With the Patriots beginning their voluntary offseason program Monday, Mike Reiss and Field Yates got together for a roundtable to cover some questions surrounding the team (part 1 of 2):
Which signing, or re-signing, has perhaps flown under the radar the most this offseason?
Yates: Mike, I'll go with Ryan Wendell and here's why. Did he struggle last season? Relative to 2012, yes he did. Was his performance detrimental to the offense? No, that's overstating it. What cannot be disputed is Wendell's durability. He played every snap last season, something his quarterback, Tom Brady, undoubtedly appreciated. Would it be a total shock to see the Patriots draft an interior lineman? No, but what they accomplished in re-signing Wendell is continuity at a fair price. If he reverts to his 2012 form, the maximum value of roughly $4.5 million over two years will be a steal.
Reiss: I'll counter with defensive end Rob Ninkovich, Field. This happens a lot when it comes to evaluating free agency -- we often just focus on the snapshot in front of us that unfolded from the official start of free agency March 11 to now. But Ninkovich, who was in the last year of his contract when he struck an extension last September, should be included in any free-agent analysis. He certainly would be if he was signing with another team.
Bill Belichick always talks about development from Year 1 to Year 2. It's impossible to predict which players will make the biggest leap, but two to keep an eye on are Jamie Collins and Logan Ryan. What are your expectations for them at this time?
Yates: My gut take on Collins is that the team hopes for him to be not just a starter (replacing Brandon Spikes), but also a three-down contributor. Given how small Collins' role was on defense to start the 2013 season, this represents a big leap. But we saw the flashes during the playoffs, giving me confidence that they expect more of the same. As for Ryan, while the cornerback depth chart is stacked right now, he showed far too much ability last season for the team to not try and get him on the field for close to 50 percent of the snaps.
Reiss: I think you nailed it, Field. One of the things that was most impressive to me about Collins last year is that I don't think he missed a practice or game. That helped him use 2013 as a strong foundation year, and I think it's fair to expect more from him in a three-down role. With Ryan, I expect him to compete for the starting cornerback spot opposite of Darrelle Revis for the first four games of the regular season when Brandon Browner is suspended. He has some of the best ball skills in the secondary.
Most football fans agree that the Patriots upgraded from signing Darrelle Revis to replace Aqib Talib. Are there any aspects of Talib's game you think they'll miss, however?
Yates: By all accounts, Darrelle Revis is a terrific teammate, so it's unfair to suppose he won't jell with the rest of the Patriots' secondary. But I will say this, Aqib Talib brought a certain edge and confidence to both the Patriots' defensive meeting room and the secondary on the whole. The increase in confidence and camaraderie was seemingly palpable from the 2012 season to 2013, Talib's only full year in New England. Revis seems like the kind of guy that fits in anywhere, but Talib's personality will be missed.
Reiss: Not only do most football fans agree that Revis is an upgrade, Talib himself said it last year, too. Chemistry would be the one area to focus on, as Talib seemed to fit in very well here. Chemistry can't be forced and we'll see how that evolves with Revis.
Each offseason, players are listed that project as potential “cap casualties.” At this point of the offseason, do you think it's safe to say some of the players carrying a higher number (e.g. Dan Connolly) are safe for 2014? Or might this be something to re-visit come training camp?
Yates: The player that I continue to keep an eye on is guard Dan Connolly, Mike. With a cap charge north of $4 million, the Patriots will have to weigh his “replace-ability” at a cheaper value. They are very high on Josh Kline (who played well in spot duty last year) and could add depth via the draft. If Connolly has any sort of struggles during training camp or the preseason, there's an opportunity for the team to vault a player up the depth chart at a lower price point.
Reiss: Connolly has been working out this offseason with Logan Mankins and one thing that I think helps him is that he could be part of the competition at center as well. Still, if the Patriots were looking for ways to create cap space, it could gain $2.5 million by making a move there. There aren't many other players on the roster that could offer that type of relief.