With free agency set to begin March 5, ESPNBoston.com will look at the "free-agent fit" at each position over the next two weeks, while projecting possibilities for the Patriots. Today, it’s defensive linemen:
RATING THE NEED: High
KEY CONSIDERATION: Wilfork’s situation with the franchise tag creates some uncertainty. Jarvis Green, who started at right defensive end in 2009, is set to test the free-agent market which adds to the need. With this in mind, one of the key questions going forward will be the progress that Brace and Pryor make in their second seasons. Can either become a full-time player?
NOTABLE TARGETS ON MARKET: Adewale Ogunleye (Bears, unrestricted), Aubrayo Franklin (49ers, unrestricted*), Casey Hampton (Steelers, unrestricted*), Julius Peppers (Panthers, unrestricted), Ryan Pickett (Packers, unrestricted*), Richard Seymour (Raiders, unrestricted*), Marcus Spears (Cowboys, restricted), Kyle Vanden Bosch (Titans, unrestricted), Vince Wilfork (Patriots, unrestricted*)
MOST LIKELY TARGETS FOR PATS: Justin Bannan (Ravens, unrestricted), Marques Douglas (Jets, unrestricted), Dwan Edwards (Ravens, unrestricted), Jarvis Green (Patriots, unrestricted), Fred Robbins (Giants, unrestricted)
SLEEPER POSSIBILITY FOR PATS: Jevon Kearse (Titans, unrestricted)
OUTLANDISH THOUGHT FOR PATS: Peppers
WRAP IT UP: From an NFL perspective, the majority of franchise tags project to be assigned to defensive linemen. That highlights their value to their teams, and also the value they represent at the franchise-tag salary. With 13-14 teams running the 3-4 defense, there is more competition for the bigger defensive linemen that play in that alignment which could drive up prices. Edwards has been productive, but is overshadowed by the other big names on the Ravens defense. Peppers would be an outside linebacker in the Patriots’ 3-4 alignment. If the Patriots thought Kearse still had something to offer, he could potentially play a Derrick Burgess-like role as a nickel rusher.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?: Which of these defensive linemen would you most like to see in a Patriots uniform? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog entry.
Coming tomorrow: Running backs
* assigned franchise tag, or projected to be assigned franchise tag