Stylish and soon to be single. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for ESPN)
I have a shocking confession to make: before I met my girlfriend, I didn't go on too many dates. You may find it almost impossible to believe, but I'm not exactly a ladies man.
I know, I know. Hard to believe. I mean, what woman wouldn't want a lazy, overweight, crude slob who spends most of his free time obsessing over the New England Patriots and is more likely to notice Tom Brady's new haircut than his girlfriend's? What lady wouldn't swoon over a man who can recite the entire Pledge of Allegiance in a single belch and whose idea of a romantic evening is watching Dumb & Dumber by candlelight? What's not to love in a man who hasn't bought a new article of clothing in over six years?
My glaring personal flaws aside, I also just wasn't a fan of the whole dating scene. I imagine a lot of it was because I got more than my share of polite "Nos" (and more than a few "HELL Nos") when asking women out, but there was more to it than that. Honestly, I just found the whole process exhausting. Once you finally do work up the courage to ask a woman out, it's only just beginning; you still have to put on pants, go out for meals, be on your best behavior, wonder what she's thinking, navigate that miserably awkward end-of-date-do-I-kiss-her-or-not moment, and then go through a whole back and forth as the two of you figure out if you're compatible and whether it's worth entering into a relationship. I always found it more enjoyable to just skip the whole process altogether and spend my evenings poring over my fantasy lineups.
I think another part of it was I that knew, underneath all of this flab and shame and powdered cheese dust, that I was a nice guy. And women didn't like nice guys. They liked good looking jerks who rode motorcycles to their modeling shoots and tipped valets with bills instead of coins. For a long time, it seemed that nice guys really do finish last, and so I didn't go on too many dates.
But then, one day, I realized something. Sure, I may not be the sexiest pick out there. I may not have the most money. And I may not see the use in showering every single day. But you know what? I'm stable. I'm honest. I look out for the greater good and put others before myself. I'm the kind of guy you want buying tiny little Tom Brady jerseys for your children. Once ladies get tired of riding on the back of motorcycles and pissing off their parents, I'm exactly the kind of guy they come looking for. There are plenty of women out there who value what I'm able to offer. Those that don't? Well there's the door.
And maybe that's why I love Free Agency so much. It's like knowing that on March 13, 2012, a whole bunch of gorgeous women are going to simultaneously hop off their loser boyfriends' bikes and come looking for a nice, stable guy who toes the line, puts others first, knows the meaning of hard work, and has a reputation for doing things the right way.
That he has a whole lot of money to throw around and desperately wants a ring on his finger certainly isn't hurting any, either.
The 2012 Free Agent Class is as solid as any I can remember in recent years. The Patriots have needs at wide receiver, defensive end, and in the secondary, and there are players available at all of those positions that will be a great fit for New England and can make a huge impact on this team. And, unlike me during my formative years, the Patriots present an attractive option for someone looking for something other than some jerk with a big mouth and a fat wallet.
I've compiled a wish list of sorts, broken down by position, that I'm going to be sharing over the next few weeks as Free Agency approaches. Some of the players on my list have virtually no chance of playing in New England, but that's why it's a wish list, right?
There is plenty to talk about in regards to all of the free agents out there, on these lists and otherwise, and I'm sure we'll be breaking them down in more detail down the line. For now, though, time to dust off the ol' aftershave and start wooing.
I figured I'd start with wide receiver. It is the most exciting position and one that is going to receive a lot of attention this month.
OUT OF MY LEAGUE
Below are receivers set to become free agents that have virtually no chance of signing with New England, mainly because their current teams will fight to keep them.
Mike Wallace. The thought of working out of a base 2 TE set with Welker and Wallace as receivers gives me goosebumps. And I'd gladly give up the first round tender that does with Wallace's restricted status - he's worth it and we have the pick to spare. But there is absolutely no way the Steelers let him go. He's young, he's talented, he likes the system, and he fits in there. Wallace won't be a free agent for long.
Vincent Jackson. Jackson wants big money. Plus, New England had opportunities in the past to acquire Jackson during the Randy Moss trade and expressed zero interest. Jackson is a phenomenal talent, but he just isn't a good fit.
Randy Moss. Listen, Randy, it was great. We had some amazing times together. But it's over. It's not you, it's me. I need something more right now, and I just don't think you can offer that. You have no idea how appealing the thought of watching your beautiful hands reel in pass after pass is...but it's time to move on. I'm sorry. I'll always love you.
SO YOU'RE TELLING ME THERE'S A CHANCE...
These are the receivers that could end up in New England, under the right circumstances, but I don't think it's going to happen.
Why he will play for the Patriots in 2012: Wayne has phenomenal hands, is a great route runner, still has a lot of speed, and can take the ball deep. He knows his chances at another ring are getting fewer and fewer, and being able to close out your career having caught passes from both Manning and Brady is pretty much all you can ask for as a receiver. Wayne has also said he would love to play with Brady. He won't be overly expensive and Bill Belichick absolutely loves him.
Why he won't play for the Patriots in 2012: Wayne isn't a long-term solution, as he's getting up there in age. He also may garner more money on the open market than he is currently being valued at, which may be a risk for an older receiver who has played in one system his whole career. I'd like to see the Patriots target a younger receiver who will be a threat for several more years, and I don't know how many more seasons of production Wayne has left.
Overall: I can almost see the ESPN article now: "Source says that Wayne, Patriots have Met." We all get excited at the possibility, and then are disappointed when he signs elsewhere. Ultimately, I see Wayne going wherever Peyton Manning goes, as the two have an undeniable chemistry and would jump at the chance to play together if given the opportunity. Reggie Wayne is definitely an exciting option, but at this stage in his career it may make sense to find a deep threat elsewhere. As much as I like Wayne, and as happy as I would be to be wrong on this one, I don't see him playing for the Pats.
Why he will play for the Patriots in 2012: Jackson has done himself no favors this season, both with his streaky play and his open disdain with his contract situation. I don't see him signing his franchise tender, and I ultimately don't see him reconciling with the Eagles. I also don't know how many other teams will be willing to give Desean the payday he is looking for, as he has to be considered high-risk and an underperformer right now, in spite of his tremendous talent. That said, he can absolutely fly, and is the exact kind of player that would make this Patriots offense absolutely lethal. His value as a return man can't be denied either, and he may be the kind of player that can benefit from a strong locker room. If he's looking to take a step back, get his career back on track, and toe the line, he would be a real asset to this team as a both a legit deep threat and a kick/punt returner.
Why he won't play for the Patriots in 2012: Jackson is the antithesis of the Patriot Way. He clearly values himself over his teammates and is looking for a big payday. Bill Belichick swung and missed with Albert Haynesworth last year, and I don't see him taking another high-risk player like Jackson in 2012. At this point, I haven't heard anything that has led me to believe Jackson is looking to change his ways, and he won't want to take the kind of money the Patriots would offer him. If he doesn't work something out with Philadelphia, he has Oakland Raider written all over him.
Overall: Maybe Jackson doesn't get a whole lot of offers from other teams and realizes that he will benefit from being in the Patriots locker room in hopes of getting a huge payday in a season or two, in which case I can see a potential scenario where he is given an incentive-laden contract with a very short leash. Other than that, though, I just don't see this happening.
MOM, DAD...THERE'S SOMEONE I WANT YOU TO MEET.
These are the receivers I want to see catching passes from Tommy B. None of them are sure things, but they all have the skillsets the Pats are looking for and are worth pursuing aggressively.
Why he will play for the Patriots in 2012: Brandon Lloyd is exactly the kind of receiver New England needs. He's fast, he's young, he has great hands, he can stretch the field, and he picks up offenses quickly. He isn't solely a deep threat and can run the underneath/middle routes as well. He also won't come at a huge price (although he may cost more than Wayne) and loves the Josh McDaniels-run offense. Lloyd hasn't had an elite QB throwing him the ball for his entire career, and the prospect of playing with Tom Brady has to have appeal.
Why he won't play for the Patriots in 2012: The Rams just made a trade for Lloyd, and he is the kind of receiver Sam Bradford needs to keep around if he is going to take that next step as a quarterback. I don't know why St. Louis wouldn't try aggressively to retain him and offer him more money than New England would. Plus, Lloyd has expressed his interest in playing for Jeff Fisher, so his motivation to follow McDaniels may not be as strong as we all hope.
Overall: I can definitely see the Pats going after Lloyd and offering him decent money. St. Louis may offer him more money, though, and what it will likely come down to is whether he likes his role in St. Louis and is excited about what Jeff Fisher brings to the table or whether he wants to go to a contender and be catching passes from Tommy B. To me, that's a no-brainer, but you never know with these receivers.
Why he will play for the Patriots in 2012: Meachem is a young receiver who didn't see a ton of action in a Saints offense that featured too many receivers with a similar skillset. He is definitely a deep threat and an excellent red-zone target as well. Meachem would fit in beautifully in New England, as his abilities are different from the other players currently on the roster. In any other offense, Meachem would thrive; there just isn't enough football to go around in New Orleans. With Drew Brees, Marques Colston, and Carl Nicks all set to become free agents, Meachem is likely to be the odd man out, and New England could get him relatively cheap.
Why he won't play for the Patriots in 2012: Meachem is the textbook definition of one of those players you see as a good fit for the Patriots but gets no interest from the team. I never hear Belichick say much about him other than your standard praise he gives everyone, so it's very possible Meachem isn't on the radar. Plus, he may get more money elsewhere or take less money to stay with the Saints.
Overall: I'd like to see New England at least kick the tires here. I have always liked Robert Meachem and think Tommy B could really bring out what I think is an underrated skillset. I don't know if I see the Pats actively pursuing him, but if the competition for his services isn't fierce, he'd be a great fit.
Why he will play for the Patriots in 2012: Dallas isn't going to give him the money he is going to ask for - not with Dez Bryant and Miles Austin on the roster. He isn't a blockbuster talent, but that is part of his appeal. He is definitely more of a system receiver, and I think the Patriots' system works for him.
Why he won't play for the Patriots in 2012: Robinson is on record saying that he wants to stay in Dallas. He obviously works well within that offense, finding success there that he didn't have in San Diego, Atlanta, or St. Louis. Robinson also isn't that legit deep threat that opposing defenses have to respect, a la Mike Wallace or Desean Jackson. If New England is going to make a move for a receiver, they may choose to aim a little higher than Robinson. The Patriots will likely have to take a "wait and see" approach here to see if he will even be available.
Overall: I don't see them signing him during the very first week of free agency, but if he is on the market once the initial dust has settled and the interest is mutual, I would love to see him in a Patriots uniform.
IF WE BOTH AREN'T MARRIED BY THE TIME WE'RE 40...
Lesser FAs that New England could pick up on the cheap. They won't be that impact player, but they can help the offense regardless:
What do you think? Who would you love to see catching passes for the Patriots next year?