Although the Patriots typically are not big players on the first day of NFL free agency, they were serious players for defensive tackle Desmond Bryant on Tuesday.
But they lost out to the Browns for Bryant’s services; according to a league source, Cleveland gave the former Harvard standout a five-year, $34 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. The Browns had $47 million in salary cap space entering, and with a new front office regime, they were poised to be major players.
The Patriots also lost two players on the roster last season: offensive lineman Donald Thomas signed with the Colts and safety Patrick Chung landed with the Eagles.
The 6-foot-5-inch, 280-pound Bryant, 27, played in all 16 games for Oakland last season, starting the final eight. He was considered the top defensive tackle on the market.
There was no news on Wes Welker or Aqib Talib, however the Patriots are interested in Browns receiver/return specialist Joshua Cribbs, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Thomas started six games at left guard in Logan Mankins’s stead last season and had a seventh start in place of Dan Connolly.
Thomas, a Connecticut native and University of Connecticut product, played in all 16 regular-season games, as well as New England’s two playoff games last season.
With Mankins missing time because of leg injuries, Thomas stepped up and played well, particularly since Thomas said previously he didn’t much like being at left guard.
It seemed likely Thomas’s performance would garner him a chance to be a starter, and thus get starter’s money. New England has a good amount of money tied up in Mankins and Connolly.
Since his New Haven high school didn’t offer the sport, Thomas did not play football until he arrived at UConn, and in a short time worked his way from scout team defensive lineman to All-Big East guard, and then a sixth-round draft pick of the Dolphins.
After 17 games and 13 starts over two seasons in Miami, Thomas was cut out of training camp in 2010; a stint with Detroit followed, and he was signed by the Patriots at the start of the 2011 season.
Chung will be reunited with his former coach at Oregon, Chip Kelly, now the Eagles top man. Chung’s time in New England did not end well; he played just three total snaps in the team’s two postseason games.
The 34th overall pick in the 2009 draft, Chung was the Patriots’ first pick that season. That slot was the one New England received from Kansas City for the Matt Cassel/Mike Vrabel trade.
New England drafted four players in the second round in 2009 — Chung, Darius Butler, Ron Brace, and Sebastian Vollmer — and as of Tuesday at 4 p.m., none of the four was on the Patriots’ roster.
The free agent market is stocked with big-name defensive backs. A Bill Belichick favorite, Ed Reed, is out there, as is 49ers safety Dashon Goldson, whom the Patriots had in for a visit in 2011; Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson; and Packers safety Charles Woodson.
The Patriots only had one restricted free agent, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, who was tendered at the minimum level.
The Patriots have the right to match any offer to the 24-year-old, or receive a fifth-round pick in return if he signs elsewhere.
Hoomanawanui, who will make $1.323 million for the season, played in 14 games and recorded five catches for 109 yards last year. He was signed off the Redskins’ practice squad in September — he played for Josh McDaniels in St. Louis in 2011.