FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots have an unusually high number of defensive stars entering free agency after the season. Everyone wants to know why the Patriots aren’t re-signing those players during the season and how they’ll retain them all.
Head coach Bill Belichick doesn’t seem too worried.
Cornerback Malcolm Butler is a restricted free agent, while linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long, cornerback Logan Ryan, safety Duron Harmon and defensive tackle Alan Branch are unrestricted. Offensive starters Martellus Bennett, LeGarrette Blount, Marcus Cannon, Sebastian Vollmer and James Develin also will be unrestricted free agents in 2017.
The Patriots likely would prefer to have the security of signing them before the market opens next March, but if they can’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be goners.
“In general, there’s some team planning, you do what you can do,” Belichick said Friday. “Sometimes if you can work out a contract, which we’ve done that during the season with various players — if you can work that out, you work that out. If you can’t, there’s been a number of players we’ve signed — our players that we’ve signed once free agency has started. Devin (McCourty), to pick a name.
“I don’t think you can be afraid of free agency. It’s not if a guy gets to free agency, you can’t re-sign him. You’re in a competitive market, but you’re in a competitive market anyway. These guys know that they have other options, depending on who the player is and what their situation is. They have other options. We know there’s only so much money to go around. If you can work it out, then you have the security, if you can’t then you have your options. They have their options, we have our options. That’s professional sports.”
The Patriots will have around $60 million in cap room after the season, so they could sign most of their important free agents. They’ve been planning for this, however, and they won’t want to mortgage the future just to have those players locked up for the 2017 season.
It’s rare for a team to have seven defensive starters hit free agency in the same year, but it’s even more rare for Belichick to be unprepared, no matter the situation. The Patriots haven’t made a splash move to extend a star defender yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen before the 2016 season is over. And fans shouldn’t necessarily panic if Collins or Hightower hit the open market. McCourty did and re-signed with the Patriots when he saw his other options.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Oct 25, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots outside linebacker Dont'a Hightower (54) celebrates with outside linebacker Jamie Collins (91) and outside linebacker Geneo Grissom (92) after sacking New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (not pictured) during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports