The New England Patriots weren't going to win a bidding war this offseason because they needed to be smart with their cap space. The most important part of building a consistently championship-caliber team is retaining homegrown talent- not acquiring free agents on an annual basis.
The Patriots are definitely putting both a cap on what they're willing to spend on free agents, and also preserving the cap space necessary to extend players like linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower, defensive ends Chandler Jones and Jabaal Sheard, and cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan.
Wide receivers Marvin Jones ($8 million per year with the Lions), Mohamed Sanu ($6.5 million per year with the Falcons), Travis Benjamin ($6 million per year with the Chargers), and Rishard Matthews ($5 million per year with the Titans) were out of the Patriots price range.
So were running backs Doug Martin ($7.15 million per year with the Buccaneers), Lamar Miller ($6.5 million per year with the Texans), Chris Ivory ($6.4 million per year with the Jaguars), and Matt Forte ($4 million per year with the Jets). The Jets also snagged Khiry Robinson and Bilal Powell, while it appears that the services of C.J. Anderson have come down to the Broncos and the Dolphins.
But that's all okay. The Patriots are annual contenders because they sit on their hands while teams are willing to overpay because sticking to the plan that New England has in place has worked consistently over the past 15 seasons.
And now the Patriots have turned their focus to the next tier of player. Here's a list of players that visited with New England, per CBS' Jason La Canfora, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, and ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Packers RB James Starks is 30-years-old, but he's an extremely reliable back-up that could function in a similar capacity to Sammy Morris. Starks can run, block, and catch, but not at an exceptional level.
Rams RFA RB Benny Cunningham is restricted, but was tagged with the lowest tender so the Patriots wouldn't have to give anything up to add him to the roster. The 5'10, 220 lbs running back is a special teams player with soft hands (71 receptions for 602 yards over the past two years) that can also add some minor value in the rushing game. He could be a solid alternative to Khiry Robinson.
Jaguars TE Clay Harbor will be 29-years-old, but just listen to his description from head coach Bill Belichick:
Bills RFA WR Chris Hogan was also tagged with the lowest tender so the Patriots wouldn't have to compensate the Bills withe draft pick. While the 6'1, 220 lbs Hogan is a slot receiver, he's still just 27-years-old with potential upside. He was more productive than Mohamed Sanu this past year and he'll likely be available for 20% of the price. That's how good teams are built.
Raiders WR Rod Streater is a personal favorite that could be signed for fairly cheap. The 6'2, 200 lbs receiver posted 888 yards in 2013, but injuries derailed his 2014 campaign and then management drafted Amari Cooper as one of the top picks of the 2015 draft and added Michael Crabtree in free agency, so Streater was an afterthought. He could revive his career with the Patriots.