Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Final thoughts from Day 1 of free agency

By Mike Reiss

Wrapping up the first day of free agency with some quick-hit thoughts:

1. New England Patriots' moves yet to come: This feels like deja vu in the sense that the Patriots weren't overly aggressive as the market opened, leading some to question what they are waiting for. If this follows a similar course as previous years, which we think it will, the team's moves are coming. The Patriots always have a plan. A big part of this year's is practicing patience while getting a better feel for the reshaped market. There are still plenty of quality players available.

2. Initial contract numbers at offensive tackle not overwhelming: One always has to be cautious when analyzing contract numbers on the day a deal is struck, as they could be inflated to make a contract look better than it really is. What stood out from this perspective was that the initial numbers for offensive tackles Jermon Bushrod (5 years, $36 million, $17.7 million in bonuses/guarantees) and Gosder Cherilus (5 years, $34 million, $10 million signing bonus) were at the opposite end of the spectrum. They seemed more than reasonable from a team standpoint. That could have a trickle-down effect on Sebastian Vollmer and the Patriots, strengthening the possibility of his return.

Sebastian Vollmer
The early returns on the offensive tackle market may bolster the chances of Sebastian Vollmer returning to New England.
3. What to make of Welker's situation? Receiver Wes Welker remains unsigned, and here is my read on the situation: The Patriots have a standing offer on the table to Welker, but it's not enticing enough to lead him to sign. Thus, much of the onus is on Welker and his representatives to create some action in the marketplace to either move on to a new team or attempt to get the Patriots to budge. It's a stalemate. The feeling here is that we should have an answer sooner than later, because the big-money deals usually dry up pretty quickly in free agency.

4. Patriots still in the mix for Talib: The glut of quality cornerbacks on the market has driven down the price at the position. Given the Patriots' need for cornerbacks and desire to retain Aqib Talib, this has to be a welcome development at One Patriot Place. Teams with salary-cap space are going to have the opportunity to sign a quality cornerback, and possibly even two, if this holds true to form. The Broncos are visiting with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and if the sides consummate a deal, that could be a domino that sparks more cornerback movement.

5. Dolphins spend big, but are they better? The Dolphins were the most active team in free agency and spent the most money, signing receiver Mike Wallace and reportedly adding linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler, while re-signing safety Chris Clemons. This comes after previously re-signing receiver Brian Hartline and backup quarterback Matt Moore. The Dolphins had the cap space and they were aggressive in using it, but is this enough to close the gap on the Patriots? It still comes down to quarterback Ryan Tannehill's development from this viewpoint, and that remains a question mark. Wallace, at least, gives him another weapon to work with.

6. Expected defections with Thomas and Chung: The Patriots officially lost two of their free agents, guard Donald Thomas (to the Indianapolis Colts) and safety Patrick Chung (Philadelphia Eagles). Neither player was expected to return, with Thomas seeking an opportunity to be a full-time starter and Chung in search of a fresh start. The only mild surprise is that both were "Day 1" signings while higher profile players Welker, Talib and Vollmer remained unsigned.

7. Hoomanawanui tender a mild surprise: The Patriots loaded up at tight end last offseason and they're doing it again, tendering restricted free agent Michael Hoomanawanui for $1.323 million. The thought from here was that the club wouldn't tender Hoomanawanui and would attempt to re-sign him at a cheaper salary, but they obviously like what he brought the team as an insurance policy behind Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The AFC divisional-round win over the Texans might have been the clincher when Hoomanawanui was an emergency fill-in for Gronkowski and held his own. The willingness to pay the price also could be related to Jake Ballard and his ability to regain his pre-injury form.