Free agency is nearly here; it officially kicks off later today at 4 p.m. ET.
For the Patriots, the contracts of 19 players expire today, meaning they are free to sign with other teams.
It also means the Patriots can sign free agents from other teams themselves, and it’s likely that the team has been negotiating with agents during the legal tampering window that opened on Saturday.
Expect deals to come together quickly around the league, as this weekend has provided clubs with the opportunity to explore contract proposals with agents, although nothing could be officially agreed to, even in principle.
As for cap space, a league source indicates that the Patriots have $26 million available as things currently stand.
Here’s the full list of Patriots free agents to-be, which includes tight end Michael Hoomanwanui, who at this time has not received a restricted free agent tender. If that does not happen before the start of free agency, he is free to sign with another team without the opportunity for the Patriots to match that offer.
We’ve profiled many of these free agents in our “Beyond the Big 3” series, which included a projection on whether they would be re-signed (indicated below).
PATRIOTS FREE AGENTS (OUR PREDICTIONS IN PARENTHESIS)
• S/CB Will Allen
• S Josh Barrett
• TE Michael Hoomanawanui
• LB Niko Koutouvides
• CB Derrick Martin
• OL Jamey Richard
• WR Donte' Stallworth
• CB Aqib Talib (will be re-signed for 4 years, $26m)
• OL Sebastian Vollmer (won’t be re-signed; will get 4-year, $20m deal from Rams)
• WR Wes Welker (will be re-signed for 3 years, $24m)
• LB Tracy White (will be re-signed for 1 year, $950K)
ABOUT THE BIG THREE
The three players we’ll be monitoring most closely are Welker, Talib and Vollmer, who are each expected to land lucrative deals on the open market. The Patriots appear to have the cap space to re-sign all of them, and it would not come as a surprise to see the trio retained. The feeling here is that Welker is priority 1A and Talib 1B because of their skill set and the need at their positions, while Vollmer is just behind those two. If Vollmer were to depart, the Patriots have an in-house candidate to replace him in Marcus Cannon, and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has a stellar track record of developing young talent.
Keeping two out of their three top free agents (as predicted above) will put a dent in the Patriots' available spending, but the value Welker and Talib had in 2012 is difficult to ignore. Welker has shown his value over six seasons in New England, while Talib needed just six regular season games to show he’s a different cornerback than what they have had in recent seasons. Meanwhile, a team like the Rams could be hungry to upgrade their line and approach Vollmer early on in the process.
RANKING THE AREAS OF NEED
Regardless of whether it’s their own players or other free agents, what positions should the Patriots be targeting?
Free agents of note: Aqib Talib (Patriots), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Eagles), Sean Smith (Dolphins), Kyle Arrington (Patriots), Derek Cox (Jaguars), Travis Daniels (Chiefs), Quentin Jammer (Chargers), Mike Jenkins (Cowboys), Greg Toler (Cardinals), Keenan Lewis (Steelers)
Free agents of note: Danny Amendola (Rams), Deion Branch (Patriots), Josh Cribbs (Browns), Brandon Gibson (Rams), Ted Ginn (49ers), Devery Henderson (Saints), Domenik Hixon (Giants), Greg Jennings (Packers), Mike Wallace (Steelers)
3. Right tackle: This is a need that hinges of Vollmer’s future. If he returns, the Patriots are in good shape.
Players under contract for 2013: Marcus Cannon, Markus Zusevics
Players under contract for 2013: Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner