The New England Patriots still can afford to add some roster depth.
The Patriots have just under $8 million in salary-cap space after extending Vince Wilfork’s contract, giving them enough room to sign their draft picks, carry over some money into the season and sign a few more low-risk free agents.
Patriots fans who are clamoring for top free agent DeSean Jackson likely will be disappointed since the wide receiver’s reported off-the-field ties could scare off head coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft. Jackson won’t come cheap either, and even a backloaded contract would eat up a bulk of the Patriots’ remaining cap room.
Check out five free agents the Patriots should be able to afford.
Michael Bush: The Patriots need another running back who can catch passes out of the backfield, and two consecutive disappointing seasons could lower the price tag for Bush, who reportedly will visit the team Tuesday.
Belichick seemingly did the impossibly by making LeGarrette Blount an effective short-yardage back in 2013. Perhaps Belichick could do the same with Bush, who caught 37 passes for 418 yards and one touchdown in 2011 with the Oakland Raiders.
Other running back options: Felix Jones, Justin Forsett, Ronnie Brown
Miles Austin: The wide receiver once was worthy of a seven-year, $57 million contract, but he won’t earn close to that amount on the open market this offseason. Austin recently has been plagued by hamstring injuries, which led to a 24-catch, 244-yard season with the Dallas Cowboys in 2013.
A healthy season could boost the Patriots’ receiving corps, but Austin is a long way from his breakout 2009 campaign.
Other wide receiver options: Jacoby Ford, Jason Avant
Owen Daniels: The former Houston Texans tight end missed 11 games in 2013 with a broken leg and still caught 24 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns. The Patriots desperately need tight end depth and could turn to Daniels if he’s healthy.
Jermichael Finley is still available, but it seems he could be a long way off from medically being cleared after suffering a neck injury last season.
Will Smith: The New Orleans Saints experimented with moving Smith to outside linebacker in 2013, and it didn’t go so well, as he tore his ACL in training camp. Smith reportedly will visit the Patriots on Tuesday and could fit in New England as a rotational pass rusher with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich.
If the Patriots want to spend a bit more, former Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer is still available.
James Anderson: After losing Dane Fletcher to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Patriots need another linebacker — preferably one who can cover. Anderson won’t contribute much against the run, but he could be used against the pass in nickel and dime.
Anderson will be 31 years old during the 2014 season, but the undersized linebacker seems to be maintaining his impressive athletic ability. He ran a 4.59-second 40-yard dash coming out of Virginia Tech in 2006, and also had a 6.68-second three-cone drill and 4.08-second short-shuttle drill.