Ignoring the potential shilling he does for his former employer, anytime Mike Lombardi talks about the New England Patriots, it’s a must-listen.
“Belichick makes every decision based on sustainable values,” Lombardi said. “‘How am I going to look in the year 2017 and ’18.’ Most teams in the NFL operate under situational values, which means what’s the best thing we can do right now. And that’s where he takes advantage of the marketplace. He’s one of the few traders on the market who … sustainable values and everyone else is situational. That’s what makes him so good.”
This directly relates to the Patriots’ approach in free agency, as well as the draft. The Patriots are in many cases more likely to sign a veteran player who was released rather than a traditional unrestricted free agent. Why? Because Belichick is looking toward the future.
Signing a traditional unrestricted free agent would mess with the Patriots’ compensatory draft pick formula in 2018. And with so many of their own quality players hitting free agency this offseason, the Patriots could be in line for solid compensation.
Signing a player who was released or not tendered as a restricted free agent does not require giving up any compensatory picks. In recent seasons, the Patriots have signed Chris Long, Donald Brown, Ramon Humber, Scott Chandler, Patrick Chung, Darrelle Revis, Leon Washington, Adrian Wilson, Tommy Kelly and Michael Jenkins after they were cut early in the offseason. That might seem like a low success rate, but they’re signings that come with little to no risk, and hits like Long, Chung, Revis and Kelly make up for the misses.
Many veteran players already have been released this offseason. Let’s take a look at some who could interest the Patriots.
CB Alterraun Verner
Both Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler are free agents this offseason, and it seems unlikely the Patriots will retain both. The Patriots could use the depth and insurance that a former Pro Bowl selection like Verner would provide.
He likely won’t be overly costly, either. He signed a four-year, $26.5 million contract in 2014 while coming off his lone All-Pro season. He started just nine games over the last two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If the Patriots can’t re-sign Ryan, then they could go into next season with Butler and Eric Rowe on the outside and Verner and Cyrus Jones competing for slot snaps.
DE Jared Odrick
Odrick seemed like a potential fit for the Patriots when he hit free agency in 2015 given his past success against New England with the Miami Dolphins. Then he signed a five-year, $42.5 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. That price was too high for the Patriots, but now coming off a release and injuries that limited him to just six games in 2016, Odrick could be much more affordable as he hits the open market again.
At 6-foot-5, 298 pounds with pass-rush potential, Odrick comes with versatility that could be dangerous in the Patriots’ hybrid defense. He could play five-technique defensive end and three-technique defensive tackle. He also could play some left seven-technique defensive end.
RB Rashad Jennings
If for some reason the Patriots can’t re-sign LeGarrette Blount, then they could bring in Jennings as competition for a younger running back addition, potentially through the NFL draft.
Jennings averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in 2016, but he’s just one year removed from a season in which he averaged 4.4 yards per carry and had 1,159 total yards.
DT Earl Mitchell
The Patriots could use some veteran depth at defensive tackle, especially if Alan Branch doesn’t return as a free agent.
Mitchell, 29, began 2016 on injured reserve and played just nine games, recording 18 tackles and no sacks in five starts, so he’s another player who could come at a deep discount. It would be worth seeing how much Mitchell has left on a short-term, low-risk contract.
Other veteran players who recently were released include running back Mike Tolbert, offensive tackle Breno Giacomini, defensive end Mario Williams, wide receiver Victor Cruz and defensive tackle Paul Soliai. It seems less likely the Patriots would take a chance on any of those players, but it’s possible if the price is right. There likely will be more players released in the coming weeks. Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta reportedly could be one casualty.
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