Yesterday afternoon, we began our player-by-player look at the Patriots upcoming free agents with Akeem Ayers. This morning, we take a broad overview of all of the Patriots pending free agents, as well as key dates for free agency.
Danny Aiken, LS: Aiken has been shaky the past two seasons, so it would not be a surprise to see the team move on. One year, minimum deal is most likely.
Akeem Ayers, DE/LB: Versatile edge player stepped in nicely for Chandler Jones after being acquired in a midseason trade. His price tag could be out of the Patriots range.
Alan Branch, DL: Mammoth defensive tackle was another midseason acquisition for the Patriots. Improved as the year went on, and was a starter in 3-man fronts by the postseason.
Jonathan Casillas, LB: Also picked up in a midseason trade with the Buccaneers, Casillas played well in spot duty as a 4-3 OLB following the Jerod Mayo injury. Special teams ace.
Dan Connolly, G: Connolly has been a mainstay along the interior of the Patriots’ line for the last five seasons and was a captain on the 2014 Super Bowl winning team. Nonetheless, he seemed to regress this season as the starting LG, and could be upgraded.
Stephen Gostkowski, K: All-world at his position, Gostkowski struck on 36 of his 38 field goals and all 66 extra points in 2014 (including playoffs). He’s a priority.
Devin McCourty, FS: An elite center fielder and team leader, McCourty is a key cog in the Patriots’ secondary and is in line for a big payday following the expiration of his rookie deal.
Stevan Ridley, RB: After starting the season as the team’s primary early-down back, Ridley tore his ACL in week six. He’s a talented north-south runner, did not fumble last year, and still has age on his side. But with LeGarrette Blount under contract for another year, there may not be room for him on the depth chart.
Shane Vereen, RB: Vereen isn’t like most NFL running backs. He played by far the most snaps of any Patriots running back but carried the ball just 96 times. He won’t be in line for a huge payday, but because of his unique role as a passing back, how the Patriots treat his free agency will be intriguing.
Chris White, LB: A core special teams player and reserve linebacker, White would likely return on a minimum deal.
Restricted - None
Most Likely Franchise Tag Candidates:
Devin McCourty, S: The Patriots and McCourty should no longer get into a quarrel over the position McCourty will be tagged at: he’s a safety. That being said, the franchise tag number for safeties is projected to be over $10 million. The four year, $40 million contract for Earl Thomas and the six year, $54 million deal for Jarius Byrd will probably be in McCourty’s range. If the Patriots can’t get something done, the franchise tag makes a lot of sense.
Stephen Gostkowski, K: Arguably the best kicker in the game, Gostkowski is in line to be paid like exactly that. If the Patriots can work out an extension with McCourty, giving Gostkowski the franchise tag is an obvious move. It probably even saves the team money for 2015.
Brandon Bolden, RB: A pending restricted free agent, Bolden was signed to a two year deal worth $3.2 million back in January. He has excellent leg drive and can chip in as a power back. He is capable in the passing game as well. But where Bolden is really good: special teams.
Patrick Chung, S: The Patriots locked up one of their two starting safeties back in January, when they locked up Chung to a very reasonable three year deal worth up to $8.2 million. Chung is an excellent in the box safety, and showed vast improvement in man-coverage responsibilities in 2014.
Key Free Agency Dates:
February 16th: First day that NFL teams can designate the franchise tag or transition tag to its pending free agents.
March 2nd: Window for teams to apply the franchise or transition tag closes.
March 7th: The three day "legal tampering" period begins. Teams can begin talking to agents of pending free agents but cannot agree on terms or sign contracts.
March 10th: The beginning of the 2014 league year and free agency at 4:00 PM ET.