Free Agency is a process. At least to some teams – for most it’s a winner take all feeding frenzy, only instead of sharks, the water is filled with rabid Dolphins with delusions of grandeur and pockets full of cash.
For few, it’s a chess match, a wager with time – an entity so powerful that it rules the universe, but an entity so generous if given the proper respect – using patience and due diligence as terms….
…the wager? The team is betting that if they wait until all of the suckers have spent themselves out of the market, they will have the pick of the litter of top shelf veterans at bargain bin prices. In the case of the New England Patriots, if they win the wager, they successfully fill major deficiencies in their passing game, both on offense and defense – but if they lose, the hole becomes more pronounced and significantly more bleak, threatening to pull them into the blackness of mediocrity.
But when betting against time, it is important to have all of the trustworthy help you can get, and the Patriots have help in the form of both the fact that many teams had to purge their rosters of quality players or risk cap jail, and also from the shameless and aimless spending of the Dolphins, who have almost single-handedly destroyed the top-shelf market.
And it has been fruitful thus far – what with the signing of names like Amendola, Jones, Wilson and now Talib…but at times like these, it is important to stop and take inventory of the arsenal, just take a look at where you stand at every level.
So in the spirit of the mid-season dog days where fans start projecting playoffs seeds with the term, If the season ended today, let’s take a glance at what this team would look like if the season started today:
RE: Chandler Jones Jermaine Cunningham
RT: Brandon Deaderick Kyle Love Armond Armstead
LT: Vince Wilfork Justin Francis
LE: Rob Ninkovich Jake Bequette Jason Vega
WLB: Jerod Mayo
MLB: Brandon Spikes
SLB: Dont’a Hightower
LCB: Aqib Talib
RCB: Alfonzo Dennard
FS: Devin McCourty
SS: Adrian Wilson Steve Gregory Nate Ebner
NS: Tavon Wilson
NCB: Kyle Arrington
Up and down this depth chart, you’re not going find any superstars – not even Vince Wilfork who is too humble to truly fit the persona – but you also may not find a more solid group in the AFC.
The issue is depth, however. There is no one of note backing up the corners nor the linebackers, two areas where the Patriots will certainly address in the weeks leading up the draft, and perhaps in the draft.
Prudence dictates that the Patriots seek out one more mid-tier veteran corner capable of filling in for either starting corner. The idea is to keep Arrington in the slot where he is capable and not have to raid the safety positions for McCourty, who is a potential Pro Bowl talent at the free spot. Perhaps someone like a Porter or Newman or even a Hall – someone with some experience
Before signing Adrian Wilson, the team had a gaping hole at strong safety and needed a cover linebacker, but now has a tough, in the box run plugger who is particularly adept at covering the tight end on passing downs. Wilson was a brilliant signing – not only is he capable of filling both needs in one package, but he also will be a personal mentor to last year’s 2nd round safety Tavon Wilson, who has Adrian Wilson-type potential.
The line is well stocked, but an experienced edge rusher and/or interior pass rusher would certainly pique Belichick’s interest if the right ones were to either become available in free agency or drop to a postion of value in the draft – Abraham or Dumervil would fit that bill, though the latter would eat up a lot of cap space.
Overall, in the first four days of the free agency period has been more productive and defining than any in recent memory, abrupt and point specific, filling holes and enabling the team to paint a more focused picture for their few draft selections.
WR1: Danny Amendola
TE1: Aaron Hernandez
LT: Nate Solder
LG: Logan Mankins
C: Ryan Wendell Nick McDonald
RG: Dan Connolly Nick McDonald
RT: Marcus Cannon
TE2: Rob Gronkowski Jake Ballard Michael Hoomanawanui
WR2: Donald Jones
RB: Stevan Ridley Brandon Bolden Leon Washington
QB: Tom Brady Ryan Mallett
PB: Shane Vereen
Depth on the offensive line is a concern, but a step in the right direction would be to resign Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle and to replace the departed Donald Thomas to back up the interior of the line along with Nick McDonald.
The tight ends are to be the focus of this team, but to what extent will dictate how aggressive the Patriots are in looking at wide receivers. It is not clear at this point if the Patriots are going to pursue restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders of the Steelers who would add speed but not size to the ranks. It is entirely possible given the signings thus far that the Patriots could look for a receiver with their 1st round pick, though many mocks still show them picking up a corner.
The backfield is stocked with young greyhounds, and will only get better once Jeff Demps is incorporated into the mix. Quarterbacks remain steady as talk of a Ryan Mallett trade to Cleveland talk has died down to nothing…and while it is still a possibility that something funky happens there to gain a few draft picks, Belichick can afford to be selective in dealing with Mallett and potential trade partners.