Will They, Won’t They? The Patriots And Their 18 Free Agents
It’s time to clean out the house, time to shuffle the faces and time for the 2012 New England Patriots to start looking toward 2013 after they failed to show up in the second half of their embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Ravens in Sunday’s AFC Championship game.
As is the case every year, the team has a host of free agents that they need to make decisions on. Eighteen of their 20 free agents heading into the offseason are unrestricted and if the team doesn’t do anything to lock them up, they could be gone like that.
If the front office is having any trouble, they can just ask me. I’d be glad to help. Here’s my first offseason addition of will they or won’t they. (Hint: Both Wes Welker and Aqib Talib need to be back).
Will Allen: The former first-round pick has had a decent career and certainly could have been able to help in the Patriots secondary this season, but he has played in just 21 games since 2009, missing entire campaigns in both 2010 and 2012. Of course, as he was drafted almost 12 years ago now, age is going to be a question. Would he be able to keep up with the fast and physical tight ends around the league like, oh, I don’t know, Dennis Pitta for instance as a 34-year-old coming off of whatever injury he had. I’m just not sure it would work out like that. I’d cut Allen loose.
Kyle Arrington: Assuming the team does bring Talib back for his first full season, Arrington’s role would be that of a third corner in nickel situations or when injuries occur, like in Sunday’s game when Talib went down. In that game, particularly in the second half, Joe Flacco was pretty much throwing the ball at will with Arrington and Marquice Cole in the secondary. In 2011, Arrington led the league with seven interceptions. In 2012, however, he had zero. If he is okay with his role as a third corner, then I wouldn’t hate to see him brought back in 2013, but for less than the $1.85M he made this year.
Josh Barrett: In the five years since getting drafted out of Arizona St., Barrett has barely touched the turf during the regular season. Though he has shown signs of strong play and intelligence, his consistent ability to get injured has done neither him nor the team any good. Though he should be ready for the 2013 season after a calf injury has held him out for more than a year, he just might be playing it with another team. I’d let this one go too.
Deion Branch: Branch only returned to the team in 2012 following the injury to Aaron Hernandez in Week 1 of the season. He was cut by the team in the preseason. At 33 years old, he isn’t getting any younger. While Tom Brady still trusts him as much as anyone else, Branch had just 29 targets on the season, an indication that even if the team may want him back, he might not be willing. I predict that one way or another, Branch will not be a Patriot for the 2013 regular season. That is, until someone gets hurt.
Patrick Chung: Chung’s play and presence on the field has declined in each of the last two seasons, culminating with him losing his starting safety job to Steve Gregory in 2012 and seeing most of his playing time come on special teams. With both Gregory and Devin McCourty expected back next season, Chung may be the odd man out at safety. He could always be used as a backup and a spot defender, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that he could be a starting safety on a lot of other teams in the league. I wouldn’t be shocked if Chung has played his last game as a Patriot.
Marquice Cole: Aside from being a pretty decent gunner, Cole doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of secondary play. Only used as a defensive back when there were six or seven of them on the field or, like Arrington, when there were injuries, Cole is the kind of player who makes his money on special teams. His speed, particularly utilized at the gunner position, can also be helpful on the coverage teams. If he wants to come back, I’d have no problem seeing No. 23 in blue again next season.
Julian Edelman: When Edelman went down with a broken leg on Dec. 2 against the Dolphins, there was talk about that potentially being his last game as a member of the Patriots. Assuming the team does decide to re-sign Welker, Edelman may not be needed or wanted. His real value to the team is in the punt return game and not as a play-making wide receiver. If Welker is lost, which I don’t see happening, then Edelman would appear more likely to return to the team in 2013. I guess it kind of depends on what happens with Wes, but it is very possible that Edelman does not return to the team next season.
Niko Koutouvides: Koutouvides is the kind of player that Bill Belichick loves. He reminds me of Rob Ninkovich – slides in under the radar, does his job and doesn’t complain. Used completely on special teams in his two years in New England, Koutouvides has been solid. More importantly, he has worked and played hard. Simply put, I believe it is for those reasons that the team will bring him back to be an asset on special teams again in 2013.
Derrick Martin: Martin emerged (well, as much as he did) late in the season on special teams and even saw a bulk of action in the regular season finale against Miami when Alfonzo Dennard was out with a knee injury. Since he is young and pretty athletic, Martin could be a short-term fix at safety. If he were able to develop enough over the offseason. I think the Pats will (and should) go after a big name at safety whether it be in the draft or through free agency, however, so it might not end up working out between them and Martin. Like so many of the other free agents, it depends on what happens with other players before Martin’s future will be decided. I wouldn’t mind having him back in 2013.
Jamey Richard: For those who don’t know, Richard is a guard who can also play center and was hurt for much of the season. The team does have depth at the offensive line position with decent enough players like Marcus Cannon and Nick McDonald in the mix should one of the starters go down. He was a seventh-round pick in the 2008 draft, leading me to believe that he doesn’t have a ton of upside to him. The team’s depth up front and the fact that he spent much of 2012 on IR seem like a fairly likely recipe for him not being retained by the team for 2013.
Trevor Scott: Scott proved valuable as one of those ‘Belichickian’ players to come out of nowhere and then play solid in relief of an injured teammate. He saw a lot of time in the loss to the Ravens last week after Chandler Jones and Kyle Love each suffered injuries and he played pretty well. Next year will be his sixth year in the league and his pass-rushing ability along with his smarts make New England seem like a good fit for him. I would like to see him back next year and I think the organization may feel the same way.
Donte’ Stallworth: There’s no question Stallworth is not the receiver he once was (duh). He was not on an NFL roster until Week 14 after it was revealed that Edelman would miss the remainder of the season. Assuming the team can put together a decent receiving core for 2013 and their reliance on the two-tight-end offense, Stallworth’s days in New England may be numbered this time around as well. Personally, I would go in a different, younger direction.
Aqib Talib: Now, on to one of the two big free agent names on the roster. The midseason acquisition of Talib was clearly a good move as his size finally gave the Patriots’ secondary some help in defending some of the league’s bigger receivers. He can still play entering his sixth in the league and may have earned the right to more money with his play in a fresh place in the second half of the season. It will be tough, however, for the Pats to bring both he and Welker back in 2013, though. If they could get him at the right price, it would obviously be a no-brainer to bring him back. Unfortunately, I do think it will be tough to get him back in a Patriots uniform in 2013.
Donald Thomas: Thomas has shown that he can be a solid fill-in at guard for the Patriots, but with all five of this year’s starters (hopefully) returning next season and (hopefully) all being relatively healthy, this is another one of the odd-man-out situations. Sure, Thomas could potentially be a starting guard somewhere in the league in 2013, but would he rather back up on a good team or start for a lousy to mediocre team? If the Pats want him back, I think Thomas should re-sign.
Sebastian Vollmer: To me, this one is a no-brainer. Vollmer is one of the best right tackles in the league. Period. His only downside is the number of injuries he has begun to rack up in recent years. Strength and production-wise, however, he is a huge piece of the offensive line. There hasn’t been much talk about his potential free agency as most of the attention has gone towards Welker and Talib, but if the team could only retain two of the three, I would make certain that Vollmer is one of them.
Wes Welker: The decision on this one may be out of Wes’ hands. For the second straight year, if they cannot reach a deal in time, the Patriots are expected to place the franchise tag on the speedy wide receiver, giving him another huge pay day. I think that’s exactly what will happen, too. Welker’s offseason could very well be spent negotiating a new deal that never even takes fruition because the sides are too far apart. One way or the other, Welker will be back catching passes over the middle from Brady in 2013 and physically paying the price for it.
Tracy White: With the starting linebacking core all still relatively young and SEC-bred, White hardly ever sees time on the field in defensive situations. He did make 11 tackles for the Pats on special teams in 2012, however, and has been around since 2010. Turning 32 over the offseason could make him look less attractive in the eyes of the Patriots, especially with Dane Fletcher presumably returning next season and the younger Jeff Tarpinian becoming more developed. Personally, I wouldn’t have a problem with White spending his 11th professional season in Foxboro, but I’m not sure the ownership would feel the same way.
Danny Woodhead: The last unrestricted free agent poses another interesting problem for the Patriots to solve. There is no doubt that Woodhead has been valuable for them in his three years here since leaving the Jets. His value, however, has come almost exclusively in the passing game. With the wide receivers and the tight ends this team has, Woodhead’s role could diminish even more next year. Due to the emergence of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen or Brandon Bolden, the team is much more reliant on the run game than it has been in recent years and Woodhead is not much of a power runner. I really hope he’s back, but that might not be the case in 2013.
Along with these 18 names, both Fletcher and Michael Hoomanawanui are restricted free agents. I would think that Fletcher returns in 2013 and as for Hoomanawanui, he proved to be valuable in the run game and also showed that he can catch some passes too. I’d like to see both of them back, if possible, next season.
Stay tuned this offseason to see if – no, when – my latest Patriots predictions will inevitably crash and burn like the team did last Sunday.
Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.