Patriots Running Out of Veteran Options

Winslow Townson

Looks like the free agency well is running pretty dry. Do the Patriots pony up some cash? Or do they wait until cuts?

The Patriots are down to the final dregs. Nose tackle Letroy Guion, Rotoworld's 39th ranked free agent defensive tackle out of 40 players, had visited the Patriots, the Ravens, and the Packers. All three considered contenders. All three looking for depth on their defensive lines.

Guion stands at 6'4, 305 lbs and is a six year veteran in the league, all with Minnesota. The Vikings cut him in order to save $4 million in cap space, so it's likely he was their version of Isaac Sopoaga. In fact, Guion was worse than Sopoaga on a per-snap basis, according to Pro Football Focus scores.

Still, the Packers knew him well and managed to seal the deal on a former divisional rival for one year, $1 million.

These are the players that top teams are competing for their service. These are the players who are left after free agency's first week. It may seem bleak. Hold on to your hope.

Per Miguel, the Patriots have roughly $7.8 million after signing Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Vince Wilfork's contract is still included, which means there's a potential $7.6 million in space in limbo, depending one what happens with Vince. Miguel expects $5 million as the floor for the Patriots and their rookie contracts.

So $7.6 million or $15 million. Less the rookies and it's $2.6 million or $10 million. The wiggle room is gone. Or the wiggle room is waiting on Vince and that's why the Patriots seem so quiet right now.

Or maybe it's because of the price tags. Let's break down who's available. I've come to contract numbers based on other deals already signed this season.

According to our own vote, the Patriots have needs at:

1. Cornerback: Not anymore! Thanks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.

2. Interior Line: The Patriots interior is kind of a mess right now. Like, really bad. Logan Mankins is fine at left guard and he'll be his red chip self. Beyond that, uh oh. There's Dan Connolly, who would be better off in a reserve role, that's currently penciled in as both the starting center and right guard because there's literally no one else the team can count on. Marcus Cannon at right guard? Maybe. Josh Kline as the top back-up? You can see the trouble.

Making things even more complicated is how weak the interior line market really is.

At center, there's the Saints Brian De La Puente and old friend Ryan Wendell and that's it. No one else is an upgrade. Wendell is the second best center still available and if you factor in his experience in the system, I wouldn't begrudge the Patriots ranking him as the top center to bring into the fold.

Centers have been ranging from $1 million per season to $3 million, and you can expect BDLP to fall in the $2.5 million per season range, and Wendell to come in around $1.5-$2 million. Not going to break the bank, but with such little movement on the market the Patriots have no pressure to make a quick move.

Things are slightly more expensive with guards, which is why it would make sense to keep Connolly at right guard, or use Marcus Cannon, and try to upgrade the center position. However, as stated, Wendell and BDLP are literally the only two centers worth taking on the market, which means that the Patriots might wind up not making any moves in free agency to address the line.

If they did want to splurge on a guard, they'll have to be content with a one-year stopgap.

Travelle Wharton (33 years old) is the best guard on the market and could fetch anywhere from $3 million to $6 million per season. He wants to keep playing and could receive a Brian Waters-type contract, where the Patriots offered 2 years, $5.5 million, where the Patriots can front load the offer. It's likely that Wharton will receive a higher offer than the Patriots are able to afford.

The next tier consists of Jaguars Uche Nwaneri (30), Davin Joseph (30), Willie Colon (31), and Daryn Colledge (32). None of these are stellar players. Colon and Joseph are both hobbled with injuries. Colledge probably isn't an upgrade over Connolly, and lacks the upside potential that a reclamation of Joseph or Colon would provide.

Nwaneri was cut by the Jaguars, but before you scoff you must note that he was the strong link on the line, according to Pro Football Focus, where he graded out as average. Surround him by stronger talent and there's a possibility that Nwaneri could sign on a 3 year deal, worth around $2.5 million per season.

But read through this section. BDLP. Nwaneri. Maybe Joseph and Colon. The affordable options of improving the interior line through free agency is slim and getting slimmer.

3. Defensive End: Even though Jared Allen is a pipe dream, there are still a few options available. A few.

Similar to the interior line, there are only a few players still available that would make sense as fits in New England. Andre Carter can't be the expected DE3 next season and there are a few players above him worth grabbing.

Broncos free agent Shaun Phillips values perfectly as a $5 million per season option and he's worth every penny. If the Patriots can grab him on a 2- or 3-year deal, the Patriots will be fine at the position. Alternatively, fellow Broncos free agent Robert Ayers prices in at the same mark and at five years younger (33 vs 28), making him a potential "Mark Anderson"-like signing. If Phillips comes on a veteran "sunset" deal to finish out his career, Ayers would be a great "prove-it" addition.

30 year old Cowboys pass rusher Anthony Spencer (knee) and 33 year old Saints pass rusher Will Smith (ACL) are both recovering from injuries and could be picked up for cheap. Spencer on a one-year $3 million "prove-it" deal, Will Smith on a two-year, $3 million "sunset". Both provide considerable more upside than Carter and neither would receive much guaranteed money until they prove their health.

Beyond those four, there aren't many that make sense as clear upgrades over who the Patriots might be able to salvage off of training camp roster cuts.

4. Defensive Tackle: The future hinges upon the decision with Vince Wilfork. While Vince shops around to see if the street values him more than the Patriots, I don't see New England making a move. They're likely to draft a defensive tackle in the draft and, as a result, I can't see them adding another veteran with Vince on the table.

If they do go their separate ways?

34 year old Vikings DT Kevin Williams would make sense, and could sign a Tommy Kelly-like 2-year deal for $5 million. He still has some gas in the tank and could have fair value on a contract worth $2 million guaranteed in 2014 and $2 million in 2015, with a $1 million signing bonus to spread the cap hit over two seasons.

28 year old Raiders DT Pat Sims falls into the 3-year, $10.5 million range, although his price tag likely jumped as his less-impressive teammate Vance Walker picked up a 3/$13 million deal in Kansas City. While Sims is the best fit on the market, he's going to fetch a price much greater than his actual value- and either price tag is still too much until there's resolution with Vince.

34 year old Packers NT Ryan Pickett and 34 year old Colts NT Aubrayo Franklin are two-down linemen, similar to Isaac Sopoaga (which would count them out, in my books), and are only an option if Vince is no longer on the team. They could fetch a 2/$4 million contract as they assume a role on early downs.

Beyond these four are Terrence Cody and Colin Cole, nose tackles that were generally ineffective last season. There's also Tom Johnson and Peria Jerry, two more ineffective defensive tackles. If Jerry were not a former first round pick, there won't be any buzz around him. But none of these four players deserve any more notice than some of the undrafted free agent rookies that will arise after the draft.

5. Tight End: Is Michael Hoomanawanui the answer? No, but he's locked on to the roster for this upcoming season, with the third tight end on the roster likely coming from the draft.

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So if we assume that the cornerback and tight end positions are finished in free agency, we find a really short list of veterans that would improve the IL, DE, and DT spots.

BDLP or Nwaneri. Colon or Joseph as camp bodies with no guarantees. The former scenario allows the Patriots to move on from Wendell. The latter still leaves the door open for Wendell's return. All still allow the Patriots to draft a legitimate interior lineman in the draft.

Ayers or Phillips. Spencer or Smith as camp bodies with no guarantees. A former Bronco would allow the Patriots to move forward with their defensive end position resolved. The latter leaves leeway for additional bodies in either the draft or the cutting room floor.

Sims or Williams. Pickett or Franklin if Vince Wilfork departs. Sims would be a solution to the Patriots need at defensive tackle, while Williams would allow the Patriots to kick the need for a defensive tackle down the road for another season.

The veterans that can help the Patriots are coming off the table and there are no real alternatives. A lot of the Patriots upcoming moves will depend upon a decision with Wilfork's future. However, the Patriots timeline to sign the remaining free agents will come to an end much more quickly than Wilfork's camp will hope. Time is running out to make positive roster moves in free agency.

If the team doesn't move now, they'll have to wait until the next wave of veterans hit the market during off-season cuts. We'll see if the team is willing to wait.

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