With their 26-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game, the Patriots now head into the offseason looking to retool for 2014. Many of the core players who helped the Patriots reach their third straight AFC title game will be returning, but there are some tough decisions that Bill Belichick will have to make regarding personnel that will hit the free agent market in March. Here is a look at all of the Patriots’ free agents, and your chance to vote on whether they should be re-signed.
The former college quarterback at Kent State was mostly forgotten during his first four seasons in New England, catching 69 passes for a total of 714 yards and four touchdowns. He served as a backup to Wes Welker, also seeing time on special teams and even some as a defensive back. The Patriots re-signed Edelman to a one-year deal for 2013, but not much was expected from him, as the majority of targets were supposed to go to Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola.
Gronkowski’s delayed start and Amendola’s groin injury in Week 1 changed all of that, and Edelman went on to have the best year of his career. He caught two touchdown passes in Week 1 against the Bills, and for the entire season he was Tom Brady’s go-to receiver, make short and long plays all over the field and carrying the depleted receiving corps.
Edelman ended the regular season with 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns, career highs in all categories. In the two playoff games, Edelman hauled in 16 catches for 173 yards and a touchdown. He is seen by many as this year’s Wes Welker, and the Patriots would be wise to go the other route this time around and lock up Brady’s favorite target.
Acquired from the Buccaneers in 2012 for a fourth-round draft pick, the disgruntled Tampa Bay cornerback became a force in the Patriots secondary, recording a sack and having an interception return for a touchdown in his six games with New England that season. He was injured in the 2012 AFC Championship against the Ravens, and his absence contributed to Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin lighting up the Patriots in the second half of that game.
Talib was signed to a one-year deal before 2013, and it began to pay off right away, as he proved to be one of the best shutdown corners in the NFL over the first half of the season. He had four interceptions in the first four weeks and came up with a key defended pass to secure a win against the Falcons in Week 4.
However, Talib injured his hip in Week 6 against the Saints and didn’t return until Nov. 18 against the Panthers. Talib was quieter over the last few weeks, but did provide good coverage against Andrew Luck and the Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs. He was injured again on a controversial pick play by Wes Welker in the AFC title game, forced to leave the game for the second year in a row.
Another acquisition from Tampa Bay, Blount was sent to the Patriots in exchange for Jeff Demps, a former sprinter who was uncommitted about playing in the NFL. Blount was projected to be a power back on the depth chart behind starter Stevan Ridley, third-down specialist Shane Vereen, and sophomore Brandon Bolden. He was consistent through most of the 2013 season, never getting more than 14 carries through Week 15 for 507 total yards and three touchdowns.
But Blount came on as a major force down the stretch. He gained 76 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns in a Week 16 win in Baltimore. Then he amassed 189 yards and two touchdowns against the Bills in Week 17 to help the Patriots clinch the No. 2 spot in the AFC. He continued his surge in the divisional round against the Colts, rushing for 166 yards and a team-record four touchdowns in a 43-22 win.
But the ground game never got going against the Broncos in the AFC title game, and Blount tallied just 6 yards on five carries as the Patriots fell behind early and were forced to throw the ball.
One of the most vocal Patriots over the past four seasons, the linebacker has played 51 games since being drafted in 2010 out of Florida. Spikes had his best season in 2012, making 92 tackles and forcing four fumbles, while also adding a sack. He made 86 tackles this past season with an interception but did not have any sacks. Spikes played the year with an injured knee and was placed on injured reserve prior to the playoffs. He was a strong run stopper but was rarely utilized on pass coverage packages.
The circumstances of his placement on IR were cloudy: Initial reports said it was a mutual decision by him and the team, but other reports came out later saying that missing a team meeting in early January was the “last straw’’ for Spikes with Bill Belichick. Either way, it doesn’t appear likely that the Patriots will re-sign the 26-year-old linebacker.
Once a budding star for the Indianapolis Colts, Austin Collie was forced into unemployment with injuries until the Patriots scooped him up early in the 2013 season. He played in four games in his first stint in New England, catching three passes for 34 yards, before being released Nov. 5. Collie was re-signed just one month later and played three mere games, catching three passes for 29 yards, before being cut again before Week 17.
Collie was again re-signed by the Patriots prior to their divisional matchup with the Colts, in which he made one catch for 15 yards. He was used relatively frequently in the AFC Championship in Denver, catching four passes on six targets for 57 yards.
The tight end with the last name no national analyst can pronounce, the “Hoo-Man’’ made the Patriots as a third-year player in 2012, playing 14 games and catching five passes on seven targets for 109 yards, mostly serving as a run blocker and filling in after Rob Gronkowski broke his arm.
Along with Daniel Fells, he was the Patriots’ most tenured healthy tight end entering training camp for 2013, a distinction he could claim all his own after Fells was cut before the season.
Hoomanawanui played in 13 games in 2013, catching 12 passes on 19 targets for 136 yards, including a remarkable one-handed touchdown grab against the Dolphins in Week 15. He caught three passes in the playoffs for 39 yards.
Whether or not he returns to the team in 2014, Mulligan will be remembered by Patriots fans for bringing in one interesting fan down the stretch: former WWE star and reality TV actor Hulk Hogan. In videos he made before the team’s playoff run, Hogan referenced Mulligan and said that if the Patriots got tired during the playoffs, they could “take one of the largest arms in the world, Hulk Hogan’s arm, you can strap it to your hips, and you can score as many touchdowns as you want, brother.’’
Unfortunately, the Patriots did not make it to the Super Bowl, which would have undoubtedly produced another Hogan pump-up video for all to see.
Back to Mulligan: The Bangor, Maine, native played in 15 games and caught two passes for 16 yards, including a touchdown in Week 4 against the Falcons.
Wendell has been the starting center the past two seasons, playing on a line that allowed Tom Brady to be sacked 40 times this season, tied for the 10th fewest in the NFL. The five-year veteran out of Fresno State has played every down of his career with the Patriots. He played in 21 games in his first three seasons, starting five games.
In 2012, Wendell competed for the starting center job and beat out longtime Patriot Dan Koppen. He has been very consistent over the past two seasons, and it would be surprising if the Patriots were to disrupt the chemistry between Wendell and Brady heading into 2014.
Svitek is an eight-year NFL veteran, playing 61 games with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons from 2005-12 before joining the Patriots last offseason. Svitek made the team out of training camp and played tackle behind Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon. When Vollmer was lost for the season with a broken leg, Svitek moved up to the second spot behind Cannon, and ended up starting two games after Cannon sustained an injury. Svitek saw only three offensive snaps in the final three games of the regular season and did not play in either of the playoff games.
Defensive end Andre Carter had his first stint with the Patriots back in 2011, playing 14 games and recording 10 sacks with two forced fumbles, and was named to the Pro Bowl. He played 12 games with the Oakland Raiders in 2012, but recorded just 2.5 sacks with one forced fumble, and was cut at the end of this past preseason. Carter was re-signed by the Patriots Oct. 23 to shore up a defensive line that had lost Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Carter played nine games for the Patriots and had two sacks, but was not a factor in either of the playoff games.
Fletcher has played all four of his NFL seasons with the Patriots, totaling 38 games at linebacker. He missed all of the 2012 season with a torn ACL, but came back in 2013 and made the team out of training camp. On top of his time at linebacker, Fletcher was a constant on special teams. Fletcher’s snap count went up dramatically when Jerod Mayo was lost for the season with an injury, and Fletcher was more effective in pass coverage, being smaller and faster than Brandon Spikes.
Fletcher played a career-high 15 games, totaling 26 tackles with two sacks and a forced fumble. Fletcher played sparingly on defense in the playoffs, however, as the emergence of rookie Jamie Collins cut into his snap total; he played just 22 of 140.
As the long snapper, Danny Aiken has been remarkably consistent over the past three seasons. He is a player who comes to work every day and does his job right.
He had one notable slipup, however, in this year’s divisional-round matchup against the Colts. Aiken launched a high snap over punter Ryan Allen’s head and back toward the end zone, leading to a scramble that resulted in a safety and Allen being tackled hard by Indianapolis players. Allen was forced to leave the game with a shoulder injury, leaving Stephen Gostkowski to handle punting duties and Tom Brady to hold on kicks. Aiken did not make another error for the rest of the playoffs, and that one against the Colts may have been his only bad snap during his tenure in New England.