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How will the Patriots approach free agency? DL and WR first

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  March 13, 2012 01:09 PM

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Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that the NFL free agency/trading period begins at 4 p.m.

What will the Patriots do?

Here’s a roadmap for how we see them proceeding:

OUT OF THE BOX

Expect the Patriots to be very active in two of their weakest areas: defensive line and receiver.

Multiple league sources, including those in front offices, expect the Patriots to make a run at Seahawks defensive tackle Red Bryant.

At 6-4, 332 pounds, Joseph “Red” Bryant would seem to be strictly a power player. But he is much more than that, and that’s what likely attracts the Patriots. He’s very similar to Vince Wilfork in that way, although Wilfork shades more toward being a power player.

Bryant, a 2008 fourth-round pick, flourished last season when the Seahawks started to highlight his versatility. Physically, he can play anywhere on the line in the 3-4 or 4-3, from over the center on passing downs, to over a tight end. Bryant showed off his athleticism by blocking a franchise-record for kicks last year.

However, Bryant is not a natural pass rusher. The Seahawks actually took him off the field on passing downs, which would work with the Patriots because they usually rush another player (Rob Ninkovich or, perhaps, Jermaine Cunningham or Markell Carter). Bryant’s forte is that he’s tough to move on the line, but his game also has some refined finesse. Bryant, who will be 28 next month, is a rising talent who is extremely versatile.

You would think Bryant would make more sense at left end for the Patriots – allowing Brandon Deaderick to kick inside next to Wilfork – but depending on what they get on the other side, Bryant could fill on the right side as well.

The Seahawks would like to retain Bryant, but they haven't gone very far financially. Perhaps they'll dive in harder if another team shows interest. Bryant and his wife, the daughter of former Seahawk Jacob Green, have spent most of their lives in College Station, Tx. (where both went to Texas A&M) and Seattle. So perhaps it would be a tough move for the Bryants to the Northeast.

The Patriots may also be looking to nail down receiver Brandon Lloyd today, according to sources.

He wants to be here, he knows the offense, and the market may not be great for him so the Patriots should get him at an affordable rate. We detailed the good and bad of Lloyd’s well-traveled (the Patriots would be his sixth team in nine years) 11-year career on Sunday. Yes, there are factors that give you some pause, but the presence of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on the staff alleviates much of that, and as long as the Patriots protect themselves a little financially, Lloyd seems to be a solid play by the Patriots. Getting a legit outside-the-numbers receiver done early will allow them to look at other positions.

Bryant seems to figure as more of an end, so a veteran tackle with a little run-stuffing ability will probably still be needed. Possible targets: Broderick Bunkley (Broncos), Paul Soliai (Dolphins), Antonio Garay (Chargers), Adam Carriker (Redskins) and Phillip Merling (Dolphins).

The Patriots will likely check in on the availability of Texans OLB/DE Mario Williams to gauge the market, and possibly mull an offer sheet for Steelers WR Mike Wallace. Both seem unlikely moves because of the cost -- especially if Bryant and Lloyd are locked up -- but you never know.

The Patriots also need to quickly nail down one of their two free-agent centers, Dan Connolly or Dan Koppen. It wouldn’t be surprising if the team is playing both off one another to get either at their number. Think the Patriots would rather have Connolly because he’s younger, but if Koppen is willing to play for less, the team would have to consider that.

The other priority/likely re-signings by the Patriots are WR/special teams demon Matthew Slater, safety James Ihedigbo.

NEXT WAVE

From there, the Patriots will likely play the market in regards to an end/outside linebacker, safety and possibly a cornerback.

As far as their own free agents, guys like DEs Mark Anderson and Andre Carter, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, WR Deion Branch and LB Tracy White will initially be allowed to test the market. If they don’t find greener pastures, all could return.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the Patriots have some sort of understanding with Carter that when he’s recovered from his leg surgery, they’ll sign him and he’ll be back at the open end position where he showed off his versatility. That would give the Patriots a starting defensive line of, from left to right, Bryant, Wilfork, Deaderick/Kyle Love, and Carter.

Anderson is likely looking to get paid as a starter, where the Patriots probably see his value has a situational pass rusher. If Anderson doesn’t get his pay day, he could be back.

Others the Patriots could look at if the price is right: Kamerion Wimbley (expected to be released by the Raiders) and Manny Lawson of the Bengals.

FINAL WAVE

The Patriots will need a veteran running back, so they'll see what the market is for Green-Ellis and some of the other guys available.

There isn’t much talent in the safety pool. Would expect the Patriots to check in and monitor the price of LaRon Landry (Redskins), Reggie Nelson (Bengals), Dwight Lowery (Jaguars), Brodney Pool (Jets), O.J. Atogwe (released by Redskins).

As for cornerbacks, the Patriots will likely play the market and look for some value after the Cortland Finnegan and Brandon Carr find teams.

Special teams players will get some attention during this time as well.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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