The New England Patriots have made two quiet contract extensions to core special teams players, with a two-year deal for linebacker Jonathan Freeny and a one-year deal for captain Matthew Slater. ESPN’s Mike Reiss thinks that more contract extensions could be on the way.
“The Patriots started chipping away at parts of their 2017 free-agent class by reaching extensions with linebacker Jonathan Freeny (through 2018) and special-teams captain Matthew Slater (through 2017) last week, which were moderate deals on the salary cap,” Reiss writes. “From what I understand, those weren't the only two players the Patriots were negotiating with, so it wouldn't be a surprise if there's another domino or two to fall on those types of mid-to lower-range deals, which are different from the big-money negotiations ahead for [Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Malcolm Butler].”
Based on Reiss’ understanding, the Patriots were negotiating with some other players in that mid-to lower-range, so let’s do some speculation.
I could see fullback James Develin earning a contract extension, but since he is returning from a big injury, I would be surprised if the deal happened prior to week 1. Injuries are the reason why I’d be semi-surprised to see deals for running back LeGarrette Blount, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, defensive tackle Alan Branch, and edge defender Rob Ninkovich.
I would expect that offseason acquisitions like tight end Martellus Bennett, edge defender Chris Long, guard Jonathan Cooper, and linebacker Barkevious Mingo would need to prove their value on the field, just like the players coming off injuries, before receiving a contract extension.
I consider players like Hightower, Collins, Butler, Jabaal Sheard, Logan Ryan, and Duron Harmon to exceed the mid-to-low tier of contracts, so I would be surprised if these were the deals Reiss was referencing.
And this just leaves two unrestricted free agents to consider:
1. Running back Brandon Bolden is a core special teams player that will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he were another one of the players in discussion for a new deal. He would fit in line with the other special teams contracts.
2. Right tackle Marcus Cannon would be a surprise, but doesn’t this also make a lot of sense? He could receive the Josh Kline-type extension as a player that could start in a pinch, but is an ideal #3 option. He’s had a great camp and he flashed starter ability in 2013. If the Patriots come to terms with an extension and Cannon finds his old form, the Patriots could have their offensive line set for the rest of Tom Brady’s career.
I wouldn’t look too far at exclusive rights free agents like Brandon King or Anthony Johnson, and Cameron Fleming joins Butler as the only other restricted free agent.
So if the Patriots have an extension or two up their sleeve, don’t be shocked if it’s for Bolden and Cannon, before we see big deals for the likes of Hightower, Collins, Sheard, and Butler.
Check out Reiss’ notes here, including a nice comparison of how the Patriots and Cardinals used their starters in the preseason.