This week, we’ll have an overview of the free agent class at some positions of need for the Patriots. Today: safety.
HEAD OF THE CLASS
Jairus Byrd, 27, Bills, 37 tackles, 4 interceptions 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
Byrd's on the short list of the best safeties in the game. Though he missed the first five games of last season because of a plantar fasciitis issue, he still tied for the Bills lead in picks and earned a Pro Bowl nod. He's not the Rodney Harrison type of thumping hitter for which Patriots fans may be clamoring, but he's a versatile and dynamic player who alongside Devin McCourty would put New England's safety tandem among the cream of the NFL.
TJ Ward, 27, Browns, 75 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1.5 sacks
You want a thumper? Here's your thumper. Ward is more of a traditional strong safety who can help in the running game. Patriots fans were introduced to the Pro Bowler last year when he torpedoed himself into Rob Gronkowski's knee in Week 14, ending the tight end's season. Interesting side note: Both Ward and Byrd played together under Bill Belichick's friend Chip Kelly at Oregon.
Chris Clemons, 28, Dolphins, 62 tackles, 1 interception, 8 passes defended
Clemons may fit if the Patriots are looking for a rich-man's version of the recently-departed Steve Gregory. He's versatile enough to play either safety spot, a willing participant in defending the run, and he knows where to be in the passing game.
Antoine Bethea, 30, Colts, 89 tackles, 2 interceptions, 8 passes defended
If reliability is the priority, they don't get much better than Bethea; he hasn't missed a game in six seasons. He would be a big help in the run game, a sure tackler, and by all accounts a good guy in the locker room. He's on the wrong side of 30 years old relative to the other top names on the list.
Donte Whitner, 29, 49ers, 63 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles
Whitner would be the aggressive (sometimes overaggressive) complement to McCourty in the back end. He's the kind of safety who forces receivers to flinch going over the middle, but he's probably too much of a gambler for Belichick's liking.
THE SENSIBLE PLAY
Second-year safety Duron Harmon could be the natural choice to step in as the starter after he proved to be a solid fill-in for Gregory when Gregory went down injured last season. Still, the sensible move would seem to be for the Patriots to bring in a veteran in order to push Harmon and serve as depth when injuries hit. Guys like Kendrick Lewis out of Kansas City or Malcolm Jenkins out of New Orleans are versatile -- a plus in the eyes of the Patriots -- and would be stable options, but both will be looking to easily slide into starting roles in all likelihood. Someone like old friend James Ihedigbo may make sense. He would be a smart, cost-effective vet who'd provide plenty of value on special teams.
TAKING A FLYER
Louis Delmas. The Lions safety was taken one pick ahead of Patrick Chung in the 2009 draft. He played in all 16 games for Detroit last season, but his career has been marred by injury. His skills appear to line up somewhat similarly with McCourty's so if the Patriots are looking for interchangeability in the back end, he'd be a decent choice. Perhaps his history makes him an affordable option on the free-agent market. Same could go for Major Wright (26, Bears) who's coming off an injury-riddled year, or Stevie Brown (26, Giants) who missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
THE OTHER GUYS
MD Jennings, 26, 49ers
Mike Mitchell, 27, Panthers
Brandon Meriweather, 30, Redskins
Husain Abdullah, 29, Chiefs
Ryan Clark, 35, Steelers
Roman Harper, 31, Saints
Ed Reed, 35, Jets
Charles Woodson, 37, Raiders