1) The price to the Patriots for Spygate was pretty dear: the 31st pick in the 2008 draft. Sure they also had the 7th overall pick which they traded down to the 10th and grabbed Pro Bowl LB Jerod Mayo who has been a stud for three season's now. The thing is their next draft pick at number 62 was CB Terrence Wheatley, who was constantly injured and is no longer a Patriot. Still on the board at number 31 (and taken at number 35) was CB Brandon Flowers who has recorded 198 tackles (175 solo), 50 passes defended, 9 interceptions (2 for TD) since that draft. Especially in 2008, a CB, ANY CB, that could play the game would have been welcome. We've only just started to recover at that position.
2) The question has been asked lately, "What position would you draft at number 17?" In all reality, the Patriots have holes, but none so large that they have to draft for need. Obviously, some positions are thinner than others. Do we take a quarterback at 17? No, we pretty much have that covered. Later rounds? Sure. I'm a big fan of a certain sixth round quarterback.
Some positions don't have enough value. Special teams? Fullback? Nope and nope. Others are unlikely as well: Tight End? We'll need a blocker to replace Alge Crumpler eventually, but one dimensional TE's can be had in the later rounds. Likewise a guard had better be elite and have center training to be picked that high. Mankins was number 32.
What does that leave that has both need and value? OLB (Willie McGinest was picked #4), DE (Richard Seymour was picked #6 - as a DT), OT (Jake Long was picked #1), possibly C (Maurkice Pouncey was picked #18), possibly CB (Darrelle Revis was picked #14), possibly WR, and very unlikely RB. The number 17 pick, provided we keep it, will be BPA (best player available) at one of those spots.
3) With few exceptions, most player contracts line up with the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) date in March. This year, March 5 would normally be the start of free agency, but if no CBA is in place, contracts can't be done. That won't stop the draft from proceeding, however. Draftees, though, can't be signed to contracts either until the CBA is signed.
Normally there is a period of free agency, the draft, and then more free agency, including undrafted free agents (UFA's). That means teams can look to fill openings with veterans first, then the draft, and finally flesh out the camp roster with whatever bodies are available. This year that schedule may be changed.
It is entirely possible, even probable, that the draft will happen first and teams will look at rookies first to bolster their roster. That prospect makes free agency interesting this year. Top end free agents will be out there with all of the normal warm bodies available after the draft. The potential exists both for larger free agent contracts or real FA bargains once the CBA is done. If anything, it'll make the late pre-season more interesting.
4) Teams continue to follow the Patriots example and Franchise Tag their best free agents. The Tag, though, is only in effect until the current CBA ends. The union hasn't complained much about the tags, so it's likely they'll go along with them in the new CBA (possibly in exchange for other concessions). If, however, the franchise tags are no longer available under the new CBA, the free agent market will be booming. If the tags do eventually go away, I'd expect that they will still be allowed THIS year and would be phased out next year. I can't see dropping them as a good thing for player salaries at this late stage.
5) The lack of football is also going to affect sponsors who very likely will start looking at alternative ways to spend their advertising dollars. They still need to get their name out there, and without football games, other avenues and sports will be explored. The same place you, the fans, spend your non-NFL time is the place they will invest their advertising dollars. Once those dollars are spent, the NFL will not be drawing them back this year. If sales for those sponsors remain steady or even pick up, the NFL may never see those advertising dollars again. The thought of that, I feel, is making some owners nervous - especially an advertising savvy owner like Robert Kraft.