Today marks two weeks since the frenzied start of NFL free agency, and we required far fewer than 21 days to recognize that the Patriots played the game very well.
They retained cornerback Aqib Talib (one year, $5 million) and tackle Sebastian Vollmer ($8.5 million guaranteed, up to $27 million over four years) on deals that confirmed they were wise in deciding not to franchise either player.
Re-signing both also should ease to some degree any concerns about Talib’s character or Vollmer’s physical condition. If the Patriots trust them enough to keep them around, that’s reassuring enough.
It’s difficult to resist coveting the big splash in free agency — the closest the Patriots came this year was signing Danny Amendola as Wes Welker‘s successor in the slot, though 33-year-old four-time All-Pro Adrian Wilson is the most decorated arrival. Pursuing the big name with corresponding big salary has rarely been their approach, save for Rosevelt Colvin in 2003 and Adalius Thomas in ’07.
As they’ve often proven, the value of retaining players who are known commodities on the field and off is often the smartest play, which is why I didn’t blink at Kyle Arrington‘s $6.5 million signing bonus. All it suggests is that they know and appreciate his work as a slot corner, and they value it highly.
All of that said … I hope there’s more to come. Free-agency has been fairly fulfilling, even for those among us who get a nostalgic tear in our eye whenever Wes Welker’s hair plug commercial comes on the radio. But there are so many interesting names still available at possibly bargain rates — for instance, might ex-Raiders Michael Huff and Darrius Heyward-Bey thrive in a competent organization? — that the current situation seems like a golden chance for the Patriots to fortify the depth chart even further beyond the Will Sviteks and Niko Koutevideses
While we wait to see what — or who — is next, here are a few quick thoughts on five who have either arrived, departed, or remain in limbo.
Brandon Lloyd: Am I alone in hoping they bring him back? Sure, his down-field ability was underwhelming (this guy averaged 18.8 yards per catch two years ago?), and you’ve all heard the chatter about his, um, quirky personality. But he still managed 74 receptions and 911 yards as essentially the fourth option when everyone was healthy, he was masterful at making catches along the sidelines, and there’s mounting evidence that adjusting to playing with Tom Brady isn’t as easy as it should be for previously accomplished receivers. Donald Jones is an interesting pickup, and he might also be Sam Aiken. Bring back Lloyd. For a perceived underachiever, he was pretty productive
Danny Amendola: I still say the price the market set for Welker was a price the Patriots should have paid. I also recognize I’ll probably be proven wrong, if not this year than next, since I strongly suspect the Patriots have seen some regression in Welker that isn’t yet evident to all of us who are citizens of the couch on fall Sundays. Amendola, 4 1/2 years Welker’s junior, is a talented (if fragile) slot receiver, and if he can stay on the field, he shouldn’t take him long to build rapport with Brady. Whether he can do it to the degree that Welker did — not to mention as immediately — is an answer we’ll have to wait until September to receive.
Adrian Wilson: Hello, my name is Hypocrite. At the advent of free agency, I listed Wilson as one of five players the Patriots shouldn’t pursue. So why was I so excited when the Patriots signed him the same day he visited? A couple of reasons. First, I’m fascinated at how they plan to use him. Will he be that safety/linebacker hybrid that Tank Williams was once supposed to be? Even if he’s lost a step or two, with his instincts and much-needed hitting ability, he could thrive in that role. And the other reason? I figure if Bill Belichick pursues another safety when Ed Reed is available, he must have tremendous respect and even admiration for that player. I’ll be glad to be wrong about this one. Already am, actually.
Leon Washington: I wonder if Danny Woodhead would still be here if he had any effectiveness at all as a return man. As it is, by signing the 30-year-old former Jet and Seahawk who averaged 29 yards per kickoff return last season, the Patriots have quietly addressed what was one of their biggest flaws last season.
John Abraham: How long has Abraham been around? He was one of the Jets’ four first-round picks in 2000 — the other three being Chad Pennington, Anthony Becht, and Shaun Ellis. (The Patriots have one pick remaining from that draft. He wears No. 12.) Abraham will be 35 in May, but he was still very effective last season for the Falcons (10 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 7 passes defensed), and he has the ideal size to thrive as a situational rusher in the Patriots’ system. Should Dwight Freeney end up in Denver, Abraham could end up a bargain for the Patriots. If that happens, the Patriots offseason is an unqualified success no matter what.