ESPN’s Bill Barnwell is looking around the league and suggesting five moves that every team should make this offseason and he offers an interesting perspective on the New England Patriots and their roster.
Here are the five suggested moves and an excerpt from each recommendation. Read the article to get his full insight.
1. Re-sign LB Dont'a Hightower.
“Ironically, the Browns' deal with Jamie Collins established the market for non-pass-rushing linebackers and will up Hightower's asking price. Collins got four years and $50 million to stay in Cleveland, with $36.4 million coming over the first three seasons of the deal. Hightower would get even more if he hit the free market, so the Patriots have to do their best to sign the 2016 Pro Bowler before he hits free agency.”
I’m not so sure that Hightower will receive a bigger offer than Collins in free agency; Collins earned a nice premium to stay in Cleveland with the Browns. Still, Hightower is a better and more consistent linebacker than Collins so that should at least put Hightower in the same ballpark as Collins.
2. Sign CB Malcolm Butler to a long-term deal and let CB Logan Ryan leave in free agency.
“It's difficult to envision Bill Belichick devoting $24 million or so per year to cornerbacks, especially given how much he's paying Devin McCourty at safety, so it's more likely that the Patriots sign one of their two corners and let the other walk. Ryan is a year younger, but he's going to command a [Janoris Jenkins]-sized contract in free agency.”
I would also be shocked if Ryan received an open market contract at Jenkins’ level. Jenkins signed a humongous 5-year, $62.5 million contract with the New York Giants prior to the 2016 season, the sixth highest per-year amount for any cornerback in the NFL. It would be stunning if Ryan left free agency as a top 10 paid cornerback, although Jenkins and former Seahawks CB Byron Maxwell are two examples of former #2 cornerbacks receiving top 10 money.
Perhaps Ryan will see strong #2 cornerback money, which is in the $8-$9 million range, but Barnwell might believe Ryan is more well-regarded in league circles.
3. Re-sign WR Michael Floyd and RB LeGarrette Blount while letting TE Martellus Bennett leave.
“As the best tight end on the market, Bennett shouldn't have much trouble getting a deal in the $8 million-per-year range, which would price him out of New England as the second tight end behind Rob Gronkowski.”
This is a pretty standard expectation, although Barnwell expects the Patriots to move on from WR Danny Amendola; I expect a restructure which might prevent Floyd from having a spot on the roster. Bringing back Blount and watching some other team pay more for Bennett is the widely-accepted projection.
4. Make a run at DT Dontari Poe, DT Calais Campbell or OLB Chandler Jones.
“If the Cards re-sign Jones, it could push the 30-year-old Campbell into the open market; his versatility and ability as an interior defender fits into the sort of "Planet Theory" approach Belichick learned from Bill Parcells. Poe is even younger and more athletic, but there may be concerns about his long-term health after the 26-year-old underwent back surgery in the summer of 2015.”
Bringing back EDGE Chandler Jones would be hilarious, although incredibly unlikely. Campbell and Poe would be extremely interesting options, but would signify the end of DT Alan Branch. The 6’8, 290 pound Campbell turns 31 years old before the 2017 season, has spent nine seasons as the cornerstone of the Arizona Cardinals defensive line, and is a two-time All Pro.
The 6’4, 350 pound Poe is one of the most athletic players in NFL history and was an All Pro in 2013. He’s expected to draw a lot of attention and money in free agency.
Branch will likely come for pennies on the dollar in comparison to these players, though, and is the more likely signing.
5. Trade QB Jimmy Garoppolo.
“The most interesting situation, though, is Houston. The Texans loom at 25, have a Patriots connection with head coach Bill O'Brien and make financial sense. Garoppolo and his $1.1 million cap hit in 2017 might be the only way Houston can upgrade on Brock Osweiler given their cap situation. Houston could start Garoppolo's extension in 2018 while letting Osweiler and his guaranteed deal sit on the bench. They might be shy about going after a young quarterback with limited pro experience after striking out on Osweiler, but NFL teams aren't exactly known for learning from their mistakes. The 25th pick for Garoppolo wouldn't be a bizarre trade by any means.”
Garoppolo’s contract extension would align with the Texans ability to cut Brock Osweiler with minimal salary cap issues. I still think the Browns, 49ers, and Bears make the most sense, but the desperation for the Texans front office might be understated. They need to make the playoffs again, but Osweiler is actively detrimental to the team’s success if he plays like he did in 2016.
Garoppolo is an easy fit in the Bill O’Brien offense and, as Barnwell said, the 25th overall pick makes a lot of sense from a value perspective, and perhaps the Texans would throw in a conditional mid-rounder that escalates if Garoppolo helps Houston reach the playoffs.
What do you think of these moves? What five moves do you think the Patriots have to make?
Here are mine:
1. Sign and extend LB Dont’a Hightower
2. Sign and extend RFA CB Malcolm Butler and CB Logan Ryan
3. Restructure WR Danny Amendola
4. Sign Colts TE Jack Doyle
5. Restructure and extend LT Nate Solder
I think that bringing back 30+ year old veterans like RB LeGarrette Blount, DT Alan Branch, and EDGE Chris Long are of lesser import and urgency. We’ve seen how teams like the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks have established dominant defenses by retaining the core players that developed in the system.
The Broncos retained their entire secondary and pass rush, but allowed their linebackers and defensive tackles to weaken. The Seahawks kept three of the four starters in the secondary and the linebackers, but allowed the #2 cornerback to walk. No team can retain every player, but you can pick and choose your weaknesses.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has found a way to fit defensive linemen into a successful front, so long as he has quality linebackers, while the Patriots struggled to find a consistent secondary for a stretch of time. The Patriots should play to their strengths and acknowledge their weaknesses by retaining Hightower and the defensive backs, and giving less precedence to the defensive line.