It has been a little more than two weeks since NFL free agency kicked off, and for many players it has been a rude awakening. A flat salary cap means the big-money deals that were a staple during this time on the league calendar have been basically nonexistent.
That is a plus for teams, particularly the Patriots, who have historically been thrifty in free agency, generally opting for older players looking for a change of scenery with a perennial winner, or those who are coming off injuries and want to prove themselves.
There is one high-profile player the Patriots were after: former Raiders defensive tackle Desmond Bryant, who wound up signing with the Browns on a five-year, $34 million contract that included $15 million guaranteed.
A look at who has come or stayed, who has gone, and who is in a holding pattern.
WR Danny Amendola
CB Kyle Arrington
CB Marquice Cole
WR Donald Jones
LB Niko Koutouvides
OT Will Svitek
CB Aqib Talib
OT Sebastian Vollmer
RB/KR Leon Washington
S Adrian Wilson
The Patriots were able to keep Talib and Vollmer on team-friendly deals. Since it’s been a depressed market for cornerbacks, Talib agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal and will hit free agency again in 2014 hoping to get a lucrative long-term contract. Vollmer drew little interest, and he received a contract that bases at $17 million over four years, with $10 million available through bonuses.
A classic underdog story, the sturdy Arrington was rewarded for his growth. He looked like a natural after being kicked inside to cover the slot later last season, and so long as the Patriots have healthy cornerbacks for the outside spots, Arrington should continue to grow at nickel.
Amendola and Jones will be counted on to play big roles in the passing game, though both come with health questions; Amendola has been injured in each of the last two years, and Jones has a kidney ailment that led to some teams taking him off their draft boards in 2011.
Wilson and Washington could be impactful. The Patriots have struggled to find a kick return threat since trading Ellis Hobbs in 2009, and Washington remains one of the better returners in the league. Though Wilson had his role reduced with Arizona last season, he can provide a hard-hitting mentality for the secondary.
S Patrick Chung (Eagles)
FB Spencer Larsen (released)
WR Brandon Lloyd (released)
G Donald Thomas (Colts)
WR Wes Welker (Broncos)
RB Danny Woodhead (Chargers)
Clearly, the big loss is Welker. Not only was he a reliable receiver and good friend to Tom Brady, his everyman stature and toughness were endearing. The contract negotiations between the Patriots and Welker were taken public when owner Robert Kraft went into detail at the recent NFL meetings, and Welker’s agents responded with a statement. But the bottom line is Welker is in Denver now, and it is up to the players left in New England — currently there are as many receivers on the roster (six) as tight ends — to help move the chains and be there when Brady needs an outlet to throw to.
Thomas will be missed, as well. He played at a high level filling in primarily for Logan Mankins when the left guard had to sit out multiple games last season, but Thomas’s solid play moved him from backup status to likely starter, and Indianapolis will provide that chance.
Woodhead was versatile and filled the third-down back role well last season; toward the end of the season, however, Shane Vereen began getting those chances and made it possible for the Patriots to move on.
Lloyd may be back, though at a team-friendly price. He and Brady never seemed comfortable with one another, though Lloyd did top 900 receiving yards. Chung’s role was greatly diminished last season, even after he returned from injury.
WR Deion Branch
WR Julian Edelman
DL Trevor Scott
WR Donte’ Stallworth
LB Tracy White
It’s interesting that Edelman hasn’t been re-signed — he became a coaching staff darling because of his versatility (catching passes, returning punts, and playing in the secondary when called upon). But he finished the season on injured reserve with a foot injury and durability has been a problem throughout his career.
Stallworth’s recent accident, suffering burns when a hot air balloon he was riding in hit power lines, makes his future a little unclear, but he is highly regarded within the organization. If he’s healthy, it’s easy to see him signed in training camp or early in the season. It is possible Branch could be handled similarly.