The New England Patriots often choose to sit and wait during free agency because early spending usually means overspending.
This offseason might be different, though, because the Patriots don't have their hands tied by compensatory pick calculus.
Every year, teams watch free agents leave and sign a few of their own. The contracts of these players are weighed against each other to see whether a team added or lost value during the free agency process. A team that loses value, in the sense that they lost a handful of free agents that signed with other teams, will receive compensation from the NFL in the form of a compensatory draft pick in the following year's draft. The round of the draft pick relates to the value of the players lost.
This upcoming draft, the Patriots are projected to receive a 3rd round compensatory draft pick for the loss of cornerback Darrelle Revis to the Jets (as well as a few other late rounders for the likes of Vince Wilfork, Shane Vereen, and Akeem Ayers). Revis landed a 5-year, $70.1 million deal from New York; far greater than any contract the Patriots landed.
Some teams, like the Patriots and the Ravens, put a lot of focus on taking advantage of these compensatory draft picks, with the Patriots going so far as to create player contracts in a more team-friendly option structure that allows the team to recuperate more compensatory draft picks.
But all of this probably won't be in play this offseason, as pointed out by a savvy Redditor, because the Patriots don't have any free agents of note.
Running back LeGarrette Blount is likely to remain with the team, and that leaves defensive tackle Akiem Hicks as the most important free agent.
Hicks is expected to receive a contract between $4-$5 million per year, which overthecap.com compensatory pick projections would yield a borderline 5th or 6th round compensatory pick. That's not enough value to prevent the Patriots from trying to sign a quality free agent- and that's assuming that Hicks doesn't end up in New England.
So while the Patriots might have wanted to stay away from top end talent in the 2015 period in order to recuperate the 3rd round compensatory pick, that sort of logic isn't in play in 2016.
If the Patriots want to go after a wide receiver like the Bengals Marvin Jones or the Dolphins Rishard Matthews or the Seahawks Jermaine Kearse, they should. If they want to sign a running back like the Jets Chris Ivory or the Dolphins Lamar Miller, they should. And if they want to add a tight end like the Chargers Ladarius Green or...uhh...it's not a strong tight end class.
New England will have enough cap space to extend all of their key players and sign one of the above type of free agents to bolster the offense. And now the compensatory pick calculus isn't a reason to stay away.