Free-agent shopping season begins on March 5, and the New England Patriots need to be active. Let’s take a look at some free agents who could help the Pats at each position.
Keep in mind this list will continue to grow, particularly in March when roster bonuses are due and teams decide to cut ties with their pricier players.
Kyle Orton, Denver Broncos
This isn’t a position of dire need, but Orton would be a great backup if the right things happen. First, he’s a restricted free agent, so the Broncos have the choice to retain his services. But if they part ways and Orton can’t find a starting job anywhere, he’d be a great option for the Pats. He’s a proven winner as a backup and has played well in Josh McDaniels’ system. This is an unlikely signing, but he’s someone to pay attention to.
Leon Washington, New York Jets
It’s unlikely the Jets will keep both Washington and Thomas Jones, and Washington would help the Pats in a number of ways. He’s a great option as a part-time runner and receiver, and he’s explosive in the kicking game. Washington might seek a big payday if he can convince teams his broken leg has recovered, but if that’s deemed to be a liability, the Pats could get him cheap. Snagging him from the Jets would be a victory, too.
Tony Richardson, New York Jets
Bill Belichick doesn’t always prefer using a roster spot on a fullback, but the 38-year-old is a veteran bruiser whom Belichick would probably make an exception to sign. Of course, that’s if Richardson doesn’t retire.
Kevin Walter, Houston Texans
Talk about a perfect fit. He’s big — 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds — and can block and run good routes. That’s exactly what the Patriots wanted out of Jabar Gaffney, and it’s exactly what they couldn’t get out of Joey Galloway. Plus, Walter has thrived in Houston’s air-it-out system, so he’d be a dream fit for the Pats.
Antonio Bryant, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bryant fell off this season, which was a result of injuries and a terrible team. He might have the most potential of any free-agent wideout on the market, and if Bryant can get it back together, he could be a star in Tom Brady’s offense.
Muhsin Muhammad, Carolina Panthers
I’m big on the Patriots adding character veterans this offseason, and Muhammad would fit that role. He’s also one of the best blocking wide receivers in the league and would be a valuable third or fourth option in the Pats’ offense. If Muhammad chooses to look outside of Carolina, the Patriots should give him a call.
Chris Chambers, Kansas City Chiefs
It’s easy to love the guy who caught 82 passes for 1,118 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Dolphins in 2005, but it’s easy to hate the guy who hasn’t matched that in his other nine seasons. Belichick has a good read on Chambers, who spent six and a half seasons in Miami, so maybe he’s one of the Chambers supporters.
Tony Scheffler, Denver Broncos
This is a pretty uninspiring class of tight ends, but the restricted free agent might be available. He had a falling out with McDaniels, which led to a Week 17 benching, and it reportedly came about because Scheffler wasn’t all that interested in dedicating himself to the blocking role that comes with being a tight end. That reason alone might be enough to make Belichick turn away. However, Chris Baker has filled the blocking role nicely, and Scheffler’s top-end receiving ability might be too much to ignore.
Bobbie Williams, Cincinnati Bengals
If right guard Stephen Neal retires, Williams might be the best guard on the market to fill his spot. Of course, the Patriots could move Nick Kaczur from right tackle to right guard and bump Sebastian Vollmer into Kaczur’s spot. Or, they could just give Dan Connolly the starting job at right guard. The Pats clearly have options, so if they look toward free agency, they’d probably want the best guy available.
Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers
There is no fathomable reason for the Panthers to franchise Peppers again, especially since it’ll cost them upwards of $20 million. He’ll be the best free agent on the market at any position, so he won’t come cheap. Peppers is a pass-rushing beast, and he had 10.5 sacks last season. However, he’s been criticized for taking plays, series and games off at a time, so he’ll only be as productive as he seemingly wants to be.
Aaron Kampman, Green Bay Packers
The 30-year-old is coming off a knee injury that will reduce his value on the market, but he has played both defensive end and outside linebacker in the 3-4 system, which makes him attractive to the Patriots.
Richard Seymour, Raiders
Ha! Just kidding.
Barrett Ruud, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The middle linebacker is a restricted free agent, and there’s no reason to believe the Bucs will let him walk away without a fight. But Ruud is a tackling machine who would fit greatly alongside Jerod Mayo. It’s highly unlikely Ruud will land in Foxboro, but Belichick has always loved him and could make a play.
Shawne Merriman, San Diego Chargers
Merriman has some real character flaws, and fans might have a tough time rooting for him. His game has really slowed down in the last two seasons, and it appears the Chargers might be ready to part ways with the restricted free agent. Despite his question marks, he’s got the potential to be a menace in the backfield, and that’s what the Patriots desperately need.
Bertrand Berry, Arizona Cardinals
Sticking with the veteran theme, Berry will be 35 next season and would provide a leadership presence. He can play outside linebacker and defensive end in a reserve role.
Pisa Tinoisamoa, Chicago Bears
He’s another good tackler and an underrated player in the league. The Patriots have reportedly worked him out in the past, so they should be familiar with him.
There are some interesting names out there, like Indy’s Nick Harper, Philly’s Ellis Hobbs and Baltimore’s Fabian Washington (restricted), but none fit the system like Leigh Bodden. The Patriots are pretty set at this position, so keeping Bodden should be their major priority.
Darren Sharper, New Orleans Saints
This is another deep position for the Patriots, but if the Saints and Sharper go in separate directions — which, in all honesty, doesn’t seem like it would be very likely — Belichick would love a player of Sharper’s caliber to put alongside Brandon Meriweather.