Julian Edelman Should Be No. 1 Priority in Free Agency in 2014 and Other Patriots Thoughts

Julian Edelman, Shaun Phillips, Mike AdamsFOXBORO, Mass. — After Wes Welker was signed away by the Broncos, it wasn’t a question of who would replace the dependable slot receiver, but how successful Danny Amendola would be in doing so.

Amendola’s been a valuable signing, despite missing four games with a concussion and groin injury, but he has not been “the new Welker,” as was expected. Instead, fellow wide receiver Julian Edelman finally emerged after five up-and-down seasons with the Patriots.

After another huge game on Sunday, Edelman’s suddenly on pace for his first-career 1,000-yard season. With 89 catches, 914 yards and six touchdowns, Edelman’s projected stat line is Welker-esque. If he continues his tear (and can stay healthy, which is more than every other wide receiver on the Patriots’ roster can say), Edelman would have 102 catches on 147 targets for 1,045 yards and seven scores. Those numbers would eclipse his career totals entering this season.

The Patriots should extend Edelman after the season. They won’t be able sign him for Black Friday prices like they were in the 2013 offseason, though. Good luck finding a better bargain in last year’s free agency. Edelman is fifth in the NFL in receptions and 24th in yards on a fully non-guaranteed one-year, $765,000 contract that only accelerated to $1.015 million after hitting the seemingly unattainable performance bonuses that were written into his contract coming into the year. He got $250,000 for catching 70 passes.

Edelman’s deal will likely look something like Welker and Amendola’s. Amendola got a five-year, $28.5 million contract that is only guaranteed through next season, which is key when discussing an Edelman deal. If New England chooses to re-sign Edelman, the team would only need to hold onto both similar players for the 2014 season.

Edelman’s not the only player who will be looking for a new contract next season. I’ll discuss some of those players in this week’s No-Huddle Offense, where I go through 11 random thoughts on the Patriots, the NFL and anything else.

1. The Patriots have some flexibility at cornerback.

After an unbelievable start to the season, it seemed Aqib Talib would be the Patriots’ No. 1 priority in free agency. After hobbling through a hip injury for more than half the season, though, Talib’s price tag may be slashed.

It helps too that New England has Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan at the position. Ryan could absolutely be starting on this team, but he has too many talented players in front of him. The Patriots would need to acquire some depth if Talib were to walk, but they could definitely get by with Dennard, Arrington and Ryan at the position going forward.

2. Brandon Spikes is an enigma.

The middle linebacker is dealing with a knee injury right now, which partially explains why he’s been invisible for two straight games. The Patriots have a decision to make with Spikes this offseason, as well. He’s not an every-down player, which complicates matters. When he’s on, though, he may be the premier run-stopping linebacker in the NFL.

I believe New England could get by with Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins as the starters at linebacker next season, though the run defense may suffer. Getting defensive tackle Vince Wilfork back lessens the impact, though.

3. Dane Fletcher has proven he can start in the NFL.

The Patriots may choose to sign one player out of Spikes and Fletcher. Fletcher has had a good season, and could certainly start on some franchises, but if New England lets Spikes walk, keeping Fletcher as depth at the position would be key.

4. The rest of the pack.

Running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive end Andre Carter, cornerback Marquice Cole, wide receiver Austin Collie, tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui, Matthew Mulligan and D.J. Williams, long snapper Danny Aiken, tackle Will Svitek and center Ryan Wendell are the remaining 10 free agents in 2014.

If Blount continues to show improvement, he will be well worth keeping around. Cole and Aiken are valuable special teamers and at least one of Hoomanawanui and Mullligan should get a shot in training camp.

5. The Patriots could still miss the playoffs.

The situation in which New England misses the playoffs is not that crazy. The Patriots would have to lose out (at Baltimore in Week 16, Bills at home in Week 17), while the Ravens (Bengals in Week 17) and Dolphins (at Buffalo in Week 16, Jets at home in Week 17) would have to win out. The Bengals would have to beat the Vikings in Cincinnati in Week 16.

It would be a surprise to see the Bills beat the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, though anything is possible with this team.

6. The Patriots must find a way to increase the pressure.

Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill had all day to throw on Sunday. New England has quality bookends at defensive end, but they have got very little pressure recently from the interior line. Unless defensive tackle Chris Jones can step up, it would be wise for the Patriots to start blitzing their linebackers. Hightower, Spikes and Collins are all quality pass rushers.

7. The Seahawks are the best team in the NFL, but MetLife Stadium could give them trouble.

Not only is Seattle by far the best team in the league, they may be the only good team with all the parity around the NFL. The fact that the Super Bowl is in New York won’t be beneficial to the Seahawks, though. It rarely gets down to freezing in Seattle during regular season games. If this season’s Super Bowl was in a typical warm climate, the Seahawks would have a much easier road to a championship.

8. Logan Mankins surprisingly filled in at left tackle for Nate Solder.

Bill Belichick praised Mankins’ ability to move over from guard to tackle during his press conference on Wednesday. Despite Mankins’ versatility, it was a surpise that Svitek wasn’t brought off the bench to play for Solder after the starting left tackle went down with a head injury.

Svitek was thought to be signed as a swing tackle, meaning he could play the left or right side. Svitek has been dealing with an ankle injury, which could explain why Josh Kline was brought off the bench instead.

9. The Patriots could use a receiving threat at tight end.

It seems they have one in Williams, too. Hoomanawanui and Mulligan have been decent this season, but neither can get open consistently in the passing game. Williams was a successful pass catcher in college, but that was a long time ago now. If Williams can learn the offense and bulk up by season’s end, he could give a boost to the position. It’s not like there are any world beaters on the depth chart at tight end anyway.

10. Sealver Siliga continues to stand out.

After losing Wilfork for the year, the Patriots tried Chris Jones, Joe Vellano, Marcus Forston and Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle. None of those players worked out very well, Siliga has been a boost to the run and pass game, however. He’s able to consistently get a push, helping out his teammates in the pass rush and he’s at least able to hold his ground against double teams against the run.

11. Shane Vereen didn’t make his expected impact against Miami.

The third-down back was expected to be Brady’s No. 1 target on Sunday. He was thrown to just seven times, however. Miami covered Vereen well. He was getting open at times, but Brady was really locked in on getting the ball out quickly to Edelman and Amendola. Vereen probably cost a few fantasy football players a playoff game this weekend.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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