The reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots have some of the most desired free agents in the league from LB Dont’a Hightower to CB Logan Ryan to TE Martellus Bennett to FS Duron Harmon. The Patriots project to have the 6th most cap space in the entire league, so there’s a lot of money to go around.
But it seems like the Patriots will be happy to let their free agents test the open market before making a strong offer, according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss.
“My understanding is that the Patriots’ unconventional negotiating approach with some top free agents -- which was highlighted in a Friday blog post with linebacker Dont'a Hightower -- also applies to a few others in this year’s free-agent crop: cornerback Logan Ryan, safety Duron Harmon and tight end Martellus Bennett, among others,” Reiss writes. “That means that there are no hardcore negotiations at this point with those players. They could still re-sign, but unless something changes abruptly in the next few days before free agency opens Thursday afternoon (not expected), that wouldn’t happen until they first explore what’s out there on the open market.”
The Patriots used the technique Reiss describes with FS Devin McCourty and ultimately came to an extension. The goal is for these free agents to field offers from teams and come back to New England with a number. The Patriots will then respond with their counter-offer and if the player wants to remain in New England under the proposed price tag, then the two sides will come to terms.
The fact that Reiss believes this technique also applies to players like Ryan and Harmon is a revealing look at the Patriots free agency strategy. They want to retain as many of their Super Bowl champion players as possible, but they don’t feel the need to potentially overpay for any of their services.
This strategy could ultimately lead to the Patriots retaining a lot of their free agents if Hightower and Bennett field offers less than they expected on the market. Alternatively, it could leave the Patriots holding the bag as teams like the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers, and Jacksonville Jaguars throw around hundreds of millions of dollars. We’ll have to wait and see if the strategy works.