Ten Thoughts as the Patriots Begin Free Agency

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NFL free agency officially begins at 4:00 pm EST today.  However, unless you've been living under a rock, you know that negotiations have been well under way since Monday afternoon.  Several players and teams have agreed to deals in principle, but they cannot formally enter into a contract until today. With everything that has happened in the past 48 hours, and everything that is going to happen in the coming weeks, I've got a lot of thoughts running through my head regarding the New England Patriots and free agency.  So, I thought I would share them.

Photo courtesy of Masslive.com

1.
Trey Flowers

Seeing as how I pegged re-signing Flowers as offseason priority #1, it's only right that I kick things off with his departure.  This one stings, thought it doesn't come as a big surprise.  I probably should have tempered my expectations knowing the Patriots history.  They don't overpay, no matter who you are.  I can't fault them for it, as it's been a pretty effective strategy over the past two decades.  When it comes to negotiations, the team has an amount in mind, and if the player wants more than that, he's going to have to find it elsewhere.  That's exactly what Flowers did.  I can't fault him for it.

I thought maybe this time would be different, especially for a guy like Flowers.  He was the ultimate Patriot in his four seasons.  He came in, worked his tail off, improved every season and never complained once.  He was a key part of two Super Bowl championships, and you noticed when he wasn't on the field.  If there was a guy who deserved to be paid, it was Flowers.  The Patriots just operate a certain way and don't deviate.

The Pats will certainly miss Flowers.  They moved on from Richard Seymour and Chandler Jones in the past.  Seymour and Jones excelled elsewhere, and the Pats were able to sustain their success.  I would expect the same to happen with Flowers, which leads me to my next thought.

2. Michael Bennett

Strictly speaking football, I love this move.  For a few days, I allowed myself to fantasize about the possibility of a Bennett and Flowers combination.  I guess deep down I never thought it would come to fruition, but until the news about Flowers broke, I held out hope; to no avail.  That doesn't change my feelings about this move.  Bennett's arrival should help minimize the loss of Flowers.

Don't let his age fool you, Bennett can still play.  He proved it last year when Philadelphia finally gave him ample playing time.  He plays with physicality and nastiness, and Belichick has long been an admirer of his game.  The biggest question will be how well he fits in the locker room.  Hopefully, with the leadership that the Patriots have, he'll come in and keep quiet.

As a person, it's tough to like Bennett given his history.  Many Patriot fans have already expressed their dislike for this move, simply because of Bennett the person.  However, if he makes a couple of plays in the first two games, I bet their may be some changes of heart.

3. Patience is Key

There is already a faction of Patriots fans who are sounding the alarms.  It's a yearly tradition.  Free agency begins, and as teams around the league shell out big money for the top free agents, the Patriots sit and wait.  Fans sit and panic.  Then, January rolls around and what do you know, they are one of the final four teams left playing.

There are always plenty of free agents out there that sound like great options, but it's not worth the fantasizing.  That's not how the Patriots operate.  New England is content to let those around them hand out bags of money in the early stages of free agency, and then go bargain shopping when the smoke clears.  It's how they have been able to sustain this run for so long.  They don't break the bank for short-term success.  They are always thinking big picture.

4. Low cost veteran

Once that early spending frenzy dies out, that's when the Patriots strike.  They may not go after the sexiest name on the market, but every move they make is calculated.  The team focuses on entering contracts with good value.  That typically comes in the form of a veteran, who may be nearing the end of his playing days, or is on the back nine of his career.  Though they may not be as effective as they once were, in the right situation they will contribute.  Chris Long and Junior Seau come to mind.

Maybe it's a guy with injury history.  Maybe it's somebody who has underperformed, or didn't get enough opportunities to showcase their skill set.  The Patriots seek out these types of players who are prioritizing the opportunity to win and prove themselves; money isn't a concern.  Players like Rob Ninkovich and Mike Vrabel.

There are guys like that out there every year.  I'd expect the Pats to find at least one...which leads me to a perfect candidate.

5. Cameron Wake

Pats fans know all about Wake.  He has spent his entire 10-year career with the Miami Dolphins.  Tom Brady knows him all too well.  In 19 career games against the Pats, Wake has recorded 10.5 sacks.  He has also logged 35 quarterback hits in those 19 games, more than any other team he has faced.  Wake has had five seasons with ten or more sacks, and has just under 100 sacks in his career.  He's also very durable, having appeared in 14 or more games in all but one season.

However, at the start of next year he'll be 37.  He's coming off of a season where he recorded just six sacks, the second-lowest mark of his career.  In ten seasons, he has appeared in one playoff game.  Having spent his entire career in Miami, he's had a front row seat to New England's run of dominance.

Having earned over $50 million in his career, money likely won't be a big motivation.  The possibility of playing in, and winning a Super Bowl will.  He may not be what he was in his prime, but in a reduced role, he could certainly still make an impact.  Seems like a perfect fit for a team that just lost its best pass rusher.

6. Trent Brown

This was a no brainer, for both sides.  While I'll miss watching Brown absolutely obliterate opposing defensive linemen, his departure was expected.  He played himself into a massive contract, and boy did he get one from the Oakland Raiders.  Nobody can fill the void left by Brown, literally; he is a massive human.  However, on the field, the Pats will turn to Isaiah Wynn to fill in.  Coming off of an achilles injury, and with zero NFL experience, expectations should be tempered with Wynn.  Yet with Dante Scarnecchia still roaming the sidelines, they'll be just fine.

One thing that will be interesting to monitor is if Brown stays motivated.  There was some criticism around his motivation and commitment when he was with the 49ers.  Criticisms that seemed ridiculous based on the way he performed in New England.  However, it was a contract year, he had a lot to prove and was on a championship contender.  None of that is true this year.  If things go south in Oakland, how will Brown respond now that he has a pocket full of cash.

7. Julian Edelman and...

That is the Patriots current wide receiver situation.  Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson are all free agents.  Patterson looks like he's going to Chicago.  While I could definitely see either Hogan or Dorsett coming back, don't expect the Patriots to be in a hurry to sign them.  I would expect both to explore other options for more money, or more involvement in the offense.

Golden Tate has been linked to the Pats for awhile now; dating back to before he was traded to Philly.  He's expressed interest in the Patriots, and would seem to be a good fit.  Based on what some of these other, inferior receivers are getting, it will likely cost the Patriots more than they traditionally spend at the position.  Free agent receivers are also hit or miss for the Pats, so any move should come with tempered expectations.

Also, don't forget about Josh Gordon.  The Pats clearly see him in their future, otherwise they wouldn't have extended a second-round tender to him.  I don't think there are going to be many teams willing to risk losing a second round pick to sign Gordon.  If he's able to get reinstated, the Pats appear ready to put him right back into the mix.

Some names to watch: Pierre Garcon, Michael Crabtree, Brandon LaFell

8. Defensive Tackle 

With Lawrence Guy still on the roster, the Pats have their #1 tackle.  However, both Malcolm Brown and Danny Shelton are free agents, so this is a position the Patriots will need to address.  The Shelton experiment is likely over.  He had an up and down season with New England, in and out of the rotation and not making a major impact.  He had a few nice plays throughout the year, most notably in the Super Bowl, but I wouldn't expect him to come back.  It's difficult to make a mark in New England, because of the way they rotate players in and out.  You have to take full advantage of the limited snaps you get.

I'd like to see them bring Brown back.  He's been solid for four years. There have been ups and downs, but overall he's been a solid player.  He's not going to generate any pass rush, but he's effective as a run stopper.  One guy I could see as another one of those cheap veteran moves is Haloti Ngata.  He's 35, and his snap count was down last year in Philly.  He doesn't generate the type of pass rush that he used to, but he can still plug up the middle.


9. A Future Without Gronk

Rob Gronkowski should take his time making his decision regarding retirement.  However, the longer he waits, the more difficult of a position the Patriots are put in.  If he calls it quits, they are left with Jacob Hollister.  So, even if Gronk returns, they need to acquire some insurance.  However, if it's going to be life without Gronk, the position becomes more urgent.

There are plenty of options out there.  One that I think is worth the risk, especially if Gronk returns, is Tyler Eifert.  His price is for sure going to be low, and he's got Patriots reclamation project all over it; has plenty of talent, but cannot stay healthy.  I wouldn't be shocked if the Pats took a flyer on him.

Another scenario, albeit unlikely, is a Bennett brother reunion.  These rumors started shortly after the season when Martellus Bennet shouted out Gronk on social media, indicating that he was considering a return to the NFL and New England.  Things intensified with the acquisition of his brother Michael.  While it seems like a long shot, don't rule out the idea of Martellus returning to football, and to Foxborough.

10. Dream Scenario

People like to fantasize about free agent signings, so I'll take part.  In an ideal world, I would love to see the Patriots sign Earl Thomas and/or Justin Houston.  Both are likely to be out of their price range, but just wanted to share my hopes and dreams.


Follow Derek on Twitter @mcvay34.

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Ten Thoughts as the Patriots Begin Free Agency
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