This is my favorite time of the football season. The pre-free agency and pre-draft portion of the offseason is a period of unfettered dreaming. Anything is possible. Everyone is GM. So, those with way too much time on our hands and a way too unhealthy of an obsession with their team can waste a few hours imagining what might be if they were in charge… Heck, I’m qualified, right? I finished 2nd in my Fantasy Football league last year. So in that spirit, here goes my complete Patriot’s pre-season prognostication…
Restructure: Wilfork, McCourty, Mankins, Kelly, Connolly, Gregory
Extending Wilfork, McCourty, and Mankins should bring around $8 Million in Cap relief for the upcoming year. Kelly, Connolly, and Gregory should be given the option of "get cheaper or get gone", providing somewhere between $3 Million and $7.5 Million in cap space depending on whether they agree to restructure or depart for greener pastures.
Cut: Sopoaga, White, A. Wilson
It seems almost certain that Sop is gone given his production and cap hit, while White seems like an easy drop that could be resigned later if need be. I’m a little more conflicted with Wilson. It is possible that a year of rest and recovery could allow the hard hitting Safety to return to form and be the intimidating presence in the middle that the Patriots hoped he would be. If all three are cut, an extra $4.5 million more in cap space will be gained.
With the above moves the Patriots should have approximately $20 million in cap space and be in decent shape to address free agency. If the Patriots are able to recover any of the Hernandez contract they would be in even better position, but for the sake of my off season prognostications, I will leave that out.
Resign: Talib, Edelman, Blounte, Fletcher
I guestimate that the Patriots can keep Talib for approximately $6 Million per year, Edelman for $5, Blounte for around $2, and Fletcher for around $1 million, leaving the Patriots with roughly $6 million of available cap space. Many of you are thinking that it would be great to keep Minitron, but with Amendola, Boyce, and Moe on the roster spending that kind of money on another Slot receiver doesn’t really make sense. I agree, but that’s why my next move is to…
We’ve seen the Patriots sign (franchise) a player (Cassel) simply to trade him and get something back instead of losing him in free agency. This is a slight twist. I actually don’t have that strong of an opinion on who will over the long term be a better slot receiver, Edelman or Amendola. Both are capable of being top 10 slot receivers in the league in my opinion. Like most Pats fans, my preference is for Edelman given his chemistry with Brady based on our one season sample size. However, with the depth at the position and other needs, most probably one of them should go. This makes the debate simple, let Edelman walk and keep Amendola, or keep Edelman and trade Amendola. Most Pats fans would agree that the 2nd option is preferable.
The cap hit for Edelman will therefore be mostly offset, freeing Amendola’s cap space to pay Edelman, giving the Patriots approximately $4 million more to play with. In addition the Pats would pick up the extra value of whatever a team will give the Pats in exchange. I can actually see a player swap here, where the signing bonuses will offset for each team, but for the sake of ease, I will project Amendola being swapped for a mid-round pick. Cleveland has the trifecta of available cap space, extra draft picks, and the need for a slot receiver, so, erring on the side of optimism (isn’t that what mock drafts are all about) I will go with the Browns trading their 2nd third round pick, #83, in exchange for Edelman. If one wants to be slightly more pessimistic, I believe Cleveland is still an option with their first of two 3rd round picks (102).
There is no way the Patriots resign Mallet after the 2014 season unless Brady is mortally wounded over the course of next season, so this is a perfect example of trading earlier than you would like to get some value for a player rather than waiting and getting nothing. I am slightly more optimistic as to Mallet’s value than many others on this site. The way I see it, there are no Andrew Lucks in this draft. Heck, there aren’t even any RGIII’s. Mallet was a potential first round pick who fell due to character concerns. He has had no issues in 3 years in New England and he has been tutored by one of the best QB’s and Coaches in NFL history. Mark my words, some team will find more value in taking a Clowney, Watkins, Mack or Barr with their first pick and sending a 2nd round pick for Mallet. Yes, given how little we know about Mallet given his lack of playing time, it’s a risk, but a more polished, opening-day-ready type of risk than any of the tier two QB’s in the draft, and quite possibly any of the tier 1 QB’s as well. The pre-draft take on Bortles is that he has the ideal measurables of an NFL QB but needs a little development with accuracy and consistency, and yet he is considered a top ten pick. Mallet has the measurables in spades, and is likely to be further along at this point. Teams fear having to take a QB in the early first round when the QB is not an unquestioned star. Picking a Couch or Carr can set a team back 5 years. Give them an option to take a more certain player and at least one will jump at the chance.
Two more important things to consider regarding Mallets value… as bad as the Patriots have been at drafting and grooming WRs and DBs, they have been every bit as good at picking and grooming QB’s. The past two Patriots backup QB’s are both in the running to start next year somewhere in the NFL. That is an amazing feat. Also, it is important to note that teams are often willing to take greater chances and see greater value for needs than one might expect. One only needs to think of the Colts this last season with the trade of a first round pick for Trent Richardson. I fully expect the Pats to haul in Houston’s 33, Cleveland’s 35, or Minnesota’s 40 in exchange for Mallet.
Finally on the trade block is Stevan Ridley. This is a difficult call for me because I think the running back corps is better with Ridley than it would be without him. Also, if Ridley follows the arc of previous star Patriot’s RB’s, like Faulk, he could overcome his fumbling issue and be a legitimate #1 back. However, if Blounte is resigned the Patriots will have one of the deepest backfields in the League, deep enough in my opinion to leverage that strength in order to improve some of their weaker areas. Also, if Blounte is resigned, don’t look for the Pat’s to extend both Ridley and Vereen after next season, so like Mallet, the Pats could look to move Ridley while he still has some value.
So what can the Pats get for Ridley and from whom? Need meets cap space meets extra draft picks in the form of the Jaguars, who are likely parting ways with MJD, the Vikings, who could use someone behind Peterson, and the Browns, who will look to replace Richardson. The homer in me wants a 2nd rounder for a young potential star a year off a 1,000 yard season and, thanks to the Patriots committee methodology concerning running backs, still with a lot of tread left on the tires. I would love to see Jacksonville trade the 39th pick to acquire Ridley. Despite Indy swapping their first rounder for Richardson, even at my most hopeful I can’t see that happening. However, I would not be shocked to see the Pats get a pick equivalent to his initial draft round, or maybe one later, so let’s go the fairly optimistic route and say the Pat’s get the Jags to ship their 3rd Round pick, 71, to acquire Ridley.
The sum of these transactions should conservatively give the Patriots another $5+ million in cap space, bringing them to approximately $11 million. In addition, the Patriot’s draft would pick up three additional early to mid-round draft picks. Add the probable two 6th Round compensatory picks, and the Patriots draft would look like this: 29, 40 (from Min), 62, 70 (from Jax), 83 (from Cle), 93, 126, 182, 190, Comp, Comp, 221.
Outside Free Agent Targets
The Patriots will probably do as they usually do and avoid the big splash in free agency. If they were to be aggressive, I would like to see the Pats try to acquire one (or more) of the following:
Alex Mack (C)
Mack may be out of the Pat’s price range, especially given the amount of money they have tied up already in the interior offensive line, but if they can swing it, Brady’s protection would get a whole lot better and Connolly (and his cap hit) would become more expendable.
Sidney Rice (WR)
While not a free agent yet, Rice will most likely be a Seahawk’s cap casualty in the near future. Coming off an injury plagued season, I can see Rice signing a relatively inexpensive short term deal to prove he’s back to being what he was in Minnesota. Catching passes from Tom Brady for a year or so can do wonders in helping that cause.
Donte Whitner (S)
While I would love for the Pats to add Byrd or Ward to their secondary, there is no way the Pats are going to pay what is required to land one of the top two FA Safeties. Whitner would be a good fit beside McCourty and give Harmon, T. Wilson, and Ebner another year to grow without too much pressure.
Chad Henne (QB)
Use Henne as a placeholder for the best veteran backup QB the Patriots can lay their hands on. I don’t think the Pat’s will carry three QB’s on the roster again this year, so with Mallet traded I am going with veteran backup over a draft pick. Brady is going to play till he’s 40 so there is still time to worry about his replacement in a year or so, and I just don’t see that guy available this year when the Pats would take a QB anyway. Winning before Brady’s window closes includes having a guy on the roster who can win a couple games if your QB gets banged up a little bit and misses a few weeks.
The Patriots appear to have three top needs heading into the draft. Another starting quality TE, Interior OL (especially at Center), and a boost to their pass rush, especially as it pertains to the interior defensive line. Each time I think of these three needs I come up with a different order of importance, so instead of 1, 2, 3, I rate them as 1a, 1b, and 1c, with the slightest edge going to the TE position.
I see the next level of needs being "immediate depth" needs. Those include DE, SS, and LB.
Now armed with one 1st round pick, two 2nd round picks, three 3rd round picks, and five day three selections the Patriots are in prime position to address their biggest needs. While I don’t believe a team should ever over draft someone based on need, I believe there is the potential for need to match value through most of the draft.
Pick 29: Stephan Tuitt (DT/DE)
I believe both Ebron and Amaro will be gone before the Pats first pick. However, with five DT’s rated as potential first round picks, the Patriots should be in prime position to snag one of the year’s top DT’s and maximize value and need. I selected Tuitt as I think there is a legitimate chance he could still be around with the 29th pick and because I think his versatility as either a DT or DE in either a 3-4 or 4-3 alignment is especially attractive to a team like the Patriots. If Tuitt is gone, I think the Patriots would find excellent value with any of the remaining four first round DT’s: Nix,
Hageman, Donald, or Jernigan.
Other possibilities I would consider are Amaro (TE), Ealy(DE), and as a wild card pick, Benjamin(WR).
Pick 40: Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE)
I see the top tier of the TE class being comprised of Ebron, Amaro, ASJ, and Niklas and I see a substancial drop off after the top four. With Ebron and Amaro gone, the Pat’s should still be able to grab one of the two remaining members of the tier 1 TE’s. If ASJ is also off the board, I believe Troy Niklas will prove to be as good a player and well worth what some might consider a little reach in the early part of round 2.
Pick 62: Weston Richburg (C)
Interior linemen don’t tend to be taken in the 1st Round, meaning plenty of solid prospects should still be on the board by the time the Pat’s pick at 62. I see the need at Center being a little greater than Guard (Cannon can play Guard). I would have liked to pick Swanson but I don’t think he will still be on the board, so given who I believe will still be available and provides the best value at the end of the 2nd round I opted for Richburg, who some scouts say may actually be the best Center in the draft. Again, I think the Patriot’s need and the draft’s value line up perfectly.
If Richburg is gone then any of the top Guards (Sua-Filo, Yankey, Richardson, Jackson) all present great value and address the same basic need at interior offensive line. If Mack is signed, then this needs drops substantially, and I can see the Pats moving in another direction with this pick, instead looking at the end of round three for an interior lineman such as Martin, Dozier, or Steen.
Pick 70: Dominique Easley (DE/DT)
Easley is a small Defensive Tackle who I believe would be better suited to Defensive End, with the possibility of being kicked in to DT for obvious passing downs. He is an explosive and disruptive player who would have gone much earlier had it not been for injury. I think his flexibility and value, if he falls this far, is well worth the risk that he recovers completely.
Pick 83: Deonne Bucannon (S)
While the top tier Free Safeties will certainly be gone by the 83rd pick, I believe there is a solid group of 2nd tier Safeties that will be available and address the Patriot’s need at Strong Safety. Bucannon is a rangy, hard hitting safety that should be able to back up Harmon or Gregory if not win the starting spot beside McCourty outright.
If Bucannon is gone by the middle of the 3rd Round, other options that could still be on the board include Dixon, Brooks, Bailey, Reynolds, and possibly Jimmie Ward.
Pick 93: Jordan Zumwalt (ILB/OLB)
Zumwalt is the type of hard hitting, passionate, and versatile LB the Pats need to provide depth behind their locked in starting trio of Mayo, Hightower, and Collins.
Attoachu, Kirksley, Jones and Skov are other options at LB that could be available and at value at this juncture. If not, Breslin or Powell a round later could also be options.
Pick 126: Terrance West (RB)
With Ridley traded, I believe the Patriots will look to bring in a suitable replacement. West fits the Ridley mold as a tough north south runner. A second option in the same mold would be Andre Williams, or the Pats could rely on Boldon to be Blount’s primary backup and go in a slightly different direction at running back, instead looking at a smaller speed back to put behind Vereen, such as De’Anthony Thomas or Dre Archer.
Pick 182: Spencer Long (OG)
With the main needs addressed I see the Patriots using their later picks taking fliers on players who fell because of injury or personal concerns. The injured Long could end up being the steal of the draft this late in the 6th Round and is a solid developmental player in an area of need.
If the Patriots take a Guard earlier in the draft instead of Center, I would switch this pick to Bodine, a similarly ranked player who can play both positions.
Pick 190: Ben Gardner (DE)
With Easley coming off injury and being a little bigger than the traditional 4-3 DE, I can see the Patriots grabbing a late round pass rush specialist. Gardner was solid last season until he too went down with a knee injury. He would give the Pats a back-up option if Easley isn’t 100% while being an easy candidate for the Foxboro Flu if he isn’t needed.
Urban and Marsh are two alternatives that present similar skill sets and value as late round DE help.
Comp Pick 1: Aaron Colvin (CB)
A mid round selection until he too went down with injury (see a pattern here?) during Senior Bowl practices. With Talib resigned, the Pats are strong enough at CB to select and stash Colvin away on IR for a year, when he could emerge as a potential replacement for Arrington.
Andre Hal is another option for depth at the CB position who could be available this late in the draft.
Comp Pick 2: Colt Lyerla
I know, the Pats aren’t going to pick another troubled TE because of Hernandez. I don’t buy it. If he is still around this late in the draft, the Pats pull the trigger and take a chance on a potential first round talent. My guess is Lyerla’s Combine showing overcomes the massive wave of negativity concerning his past and he goes in the fourth of fifth round, so the Pats won’t have to worry about making this decision. In that case look for the Pats to still double down on TE and take a flier on Jordan Najvar or Ted Bolser.
Pick 221: Larry Webster (DE/OLB)
With the core needs met the Pat’s final pick of the draft could go in any direction, from the yet unknown player that drops form a first or second day pick (Ala Dennard) to a physically talented but incredibly raw prospect who may turn out to be a diamond in the rough (Ala Ebner). Options include Lokombo (LB), Lucas (OT), Washington (WR), or even a flier on the best available QB in order snag a developmental practice squader without having to fight for them in free agency. Webster may well be long gone by this point, but the talented college DE is too small at the moment to stay at that position in the NFL, and too raw at OLB to be picked much higher in the draft.
So, let me have it. Would you hate it if the offseason went this way? Would you love it? Am I an armchair genius, a wide eyed optimist, or a completely delusion idiot? Comment, Critique, Commend, Condemn! It’s what this wonderful lull in Football is all about!