The Patriots may be doing their best to look relaxed and disinterested in the thick of the NFL combine and offseason planning, but the team showed this week that not all is as calm as it appears. With franchise tags and free agent choices approaching quickly, things could really start to shake up soon.
Tom Brady‘s contract extension Monday woke New England from its offseason snooze, and Greg Bedard of The Boston Globe reports that other moves are likely in order, according to what he’s learned from league sources. Bedard predicts that, of the three big names for the Patriots as they face offseason roster-building — Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer — two can be expected back, and the Patriots can also be expected to make a run in free agency for several veteran defensive players.
Bedard says the Patriots are unlikely to use the franchise tag on Welker, Talib or Vollmer, but that Welker and Talib both have good chances of playing in New England next year. Welker will probably get a contract extension before free agency opens, with the main impetus being that the Patriots would like to keep him away from an AFC rival, according to Bedard. Keeping Welker would be especially important if the team chooses to part ways with Brandon Lloyd, as New England is thin at wide receiver.
Vollmer, however, has likely become too valuable for the Patriots to keep, since New England typically doesn’t pay the market rate for offensive linemen. Unless the Pats franchise Vollmer, Bedard writes, he is likely gone after working his way to top form in New England. Vollmer, who allowed 5.5 sacks in 2012, recently had offseason knee surgery, too.
Defense is where the lines start to blur. While the Patriots liked what Talib provided at cornerback last year, the big question remains whether New England wants to pay to keep him around, especially after reports indicating that the Pats are unlikely to use the franchise tag to retain him. The biggest concern with Talib continues to be whether his questionable past — and a personality that Bedard characterizes as “a pied-piper charisma that endears himself to younger players on the team” but could lead players astray — is worth the tradeoff of quality defense for the Patriots.
The Patriots’ secondary issues are complicated by the unknown fate of Alfonzo Dennard, who was found guilty of assaulting a police officer last week. With the Patriots still pulling together the pieces on the back end of the defense, having a player who has been with the team before is especially important.
New England is looking into all kinds of big-name, older players to stock up the defense — Bedard mentions Dwight Freeney, who the Patriots are likely to “show some interest in,” and Ed Reed of the Ravens. Charles Woodson, cut loose by the Packers, could also be a good veteran pickup — although he doesn’t fit the Patriots’ schemes all that well, Bedard notes.
Free agency opens March 12, with some negotiations allowed March 9. Franchise tags need to be placed by March 4.
The Patriots have picked the perfect time to start stirring.