Position: Offensive line
Players under contract for 2014: T Nate Solder, G Logan Mankins, C/G Dan Connolly, T/G Marcus Cannon, T Sebastian Vollmer, G Josh Kline, G/C Chris Barker, T/G Markus Zusevics, C Braxston Cave, T Jordan Devey, T R.J. Mattes.
Level of need: Moderate-to-low
Projected top targets: G Shawn Lauvao (Browns), G Shelley Smith (Rams), C Ryan Wendell (Patriots)
Why Lauvao fits: Entering the NFL as a third-round pick in 2010, he has starting experience (44 games), is 26 years old, and would add sturdy presence to any line at right guard.
Why Smith fits: A bit of an under-the-radar free agent who has reportedly drawn interest from multiple teams, he has good size (6-4, 312), is 26 years old, and possibly has some position flexibility. He entered the NFL as a sixth-round draft pick of the Texans in 2010.
Why Wendell fits: After starting at center the last two seasons for the Patriots, he knows the system and could vie to keep the job if a more lucrative market doesn’t develop for him elsewhere. Hard to imagine the Patriots extending themselves too far to retain him, but he still has value to the team.
Other names of note: T Branden Albert (Chiefs), G Zane Beadles (Broncos), OT Anthony Collins (Bengals), C Evan Dietrich-Smith (Packers), OT Austin Howard (Jets), G Charlie Johnson (Vikings), G Shawn Lauvao (Browns), OT Eugene Monroe (Ravens), OT Michael Oher (Ravens), OT Roger Saffold (Rams), T/G Will Svitek (Patriots), OT Jared Veldheer (Raiders), OT Eric Winston (Cardinals),
Franchise tag: None.
Transition tag: C Alex Mack (Browns)
Market conditions: Strong at the tackle position, where early free-agent movement is expected. It is also especially strong in the draft at tackle, with fewer top prospects among interior linemen but some solid depth starting in the second round range.
Questions to answer at the position: How will the Patriots address the center spot? How is starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer’s recovery progressing from a broken ankle? Is Marcus Cannon a better fit at right guard or right tackle?
The Boston Herald first reported the surgery.
This is obviously a setback of sorts for Dobson, a player the Patriots have big plans for after selecting him in the second round of the 2013 draft (59th overall).
It is often said that a player's biggest jump comes between his first and second seasons, in part because the player has a full offseason to devote to his craft after his rookie campaign. But Dobson's offseason, at least the early part of it, will now be more about rehabilitation.
The Patriots can begin their offseason program on April 21.
When it comes to the New England Patriots and spending money to build a championship team, there seems to be a growing misperception in some circles that misses the greater point.
Somewhere along the line, the theory that the Patriots aren't going for it, and are content to do just enough to be a playoff contender, has picked up momentum. The chatter particularly seems to intensify at this time of year when NFL teams are handing out big-money contracts with free agency set to begin.
There are two main issues with this line of thinking -- the independent financial data doesn't support it, and it overlooks the more pressing issue: It's not that the Patriots aren't spending money, it's how they're spending it.
To prove that point, let's get right to the bottom-line financial numbers.
In 2013, the NFL salary cap was set at $123 million. The Patriots' cash spending, according to sources not affiliated with the Patriots who track figures for all NFL clubs, was $129,656,000.
In 2012, when the NFL salary cap was set at $120.6 million, the Patriots' cash spending was about $168 million.
In 2011, with a salary cap of $120 million, the team's cash spending was around $130 million.
And in the 2010 uncapped year, the Patriots' cash spending was $151 million.
Edelman, of course, is a free agent who is free to sign with any team as of 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
The Patriots and Edelman's camp have expressed mutual interest in a contract extension, and they continue to communicate about a possible deal.
In the end, however, the market will ultimately dictate, as the Patriots' proposals haven't been enticing enough at this time for Edelman to commit to it.
Similar to last year with Wes Welker, if a deal isn't struck by the start of free agency, it could lead the Patriots to their next option. That potentially makes the next 12-18 hours a critical time for both sides.
All four were longer shots for a roster spot, with Moe the most highly touted.
Grissom and Moe spent last year on injured reserve, while Reed and McGuffie ended the year on the team's practice squad.
In addition, offensive linemen Brice Schwab and Elvis Fisher, and running back Quentin Hines were waived, per the NFL's transactions wire. Fisher and Hines were waived with a failed physical designation.
These types of "housecleaning" moves are commonplace at this time on the NFL calendar, as the 2014 league year officially begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.
From this amateur scouting chair, I like the fit and here's why:
2. Need more than one "passing" back: When Vereen was sidelined for half of the 2013 regular-season with a wrist injury, the Patriots turned to 220-pound Brandon Bolden as his replacement in the “passing” back role. In doing so, it was a little bit of a square peg in the round hole -- while Bolden catches the ball fairly well and isn't afraid to stick his head in there as a pass-protector, he's not as elusive as many teams would desire in that role. Because of how often the Patriots spread things out, the “passing” back is really no different than the traditional early-down running back in terms of playing time in their scheme. It makes sense to have multiple players who can fill that void.
3. Expounding upon the idea of creating matchup advantages: One of the reasons Williamson cited for the Patriots being a good fit with Sproles was the team's knack for creating advantageous matchups, and how Sproles' skill set could be maximized in their scheme. In 2011 and 2012, a big part of the Patriots' ability to create favorable matchups was tied to the tight end position because of the unique talents of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. As we saw in 2013, when there is no Gronkowski and Hernandez, that dynamic is much harder to come by. Ideally, the Patriots will capture that magic once again, but tight end is a challenging position to find those types of players, so why not try it at running back? A Vereen-Sproles combination, for example, could lead to a lot of headaches for opposing defensive coordinators in a different way.
4. Layering the running back position: With Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Bolden all entering the final year of their contracts, a multi-year deal for a player like Sproles, assuming the financial numbers work, layers the depth chart in the future as well.
The move comes as a mild surprise because the Patriots guaranteed Moe $30,000 last year as part of a three-year contract, which was the highest guaranteed figure among the team's undrafted players. Moe had offers and interest from six other teams, according to Brei.
Given Moe's production at Missouri, and the Patriots' success with shifty slot receivers, Moe was viewed as a potential dark horse to make an impact. But he tore his Achilles in offseason camps last May and ultimately landed on season-ending injured reserve.
In making the move to release Moe, Brei said the Patriots told him they were simply moving in another direction, but considered the door open for a return in the future depending on how things unfold.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The signing was reported earlier Monday by Yahoo! Sports.
Hoomanawanui, 25, played in 13 games for the Patriots last season, stepping into a larger role with Rob Gronkowski dealing with multiple injury issues. He caught 12 passes for 136 yards and one touchdown.
Hoomanawanui originally was signed by the Patriots during the 2012 season off the Washington Redskins' practice squad. He entered restricted free agency last offseason and was eventually re-signed by New England.
The Illinois product gives New England some insurance for Gronkowski, who continues to rehab from surgery to repair a torn ACL.
The Patriots are likely to continue to address the position this offseason, with only D.J. Williams on the roster besides Gronkowski and Hoomanawanui.
ESPN Insider Field Yates confirmed earlier reports from Yahoo! Sports and Fox Sports that Hoomanawanui is re-signing with the Patriots for two seasons.
Hoomanawanui played 57.6 percent of the offensive snaps in 2013, most among New England tight ends, as he emerged as the top replacement for Rob Gronkowski. With Gronkowski currently recovering from a torn ACL, and lingering questions over his durability after a string of injuries, Hoomanawanui is a dependable, team-first, lower-budget layer of insurance.
Hoomanawanui has said it himself -- he’s no Gronkowski. Few are.
While not as dynamic in the passing game in terms of creating separation and pure speed, Hoomanwanui does have solid hands and can make the tough catch (12 receptions in 2013). His greatest contributions last year, when he won a training camp competition against Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells, came as a blocker.
The Patriots now have Gronkowski, Hoomanawanui and D.J. Williams under contract at the tight end position. The team likely isn’t done addressing the position.
With the free-agent signing period opening Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, here's our AFC East free-agent ranking:
2. Aqib Talib, Patriots CB: Matchup man-to-man cornerback was a centerpiece in the Patriots' game plans in 2013, with injuries the only real blemish on his resume.
3. Julian Edelman, Patriots WR: Coming off a career-high 105-catch season -- staying healthy for all 16 games for the first time -- the receiver is poised to cash in.
4. Austin Howard, Jets T: An ascending player who would generate significant interest if he hits the open market.
5. Paul Soliai, Dolphins DT: He is one of the top run-stuffers on the market. Soliai can fit in the middle of a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense, which adds value.
6. Scott Chandler, Bills TE: A 6-foot-7 tight end who posted career highs in receptions (53) and receiving yards (655) but was a non-factor in the red zone.
7. Randy Starks, Dolphins DT: The Dolphins used the franchise tag on Starks in 2013 but only used him as a rotational player. A change of scenery is probably best for him.
8. LeGarrette Blount, Patriots RB: The 250-pound running back was tough to bring down once he got rolling late last season; deserving of an upgraded contract.
9. Ryan Wendell, Patriots C: Undersized center has the smarts and durability that could appeal to a team looking to fill a void in the pivot, but sometimes gets overpowered.
11. Calvin Pace, Jets LB: Recorded a career-high 10 sacks last season, but there will be a limited market because he'll be 34.
12. Chris Clemons, Dolphins S: He's a decent safety with plenty of starting experience. Clemons is strong in run support and a sure tackler, but he struggles at times in pass coverage.
13. Nick Folk, Jets K: Designated as a franchise player.
14. Dan Carpenter, Bills K: Kicker is coming off his best season as a pro, converting 91.7 percent of his field goals, including every kick in the second quarter or later.
15. Alex Carrington, Bills DL: Versatile lineman can play tackle in a 4-3 or end in a 3-4; started first three games in 2013 before an injury ended his season.
1. Patriots among solid fits for Sproles. Matt Williamson of ESPN.com's Scouts Inc. lists the teams he views as the best fit for free-agent running back Darren Sproles, and the Patriots are on the list. Williamson explains his thinking, noting that while the Patriots have Shane Vereen as their "passing" back, a player like Sproles would further create matchup issues for defenses.
2. GM for a Day -- Talib the key. Mike Tanier of "Sports on Earth" continues the "GM for a Day" series with a detailed agenda for the Patriots. It starts with cornerback Aqib Talib and locking him up with a Brent Grimes type of deal.
3. Checking in with Patriots CB Ryan. Erik Frenz, who writes the "Going Deep" blog on Boston.com, hustled to Tufts University on Sunday to catch up with Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan, who said he's following "SportsCenter" like everyone else to see what happens with Talib.
4. Talib, Edelman, Mallett in the MMQB. Peter King's "Monday Morning Quarterback" on TheMMQB.com includes a variety of free-agent thoughts, and it touches the Patriots in the form of Talib, receiver Julian Edelman (Cleveland a good landing spot?) and quarterback Ryan Mallett.
Players under contract for 2014: Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Justin Green
Level of need: Moderate-to-high
Projected top targets: Nolan Carroll (Dolphins), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Broncos), Aqib Talib (Patriots)
Why Carroll fits: Good size (6-foot-1, 205 pounds), the right age (27) and has experience (26 career starts in 4 years). The Patriots know him well from facing him twice a season. He isn’t a No. 1 corner, but could vie for a starting role in the event Talib isn’t back, and will likely command much less financially.
Why Rodgers-Cromartie fits: Has solid man cover skills and the ability to match up in a similar way as Talib, although he isn’t as strong/willing against the run.
Why Talib fits: The Patriots have worked with him since November of 2012, he knows the system, game-plans have been partially built around his ability to match up with various types of receivers, and he added a lot to the team both in the meeting room and on the field. His return is a top priority; it’s just a matter of if the market increases to a point that the Patriots, with some concern over Talib’s injury history, aren’t comfortable going.
Other names of note: Tarell Brown (49ers), Brandon Browner (Seahawks), Antoine Cason (Cardinals), Chris Cook (Vikings), Antonio Cromartie (Jets), Vontae Davis (Colts), Corey Graham (Ravens), Jabari Greer (Saints), Captain Munnerlyn (Panthers), Asante Samuel (Falcons), Walter Thurmond (Seahawks), Charles Tillman (Bears), Alterraun Verner (Titans)
Franchise tag: none
Market conditions: This is a strong class in free agency, especially at the top. In the draft, analysts believe teams will find quality into the middle rounds.
Questions to answer at the position: If Aqib Talib isn’t back, how do the Patriots fill the void at the top of the depth chart? How much will Alfonzo Dennard’s offseason be affected by his time in jail? Can Logan Ryan build off his rookie season into a permanent starting role?
Position: Inside/middle linebacker (off the line)
Players under contract for 2014: Jamie Collins, Dont'a Hightower, Jerod Mayo, Chris White, Steve Beauharnais, Chris White, Ja'Gared Davis, Taylor Reed
Level of need: Moderate-to-low
Projected top targets: Dane Fletcher (Patriots), Ramon Humber (Saints), Dekoda Watson (Buccaneers).
Why Fletcher fits: He has spent the first four years of his career with the Patriots, making the transition from college defensive end to NFL linebacker/special teamer. He led the Patriots in special teams tackles last season with 15.
Why Humber fits: Similar to Fletcher, he was a solid special teams performer for the Saints in 2013, recovering two onside kicks and totaling six solo tackles in the kicking game.
Why Watson fits: One of the Buccaneers’ best special teams players, he’d project as a core member of the kicking game while providing depth on defense.
Other names of note: Jon Beason (Giants), Karlos Dansby (Cardinals), Stephen Nicholas (Falcons), Daryl Smith (Ravens), Brandon Spikes (Patriots), Jonathan Vilma (Saints), Wesley Woodyard (Broncos).
Franchise tag: None.
Market conditions: The most likely avenue to find a potential three-down linebacker is through the draft. There are a few starting-caliber options in free agency who wouldn’t project to help on special teams, which will limit their value to some.
Questions to answer at the position: Is Jamie Collins ready for a prominent three-down role? How is Jerod Mayo’s recovery from a season-ending torn pectoral muscle last October? Who replaces the hard-hitting edge brought by Brandon Spikes? Will Dont’a Hightower take another step forward in his development?
2. Talib and the Redskins: Comprehensive thoughts here from ESPN.com NFL Nation Redskins reporter John Keim on the Redskins’ interest in Talib.
3. Cornerback market as it relates to Talib: Big bucks have been dished out to free-agent cornerbacks Brent Grimes in Miami (4 years, $32 million, $16 million guaranteed) and Sam Shields in Green Bay (4 years, $39 million, $12.5 million signing bonus), which reflects a significant uptick in the market at the position compared to 2013. I think it’s fair to say those pacts strengthen Talib’s negotiating position, while at the same time putting more pressure on agents for top cornerbacks like Talib, Vontae Davis and Alterraun Verner to deliver a similar/better deal when their current teams might be offering less. One thing about the deals for Grimes and Shields -- they were handed out by their current team, not a team that wasn't as familiar with them.
4. Griffen and Bryant off the board: Two “projected targets” in our “free-agent fit” series -- defensive tackle Red Bryant (Jaguars) and defensive end Everson Griffen (Vikings) -- have reportedly reached agreements. Griffen reportedly received $20 million in bonuses/guarantees, which reflects his status as a rising player, and if I knew the market would be that high I wouldn’t have made the connection to the Patriots.
5. Mallett's status in the spotlight: The Texans have reportedly talked about the possibility of trading for Ryan Mallett, but those talks aren’t expected to turn into any action, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. Mallett enters the final year of his contract in 2014. McClain details some of the quarterback options for the Texans, and we would add our own spin on it: If Oakland truly is interested in Matt Schaub, how about a straight-up trade of Schaub for Matt McGloin? Could be a win-win scenario, as Oakland gets a veteran quarterback who might best help win games in 2014 as Dennis Allen (head coach) and Reggie McKenzie (general manager) are on the hot seat, while O'Brien gets a quarterback he worked with at Penn State and knows well to serve as a bridge until the Texans, in Year 1 of the building process, figure out the best long-term answer (assuming it isn't McGloin himself).
1. Linebacker Brandon Spikes confirmed the obvious on Friday, stating it would be best for him and the Patriots to have a fresh start by making a split. That had me thinking back to Spikes’ rookie season, and the initial days of training camp, when Bill Belichick was expressing excitement about Spikes. Some of the soundbites:
“He sees some things that I’m not sure everybody sees.”
“I’m not really sure what his style is … It’s kind of not by the book but [it’s] effective.”
“I think he’s got some unique skills.”
“He’s an interesting player to coach.”
Many of us in the media, including myself, made a fairly big deal over Belichick’s remarks that day because they were a bit different from what we have traditionally heard from Belichick about rookies. Looking back, the remarks were spot-on and sum up Spikes in a nutshell: He was unconventional and certainly couldn’t be placed in a box. He was a fun player to watch, and ultimately for Belichick, I think a little too unconventional for his liking.
3. The way I envision things unfolding with cornerback Aqib Talib and receiver Julian Edelman is that they will use the “legal tampering period” from March 8-11 to see what is available to them on the open market, and then those offers will then be compared to what the Patriots have in mind. Dialogue has remained open-ended between the sides to this point. All things being equal financially, I think both players would like to stay, which the Patriots surely hope is the way it unfolds. But the market will dictate and because the Patriots don’t usually budge too far based on an offer from another team, anything is possible.
4. If you’re the offensively challenged Jets, would you make a run at Edelman? Similar to last year with the Broncos signing Wes Welker, there are multi-layered benefits to making such a move – you improve your own offense while hurting one of your primary competitors.
5. With quarterback Matt Cassel agreeing to terms on a two-year contract to return to the Minnesota Vikings, it opens up the possibility the Patriots might face Cassel for the first time since trading him in 2009. A Cassel-Tom Brady duel would have first taken place in 2011 when the Chiefs visited town, but Cassel was sidelined with a hand injury at the time and gave way to Tyler Palko in what turned out to be a dud of a "Monday Night Football" game. The Patriots visit the Vikings in 2014, and in a game that doesn’t have the same initial appeal as some others on the schedule, the Cassel-Brady angle adds some spice.
6. This week’s reminder that the NFL draft can be so tough to project comes in the form of Bills safety Jairus Byrd, who is widely viewed as one of the top free agents set to hit the market. Byrd has turned out to be the best safety from the 2009 draft (he was a corner at Oregon who entered the draft after his junior season), even though he was the fourth player selected at the position that year (a groin injury at the combine might have played a factor in his stock falling). The breakdown of the safeties selected in the first two rounds looked like this: Malcolm Jenkins (14th, corner-turned-safety), Louis Delmas (33rd) Patrick Chung (34th), Byrd (42nd), Mike Mitchell (47th) Darcel McBath (48th) and William Moore (55th). Byrd’s emergence particularly stings from a Patriots perspective because they had three cracks at him and ended up with Chung, defensive lineman Ron Brace (40th) and cornerback Darius Butler (41st).
7a. The Colts signed punter Pat McAfee to a five-year extension on Friday and he told reporters that he’s also expressed an interest in a dual role as the team’s kicker if Adam Vinatieri, who is set for free agency, doesn’t return to the team. McAfee has already handled the kickoff duties in place of Vinatieri in recent years and the Indianapolis Star reported that talks between the team and Vinatieri have been slow. Is a dual punter-kicker a viable option? It would save a valuable roster spot, but the concern would be overworking one leg with two important jobs.
8. The cornerback market in free agency is off to a strong strong start for players, with Miami's Brent Grimes (4 years, $32 million, $16 million guaranteed) and Green Bay's Sam Shields (reportedly 4 years, $39 million, $12.5 million signing bonus) landing deals. Makes my pre-free-agent projection for Talib of 3 years, $21 million with $12-14 million in bonuses/guarantees seem a bit low based on the way the market has taken shape. If another team is willing to pay Talib like the Dolphins did with Grimes and the Packers did with Shields, I have doubts the Patriots would match.
9. Two random draft thoughts that came to mind while continuing an offseason study on depth charts, power structure and season-ending news conferences: If the Texans pass on a quarterback at No. 1, and the Raiders select one at No. 5, I wonder if that might open the door for the Texans to acquire quarterback Matt McGloin (Penn State) and reunite him with Bill O’Brien. Raiders coach Dennis Allen pretty much made it clear that the organization doesn’t view McGloin or Terrelle Pryor as the long-term answer. Maybe O'Brien would value McGloin differently at this stage of the Texans' team-building process. … Jaguars general manager David Caldwell was the Falcons’ director of college scouting in 2008 when Atlanta hoped Matt Ryan would fall to the No. 3 pick despite having a quarterback-needy team ahead of them at No. 1 (Miami) and then the Rams at No. 2. The top of the 2014 draft has a similar feel for Caldwell, as the Jaguars sit at No. 3, while the quarterback-needy Texans are at No. 1, followed by the Rams. Could Teddy Bridgewater be to the Jaguars what Ryan has been for the Falcons?
10. When the Patriots lost then-starting center Dan Koppen to a season-ending ankle injury in the 2011 opener, the first in-house choice to fill the void was Dan Connolly, who started 14 games in the pivot that year (including playoffs). The next offseason, the Patriots valued his performance enough to give him a three-year, $9.7 million contract as a free agent. Then in 2012, when veteran Brian Waters didn’t report to training camp, Connolly was moved to the right guard position which has been his permanent home since. I’ve wondered if a switch back to center might be in the offing for Connolly, in part because center Ryan Wendell is an unrestricted free agent and the Patriots have Marcus Cannon and Josh Kline as possibilities at right guard. Some have opined that Connolly’s $3 million salary might be too rich for the Patriots’ liking, but if a move to center strengthens the Patriots in two areas, does it then represent better value?