Five Patriots listed among Pro Football Focus Top 50 free agents

Five Patriots listed among Pro Football Focus Top 50 free agents

When the free-agency period officially begins on Mar. 9, it looks like there will be several newly-minted Super Bowl champions available for hire. And judging by the list Pro Football Focus published recently, the Patriots seem primed to lose more top-end talent via free agency than any other club in the league. 

Of the Top 50 free agents scheduled to be available next month, according to PFF, five are Patriots: linebacker Dont'a Hghtower (No. 11), safety Duron Harmon (No. 17), corner Logan Ryan (No. 26), defensive end Jabaal Sheard (No. 27) and tight end Martellus Bennett (No. 28).

Though the team doesn't have a single Top 10 player, per PFF, no other club has more than four (Cardinals, Redskins, Packers) in the Top 50. 

And the Patriots probably should have had at least one other player included. 

Not LeGarrette Blount, though he set a franchise record for rushing touchdowns last season. Not Chris Long, though he led the team in total quarterback pressures as he played out his one-year deal in New England. It's Alan Branch, 32, who is coming off of arguably his best season in 10 years as a pro. 

A powerful run defender, Bill Belichick called Branch the team's most consistent interior defensive lineman, and late in the season the coach made it clear just how much value there is in having a player with Branch's stature (6-foot-6, 350 pounds) and athleticism up front.

"Alan has done a great job for us," Belichick said. "And along with his play, which is certainly significant, one of the things that’s really been impressive about him has been his play time. So in addition to his overall production he’s played a lot more than he has in quite a while in terms of number of plays. 

"From a production standpoint he’s got, again, quite a few tackles, tackles for loss. It’s hard to measure the disruptive plays but he’s certainly got his share of those. He’s played very well for us in the running game. He’s given us a presence in the pass rush of a long, physical player in the middle. That’s all been really good, and he’s played more plays so all of that is good. 

"How unique is it? I mean, yeah, guys that weigh 350 pounds and are athletic and long like he is; I mean they don’t grow on trees. They’re hard to find. Ted Washington had that kind of length and size. Ted was 6-5, but Alan moves better than Ted does, or did at that point in his career. We’ve had some other longer guys like Richard [Seymour] or guys like that, but they weren’t 350 pounds. There’s not too many of them."

Though he may not make everyone's Top 50, Branch should certainly be mentioned on any list of impact players Belichick and his staff are at risk of losing in a few weeks. It's a long one.

Chris Long responds to criticism for boycotting White House

Chris Long responds to criticism for boycotting White House

This post should really just be “Go look at Chris Long’s Twitter page” but in case you’re Team Felger and don’t want Twitter in your life, here’s what happened over the last however many hours. 

Beginning Thursday night, the free agent defensive end posted several tweets about the messages he’s received since sharing that he would not go to the White House. 

The 31-year-old is one of several Pats players who have said that they will not go to the White House. Martellus Bennett, LeGarrette Blount, Alan Branch, Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower have also said they won’t go. 

Patriots To-Do List: Pats shouldn't over-extend for Bennett

Patriots To-Do List: Pats shouldn't over-extend for Bennett

With the glow of Super Bowl LI finally beginning to fade -- a little -- it's time to start looking ahead to 2017. Over the next few days, we'll look at the Patriots' to-do list: Things they need to care of as the offseason begins. Today: tight end Martellus Bennett.

What will Martellus Bennett do? What’s today? The soon-to-be-free agent has sent all manner of mixed messages about where he wants to play next season and what will inform his decision.

In the “he’s leaving” column are his statement that teams overpay for free agents who are “Super Bowl champs”  and a couple of instances in the Patriots locker room this year when, completely unprompted, Bennett started a soliloquy about not being with the Patriots next season.

In the “he’s staying” column are Bennett’s comments that he loves it in New England, both for football and marketing opportunities for life after football.

PATRIOTS TO-DO LIST:

The Patriots paid Bennett more than $5 million last season and he’s collected more than $25M in his nine-year career. 

For his line of work, resume and skill set, that’s very good but – at 30 – the sand is almost out of the big-earnings hourglass.

What did the Patriots get for their $5M in 2016? Good return. Bennett played every game (many with serious pain), caught 55 balls for 701 yards (the 12.7 YPC average his highest since 2008) and a career-high seven touchdowns. He was a pretty inconsistent blocker but some of that can be linked to playing hurt. He also caught 10 of the 11 passes sent his way in the AFC Championship and Super Bowl. Post-Gronk, the next tight end on the roster behind Bennett was Matt Lengel. And that was it. So the team should be damn happy it traded for him.

Going forward? The team will try to keep the term short and it has to be wary of the Rob Gronkowski landscape. Gronk’s making about $4.75M in salary and bonuses this season (his contracts balloons to salaries of $8M and $9M in 2018 and 2019). The top-tier tight ends are making more than $9M in salary.

With both those situations in mind, the Patriots should slide a three-year, $18M offer across to Bennett with $10M guaranteed and see what happens.  

If a team out there decides it wants to blow Bennett out of the water, c’est la vie. The Patriots can comb the draft and free agency (Eagles RFA Trey Burton would be a very intriguing target since he’s marooned on the Eagles depth chart and is a special teams maven and crisp route-runner).

There should be no hard feelings on either side if Bennett goes someplace else. He was good for the Patriots and the Patriots were good for him. It’s on Bennett to decide if the relationship is more than a one-year stand.