Danny Amendola, WR, Rams
Leon Washington, RB/KR, Seahawks
Adrian Wilson, SS, Cardinals
Donald Jones, WR, Bills
Will Svitek, OT, Falcons
Wes Welker, WR, Broncos
Danny Woodhead, RB, Chargers
Patrick Chung, S, Eagles
Donald Thomas, Colts
Brandon Lloyd, WR
Sebastian Vollmer, RT
Aqib Talib, CB
Kyle Arrington, CB
Marquice Cole, CB
Niko Koutouvides, LB
Julian Edelman, WR
Trevor Scott, DE
Deion Branch, WR
Tracy White, LB
Veteran edge rusher. Downfield “X” receiver. Wide receiver depth. Defensive line upgrades.
The Patriots have benefited this offseason from a down market for their players who hit free agency and the desire of some established veterans to join a winning program that has immediate need for their services.
In the weeks leading up to free agency, we reported the market for Aqib Talib, Sebastian Vollmer and Wes Welker would be depressed. In each case, it was. Talib and Vollmer both eventually re-signed.
Welker was presented with an offer his agents described as “take it or leave it.” Welker left it. The Patriots moved on, as they told him they were prepared to do in the hours before free agency began. Welker had to scramble to get a one-year deal from the Broncos when – despite having two years and a tampering period to rustle up suitors – his agents couldn’t do any better for him.
For nearly every departure, the Patriots have made a corresponding addition. And, while it would take a remarkable season from Amendola to play at Welker’s level immediately, the slot position has gotten younger and faster with Amendola’s addition. That despite the breast-beating and tearing of robes since Welker and his agents gambled and lost on finding their free agent pot of gold.
Wilson is an upgrade over the enigmatic Chung. Washington for Woodhead feels like a wash to me given that Washington will be 31 when the season starts, but he’s been a terrific NFL player and should have some left.
Donald Jones for Brandon Lloyd is not an upgrade for New England. Jones, who was diagnosed with a kidney disorder before the 2010 draft, saw his 2012 season end prematurely and the Bills opt to not tender him an offer as a restricted free agent despite a 41-catch, 443-yard, four-touchdown season. Buffalo was unwilling to commit to Jones because of the condition, the Patriots are hoping for the best with Jones’ health.
The Patriots moved to replace their tackle depth by swapping Svitek in for Donald Thomas.
It’s the retention of Talib, Arrington and Vollmer that make the biggest difference for New England. Losing their top corner, their slot corner and their right tackle would have left gaping holes. Returning them means continuity and a chance to build continuity early in the offseason since Talib wasn’t here for the 2012 offseason and Arrington was ticketed for an outside corner spot.
The Patriots have irons in the fire. Defensive ends John Abraham and Dwight Freeney have spun through town and left without contracts. Both are still out there. If there’s no upgrade made, the Patriots may return Trevor Scott for another season. Meanwhile, Steelers wideout Emmanuel Sanders, a restricted free agent, visited but didn’t sign an offer sheet with the Patriots. If the Patriots can dangle a deal Sanders jumps at, the Steelers can either match the Patriots’ offer of accept a third-round pick from the Pats as compensation. Adding Sanders would partially address the Lloyd departure. Former Chiefs and Patriots personnel man Scott Pioli told me that getting Sanders would be a major coup. This year’s draft is heavy with talented defensive linemen and that seems to be the Patriots plan for the first round in April. Re-signing Edelman would bring the Patriots the special teams depth at returner and also give them a Swiss Army knife for the receiver positions, but Edelman doesn’t want to be a bit player at this point.
Relative to the rest of the AFC elite, the Patriots have done very well.
Look at it this way: the Patriots lost a 32-year-old receiver and replaced him with a 27-year-old. The Broncos got a 32-year-old receiver but lost a 29-year-old pass rushing genius. The Ravens lost a couple Hall of Famers, three of their best young defenders and their playoff closer. But they got the Broncos 29-year-old pass rusher. Who’s winning?
Well, locally the narrative that moves the needle, pads the checking account and fills four hours between mortgage and window commercials is that Bill Belichick and the Patriots are so iron-hearted that even Nike sweatshop workers in China feel badly for Wes Welker. So the answer is: anyone but the Patriots.
Despite the perception, you can’t ensure a Super Bowl in February, March or April. You can only put yourself in position to get to one. And the Patriots – in position two months ago when they took the field for the AFC Championship against Baltimore – remain in position here in late March.