The New England Patriots enter the 2013 Free Agent Market, a market that opens on Tuesday this week, with many question marks but question marks that are overshadowed by a settled franchise. Unlike other franchises, the Patriots aren't rebuilding or looking for superstar players to lead the franchise this off-season. Instead, they are looking to build on their success of recent seasons.
Even though they don't have a lengthy list of priorities, they do have some top-heavy targets that they must acquire if they are to advance next season.
1. Upgrade the Secondary.
Despite some obvious failings on offense late last season, the Patriots' biggest issues this off-season are undoubtedly on the back-end of their defense. Aqib Talib was always going to test free agency after being acquired from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the regular season. Couple his impending exit with Alfonzo Dennard's off-season legal issues and the Patriots face the prospect of losing both starting cornerbacks this off-season.
Fortunately for the Patriots, this year's crop of free agent cornerbacks is a talented one. Keenan Lewis, Brent Grimes, Sean Smith, Derek Cox, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Quentin Jammer all offer the Patriots starting caliber talents to pursue. Not only could the Patriots be in play for one of those players, they do have the financial flexibility to add multiple pieces. Lewis, Smith and Rodgers-Cromartie offer short and long-term improvements, while Cox, Grimes and Jammer are all older options who could immediately help the Patriots' pursuit of their next championship.
Along with a new cornerabck(or two), the Patriots will also be in the market for a starting strong safety. Tavon Wilson will be in contention for a starting place alongside Devin McCourty, but adding toughness to the middle of the field would significantly aid their efforts. Ed Reed doesn't fit that requirement, but he has always been a big favorite of Belichick. Along with Reed, Adrian Wilson is a hard-hitting in the box defensive back who offers leadership and physicality as well as the consistency that Patrick Chung failed to show on the field.
Chung and Steve Gregory aren't options to start next year, if the Patriots must resort to starting one of the two again they will likely repeat the struggles of the 2012 season. Depending on what direction the Patriots want to go in, there are various levels of safety available this off-season. Reed and Wilson fit the mold of a Belichick addition, but Kenny Philips, Ronde Barber, Dashon Goldson, Jim Leonhard and Charles Woodson could also be under consideration. Each of those players have their own different issues to overcome with their next teams.
2. Revamp the Receivers.
Wes Welker appears set on leaving for pastures new, while Brandon Lloyd's roster spot has been under threat all off-season according to reports in the media. Julian Edelman, Deion Branch and Donte Stallworth are all free agents. That leaves the Patriots with very options outside of their two star tight ends. As good as Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are, the Patriots can't rely on them without that extra dimension on the outside.
Should Welker leave, the team has a plethora of avenues to explore to replace him. Surpassed that however, the Patriots could consider making a massive splash with Mike Wallace. Wallace is expected to go to the highest bidder regardless of who that is this off-season, which would typically rule the Patriots out immediately. However, because he would be the final piece to their offense and the franchise has the space to commit to him, he is a realistic option. Wallace's speed is unmatched across the whole league and that has made him impossible for defenses to cover without significantly adjusting their typical coverages.
Adding Wallace to an offense with Brady, Gronkowski, Hernandez, Lloyd and/or Welker's replacement would put the offense over the top. Wallace's deep speed alone would dramatically alter their overall approach regardless of his inability to run a full route tree. Much like Randy Moss did in 2007, Wallace would allow the Patriots' passing game to completely overwhelm any other in the NFL.
Outside of adding Wallace, the Patriots could sign the more fiscally feasible Greg Jennings who would have a different, but still effective, impact on the Patriots' offense. Jennings is like a more impressive version of Deion Branch. He would help the Patriots by giving Brady another target who he can completely trust and look to in the biggest moments.
3. Add Another Pass Rusher
For the sole reason that the draft this year offers more pass rushing depth than free agency, this is the Patriots' third highest priority in free agency. The type of pass rusher the Patriots will be attracted to is more likely to be the veteran looking to win one final ring opposed to the youngsters looking for long-term deals. That puts players such as Dwight Freeney, John Abraham, Israel Idonije, Osi Umenyiora and Kyle Vanden Bosch into consideration.
Regardless of who they get, the Patriots have to find someone to properly complement Chandler Jones and take the pressure off of Jermaine Cunningham and Rob Ninkovich. When Jones was injured last year, the pressure upfront became essentially non-existent.
4. Replace the Right Tackle
Sebastien Vollmer is a highly thought of free agent for many teams this off-season. His chronic back issues are the only part of his game that teams will be put off by. Vollmer's inability to stay healthy hasn't affected his performance on the field for the most part, but it is definitely a red flag moving forward. He should still be able to attract up to $9 million per season on the free agent market in the right situation. Most likely, the Patriots won't be the ones giving him his cheque next year.
Without Vollmer, the Patriots won't need to worry too much. They have options on the roster already who could potentially step into his role, while Dante Scarrnechia's ability to get the best out of whatever pieces he is given alleviates the need for top talent. Whether they sign a starter or depth, the Patriots should look to bring in a tackle this off-season if they don't re-sign Vollmer.
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