The New England Patriots and Bill Belichick know that they have some time left in the pre-season to sign additional players to the roster. Luckily, the squad still has the open cap space in order to acquire the players they desire. According to Pro Football Talk and NFL.com's Jason La Canfora the Patriots have around $9.5 million left in cap space. The two sources have extremely different ranges for the other teams, but their Patriots number is consistent. Players, like Chad Ochocinco and Albert Hanynesworth, modified their contracts in order to make their cap hits more team friendly, which helps the Patriots when looking at current free agents. Add in the additional $3 million allocated to veterans, and the Patriots have some space.
Of course, the Patriots could be using the $9.5m in space to leave open as a self-imposed cap in order to ensure cap space during the season for new contracts of current players, or new players picked up as a result of injuries. Still, there are still some underdogs in free agency that all fit under the cap space, so let's take a look!
QB - Set
RB - Set
WR - Set
TE - Set
OT - Set
OG - Open
OC - Open
NT - Set
DE/DT - Open, but clustered
OLB/DE - Open
ILB - Set
CB - Set
S - Open
That's my current view of the roster, so let's look at the interior linemen, elephants, and safeties that are still available after the jump!
Interior Linemen: The Patriots have an established Left Guard in Logan Mankins and no one will replace Center Dan Koppen this season. However, Right Guard is open and there are a lot of players fighting for that spot on the roster. Dan Connolly is the front runner, with Ryan Wendell and Rich Ohrnberger as the top back-ups and even Mark LeVoir putting in some time at right guard. The ultimate goal, in my opinion, is to put Marcus Cannon at right guard, but there is still room for improvement at right guard this season. Wendell and Ohrnberger are undersized for guard and are better fit for playing center. LeVoir shows promise with his versatility, but additional camp competition is never a bad thing.
Top Free Agents:
Brian Waters, G, Kansas City Chiefs - Waters is old, there's no doubt, but he's a great citizen and can still play well enough. He's one of the best guards of the past decade and he seems like a typical Patriots' pick-up. He can be squeezed for a year of service as he mentors the younger guards like Cannon and he can still play at a starter level.
Leonard Davis, G, Dallas Cowboys - Davis is another older player, but he was cut by the Cowboys as a cap casualty. He's two years removed from a Pro Bowl season and he remains an above average blocker in all facets of the game.
All three players are over the age of 30, which means that they all fit in the category of "elder mentor", while they can still manage to help out for another season.
Elephants: The Patriots' picked up Mark Anderson, who seems like a player who can help with the 3rd down pass rush. Other pick-up Andre Carter joins rookies Markell Carter, Clay Nurse, and Alex Silvestro as newcomers beside returners Eric Moore and Jermaine Cunningham. These players are required to be versatile to help with both the 3-4 and 4-3 defense. There is plenty of room for improvement in this group with respect to starting quality players as well as depth, especially due to the potential injury to Jermaine Cunningham.
Top Free Agents:
Antwan Odom, DE, Cincinnati Bengals - Odom can't stay healthy, but he's a force when healthy. He's a monster pass rusher who can also stop the run. He's had a habit of getting injured before the mid-way point of the season, though. Perhaps he'd be better off in the Patriots' rotation?
Stylez G. White, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - White is coming off a relatively successful season, although his old age might make it difficult for him to find a job. He notched 4.5 sacks, but he definitely trailed off towards the end of the year. The Patriots' rotation would definitely keep him energized for a longer portion of the season.
Aaron Maybin, DE/OLB, Buffalo Bills - Maybin is a former first round pick, taken by the Bills 11th overall. He was a complete bust, but that means the Patriots could get him with little risk. He was a first round pick for a reason, so maybe he can find his role on the Patriots.
The Elephants only have to help with the rotation since the complex defense narrows down the number of potentially ideal candidates to near zero.
Safeties: The Patriots seem pretty happy at the safety position with Pat Chung, Sergio Brown, James Sanders, and Brandon Meriweather holding down the fort. However, that hasn't prevented the team from looking at Darren Sharper and Renaldo Hill. The team could be looking for a veteran to help guide all the youth in the secondary, or they could be looking at a one year stop-gap as Belichick looks to see what value he can get from trading Meriweather or to replace a cut Sanders. Belichick can't be happy that James Sanders has missed so much time with a "Non Football Injury", and, while referring to why Sergio Brown played with the First Team defense during practice, said:
Sergio’s in good condition, he’s worked hard, he hasn’t missed any time, he’s been out there on a consistent basis, and he’s gotten better like everybody who has been out there on a consistent basis.
Sanders has missed the entire pre-season due to his injury and his large salary cap number makes him a perfect target to be cut- and bringing in the team player to replace Sanders seems to make a lot of sense.
Top Free Agents:
Renaldo Hill, S, Denver Broncos - Hill was actually one of the best safeties against the run in the league and if the Patriots' signed him, I would totally be all over that jersey. He would be an excellent veteran addition.
Darren Sharper, S, New Orleans Saints - Sharper is a great veteran who would add a lot to the locker room. He is serviceable, but that's all that's needed.
Eugene Wilson, S, Houston Texans - Wilson was rated by PFF as one of the worst safeties in the league (182/185), but that's fine since Meriweather was 179th and Sharper was 164th. Wilson knows the Patriots' system and he knows what will be asked of him. He could be a solid pick-up.
None of these players would be asked to start and would mostly fill-in as insurance and as a locker room leader. Sharper is the best leader of the group, Hill has the best name and is the best player, and Wilson knows the Patriots' system. All three would be solid acquisitions should the Patriots release Sanders (which wouldn't surprise me) or make another move.
The Patriots have a lot of extra space so the next few weeks before the season begins should be a lot of fun to watch.