCourty and Tavon Wilson as the starting safeties and they have a strong belief in the duo. The team has confidence that Wilson progressed enough last season, and will take the expected leap to Year 2. However, it can’t be discounted that the team really has other plans at safety — league sources believe the Patriots will try for Ed Reed of the Ravens at about $5 million per season. Packers free agent Charles Woodson doesn’t seem to be a fit for what the Patriots want to do, but those who know him think he would play at value money. A return by free agent Patrick Chung would be shocking. The team liked what Talib brought last season at cornerback and would like him back, but character and injury concerns probably will limit how far they want to go, so the transition tag could make sense. The cornerback market will be unpredictable because there aren’t any elite players available, only good ones. Continued...