The Patriots will be releasing veteran starting strong safety Steve Gregory in order to free up a projected $2.8mm in cap space. Gregory was considered a leader and was a valuable asset for the team, but he never lived up to his price tag.
With full time starter Gregory gone, the Patriots find themselves with a hole in the secondary. It's possible that 2013 third round pick Duron Harmon will receive all of the snaps, while 2012 second round pick Tavon Wilson will re-assume his dime package snaps.
The Patriots current stand with the following players at safety:
Strong Safety: Adrian Wilson, Nate Ebner, Kanorris Davis
Steve Gregory, Duron Harmon, Tavon Wilson
Free Safety: Devin McCourty
Adrian Wilson currently holds a $750K cap hit and will likely be cut to free up additional cap space. Cutting Tavon Wilson will not generate any additional cap space and will likely be allowed to compete in camp.
This would present the Patriots with $3.5mm in cap space, purely by rearranging their safety position. If the salary cap increases to $133mm as expected, then the Patriots will see an additional $10mm in cap space over last season's budget.
This gives the Patriots some freedom. Safety will all of a sudden become a need, possibly surpassing a third defensive end.
New England will have the financial freedom to pursue some of the top free agents, like Donte Whitner or T.J. Ward, who will likely command contracts in the region of $6-7mm a season. They are in their late 20s and could command four-six year deals.
The Patriots could also invest another draft pick into the safety position, much to the chagrin of fans everywhere. There are plenty of strong safety prospects projected in the middle rounds of the draft, so don't be surprised if a player like Northern Illinois's Jimmie Ward or Washington State's Deonne Bucannon is selected during the second day of the draft.
In all likelihood, the Patriots will use another draft pick on a member of their secondary, and that pick will come from the Patriots trading down and out of the first round. That's just my opinion.