Note: This was written quite literally 10 minutes before the Patriots released an additional three players. Now there are six openings. So adjust your rosters accordingly!
With the moves to linemen Tyronne Green and Kevin Haslam, as well as receiver Michael Jenkins, New England finds itself with three free roster spots to plug. There's a very high chance that the Patriots will use at least one of these spots on an undrafted free agent, but there are still some viable veteran options available on the street.
The Patriots are struggling with their depth at offensive guard and at defensive tackle and they could always use additional competition at other positions. Here's a list of potentials:
Guard: The Patriots are down to the third string, with swing tackle Will Svitek getting thrust into the starting role as Dan Connolly and Marcus Cannon have been injured. Svitek is definitely not the answer, although he continues to grow in value, and some quality depth is a definite need as the team needs to field full units in the pre-season.
1. Rex Hadnot - Hadnot has been a journeyman of sorts, but he could be a leading callback candidate. He tried out with New England back in May and could be used as a depth player for the rest of the pre-season (or until Cannon/Connolly are back to 100%).
2. Travelle Wharton - He spent his entire career in Carolina, before signing with the Bengals last season and missing the whole year with a knee injury. He's started every single game of his career and would definitely be worth a look.
3. Bobbie Williams - Williams was once one of the best guards in the league and played a reserve role for the Ravens last year. He's going to be 37 for most of the season, but he could provide valuable depth if the Patriots can call him back- and he'll be very affordable.
4. Geoff Hangartner - An interior lineman, Geoff can fill out a few roles. He's borderline starter quality and would provide depth across the interior line, which is a definite bonus.
Tackle: If the Patriots have to slide Svitek in to start at guard, that likely means that Cannon isn't doing too well. That would also mean that there is no depth available at tackle. While the Patriots could reach to one of the fresh faces as depth (Brice Schwab could have earned a depth role), there's a couple starting quality tackles out on the market.
1. Winston Justice - Justice is a starter for a bunch of teams, so the odds of him signing with the Patriots for depth is slim to none. Still, he's a name to be aware of in case needs become dire.
2. Jared Gaither - Gaither has the potential to be elite, but just doesn't put it together. Is the Patriots what he needs to find his stride? Or is he too far gone to be saved? He could get a camp invite just to be a potential reclamation project.
Kicker: While coach Bill Belichick has voiced his support for Stephen Gostkowski, a little competition never hurt anyone- especially those on special teams. Gostkowski is still one of the best kickers of all time, but he needs to find his leg strength on those 45+ yard fields.
1. Dan Carpenter - Carpenter and Gostkowski are essentially the same kicker- great up until 50ish yards out. Bringing him in for some competition would be expensive, but could push Ghost back to the top.
2. Neil Rackers - Rackers is one of the best deep-legs in the league and he's still on the street. Rackers was out of the league last year, but from 2008-2011, Rackers converted 89.3%, 94.1%, 90.0%, and 84.2% of his field goals (Gostkowski's topped 84.2% just once in the past four years at 84.8%). Only knockback is that he's 37.
Defensive Line: The Patriots depth at defensive tackle is quite troublesome as there is little help behind Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. Marcus Forston should be considered a roster lock, but he'd be the 5th defensive tackle on last year's roster. The team's been forced to play from defensive ends at tackle in order to make up for the lack of depth.
1. Richard Seymour - Former Patriot and former partner in crime with new addition Kelly, there's no question that Seymour would fit in with the players on the line. The issue is if the bridge is too far burnt to bring him back. Seymour still has some gas in the tank and could start to contribute immediately.
2. Trevor Scott - Scott was a nickel rusher for the Patriots and was solid in relief. Scott's role is already filled by Marcus Benard, but the depth of the roster (Jake Bequette/Jermaine Cunningham) could use some pushing.
3. Mark Anderson - Everything that applies to Scott works for Anderson- except Anderson could be a possible improvement on top of Benard. Anderson was a stud down the stretch before he flipped that into a big money contract with the Bills. He could come back for cheap and be a strong role player again- and he would let Jones kick inside in the NASCAR packages.
4. Matt Roth - Roth was a target a few years back, but he's back on the streets. He has a little more size that the other DEs and he could fill that nickel DT role that Justin Francis and Jermaine Cunningham have been playing. He didn't play last year and could likely be had for the minimum contract.
Safety: If you've been unimpressed by the depth behind Devin McCourty and Adrian Wilson, you're not alone. Steve Gregory's versatile, but he's just average for the role. Duron Harmon is going through his rookie struggles. Tavon Wilson is not playing at the level expected of him. Nate Ebner isn't really an option on defense. Do they need a starter type player? Not necessarily. But the safety position is extremely important with the rise of tight ends and the depth is a little troublesome.
1. Kerry Rhodes - Rhodes could step in and be an elite starter next to Adrian Wilson. Only 31, he has plenty of gas in the tank- as evidenced by his elite performance in 2012. If the depth at cornerback continues to be an issue, and Devin McCourty has to move back up, Rhodes could step in and maintain a high level of performance.
2. Nate Clements - He used to be one of the best in the league, now Clements could provide a valuable depth role. He can play both corner and safety and can provide starting quality at both.
What do I think? I personally expect the Patriots to bring in two undrafted players and one veteran. I wouldn't be surprised if they're scoping the daily transactions, trying to find a gem that slips through the hands of another team. They might even try to stash an injured player in the same fashion as tight end Jake Ballard. I'm expecting them to bring in a veteran on the defensive line and a rookie for the offensive line- and I'm going to guess a surprise rookie linebacker to play the special teams roles.