New England Patriots: Aqib Talib
The two are so familiar with each other that even Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has joked, "The league says the schedule is random, like where you play, but that doesn't feel random. We're always facing them and it always feels like it's at their place."
In 2014, the Broncos play the Patriots again -- and it will be in Foxborough, Mass., for the second consecutive year (as part of the NFL's rotating schedule formula).
As two franchises with five Super Bowl wins between them race to make the most of what's left in the careers of their respective future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, they almost appear to be answering the other's signings.
So much so that Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway was even asked this past weekend if he felt like he was in an "arms race" with the Patriots during the free-agency period.
"You always know you have to go through New England," Elway said. "If you look at their track record the last 10 years, they're a team you're going to have to be able to deal with, and for us to get done what we want to get done, you've got to be able to beat them. It's kind of a fun type of arms race, and we'll see what happens next year."
ESPN.com Patriots reporter Mike Reiss and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a closer look at both teams' moves over the past week.
Legwold: Mike, the Broncos certainly see the Patriots as the chief hurdle in any attempt to get to another Super Bowl title, and whether they would admit it or not, the thought of having to beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in a game that matters influences the decisions the Broncos make. How do the Patriots see this?
Reiss: Jeff, that will be atop the list of questions to ask Belichick the next time he meets with the press. As you might have noticed, unlike the Broncos, the Patriots haven't had any news conferences to trumpet their offseason moves, so we're left to answer this question for them based on their actions. And the answer, from this view, is the Broncos are a significant factor in the Patriots' decision-making process, specifically in what they're trying to put together defensively with physical press corners in Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. It's hard to get to Manning with the pass rush (what the Seahawks accomplished in the Super Bowl is the exception), so another way to disrupt that high-powered attack is getting physical in the secondary. I don't think building a team to beat the Broncos is their sole focus and would imagine Belichick will dismiss most of this line of thinking, but to me the actions speak loudly that it's at least part of the thought process.
One of the big questions I've heard from Patriots followers: "How are the Broncos signing all these players -- Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware, Emmanuel Sanders -- to such big-money contracts?" Along those lines, what is the Broncos' cap situation and could this be the type of thing that comes back to haunt them in future years?
Legwold: The short answer is the Broncos' cap situation was far better than many reported as free agency opened. They weren't on the list of teams that had no room to work with, and circumstances helped them as well. They had about $28.7 million worth of room when free agency was set to open -- that total was among the league's top 10 -- and gained another $10 million when they released Champ Bailey and another $4.1 million when guard Chris Kuper retired last week. They also structured most of the deals, including Talib's, with several kinds of bonuses in different years of the contract. Talib's deal is six years, $57 million on paper, but in reality, it's a three-year, $27 million contract that the Broncos could escape with limited cap implications after the 2014 season. They do not have any of the deals heavily front-loaded, essentially eliminating salary-cap implications down the road if they have to release the players after one or two years. They are selling the chance to play for a Super Bowl contender, and the players they signed were willing to work with them on deals that pay well if the player does well but make sense to the Broncos down the road, too. They simply bypassed the players who weren't willing to play ball that way. Also, they have made age a priority, with Talib, T.J. Ward and Sanders all just 27 or 28 years old. They have tried to limit their exposure with long-term contracts for 30-somethings.
With Wes Welker's signing last season and Talib's last week, there is an element of not only signing a free agent the Broncos want but also weakening a rival.
Mike, how do you think the Patriots saw those signings? Just business, or their players being targeted?
Also, Talib talked about the Patriots' injury-reporting procedures in his introductory news conference. How do you think those remarks were received in New England?
We remember from all the talk about the Eagles' "Dream Team” a few years ago that assembling talent is only part of the equation. It's how it comes together.
Jeff, can you shed some insight on the Broncos' locker room, the leadership, and if there should be any concern on how all the impressive individual parts come together as a team?
Legwold: The Broncos have a little different structure than most teams in that they are the only one with a Hall of Fame quarterback who is a sports icon in the same city where he also happens to run the team. Elway is the ultimate Alpha Dog in terms of how things go here, even with Manning in the locker room. But the Broncos like the makeup of their locker room, but it will be a year of transition in that regard given three former captains -- Bailey, Kuper and Wesley Woodyard -- have all departed. At the roster level, Manning's presence is all over the offense, and on defense they see youngsters such as Danny Trevathan and Chris Harris Jr. as future captains. They also believe they've been careful in the players they've signed -- Elway makes it clear who is, or isn't, what they are looking for. That said of the new arrivals, there certainly is the hope that Ware can be a mentor to Von Miller, both on and off the field, after Miller's rocky ride in 2013 that included a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Mike, there is a sense in Denver that Manning's career is winding down and that 2014 could be it. But what is the feeling about Brady and how much longer he intends to play?
Reiss: Brady is signed through 2017, and there is every expectation he will play to the end of that contract, and play at a high level. Brady has previously said he'd like to play into his 40s, and I don't think anyone would be wise to bet against that after what we've seen from him since he was selected 199th overall in the 2000 draft. He keeps himself in excellent physical condition and basically lives football year-round. So assuming good health, I'd put '17 as the earliest marker to when we might close the book on his career. He'd be 40 at that point.
Jeff, with the moves the Broncos have made, where do you see them as better than last year, and where is there work still to be done?
Legwold: We asked Elway that question Sunday when Sanders arrived as the latest signing. Elway's response was: "I do think we're better, especially when you consider we had five starters on defense on injured reserve last year. When I could move those names off IR, back onto our roster board, I felt a lot better about our team even before free agency opened. And now we added some guys who we think are the right kind of guys and who fill some big needs for us."
The Broncos' goal has been to use free agency to fill what Elway has called "glaring needs" so they can continue to draft the best available guys, no matter the position. They still need some depth on the offensive line, a middle linebacker who would play only in the base, and they will look at wide receiver and cornerback in the draft as well.
Congrats to Talib .... Def well deserved contract— Vince Wilfork (@wilfork75) March 12, 2014
Wilfork's own contract situation bears watching; that was the first thought that came to mind when seeing the tweet.
Wilfork is scheduled to earn a base salary of $7.5 million in 2014 and count $11.6 million against the salary cap. The dynamics behind that situation were detailed last week.
Sometimes the New England Patriots lose players in free agency and it seems like an unwillingness to move enough off their negotiating stance is the primary reason. What unfolded late Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning was something altogether different.
When cornerback Aqib Talib reached a six-year, $57 million contract with the Denver Broncos that included $26 million in bonuses and guarantees, it was simply a case of another team taking things to the outer-most limits that didn’t seem possible when the process began.
The Patriots weren’t going there because of Talib’s injury history, and when the emotion is stripped away from the shock of the team losing its No. 1 corner, can you honestly blame them?
This is the part of free agency that makes it so hard to project; all it takes is one team to blow things out of the water, and that’s what the Broncos did with Talib, who instantly upgrades their secondary and makes the Patriots weaker.
The Patriots went into their negotiation with Talib in recent weeks with that in mind. The Broncos didn’t, and that was obvious with the final contract numbers.
Furthermore, Talib’s signing highlights the differing core philosophies between the two franchises who vied for the AFC championship last season. They couldn’t be approaching things from more opposite end zones.
If the Broncos’ aggressive approach produces a Super Bowl championship in 2014 and then a steep drop-off in future years because this type of approach is hard to sustain, the locals in Denver probably won’t mind one bit. In fact, it’s what some in New England have been calling for the Patriots do as quarterback Tom Brady’s “window” gets shorter and shorter.
“I don’t ever believe in selling your soul for a bowl of [porridge],” Kraft said recently on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Well, the Broncos just heated up one extra-large bowl of porridge.
Now the Patriots, long prideful of their slow-but-steady successful approach, are left to pick up the pieces without Talib. The pressure intensifies to do so.
There are still some solid cornerbacks for the taking, including one -- Darrelle Revis -- who would be an instant upgrade over Talib. But Revis likely won’t come cheap either, and we still have doubts about that ultimately unfolding.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as a free agent; it will likely be a lot cheaper to do so, both in total dollars and length of commitment. And while Rodgers-Cromartie isn’t as complete a corner as Talib, he has similar coverage skills in his ability to play man and hold his own. Tarell Brown (49ers), Antonio Cromartie (Jets), Cortland Finnegan (Rams), Brandon Browner (Seahawks), Walter Thurmond (Seahawks) and Tracy Porter (Raiders) are a few other options on the market.
Surely, the Patriots would have preferred to keep Talib if price tags weren’t an issue.
But as it turned out, this was one of those rare cases where the cost was so far out of line that the discipline to walk away trumps all.
CONGRATS TO MY BROTHER LIB! YOU DESERVE IT BIG BRO! THE BEST CORNER IN THE LEAGUE AND ITS TIME YOU GOT PAID LIKE IT!! pic.twitter.com/cem22QtKJ2— LeGarrette Blount (@LG_Blount) March 12, 2014
What a great guy!! Glad I got a chance to not only play with you but, have the chance to compete against you everyday! Congrats my boy, Aqib— Kenbrell Thompkins (@KTdaWinner) March 12, 2014
Wow! Congrats to Libb aka Talib! Great teammate! Wish him well!!— Chandler Jones (@Chan95Jones) March 12, 2014
The Patriots weren't going to pay that, and given Talib's injury history, the team might have a more-understanding-than-the-norm fan base after losing such a key player.
A few initial thoughts:
Darrelle Revis really be in play for the Patriots? I've considered it a long shot to this point, but Talib's defection, coupled with the Buccaneers' plans to release Revis if a trade can't be consummated, alters the picture a bit. I still think a more likely option is a free agent like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or even Cortland Finnegan, both of whom would likely come on shorter-term, lower-money deals. But depending on what market unfolds for Revis, the thought can no longer be dismissed as strictly a fantasy.
Franchise tag regrets? If the Patriots projected that this would be the market for Talib, one wonders if they might have more strongly considered the franchise tag on a one-year deal ($11.8 million), even though it would have been a big hit on their cap. This deal for Talib highlights how the cornerback market has exploded this year. I'm not sure many saw this coming after last year's buyer's market at the position.
Talib's presence will be missed -- on and off the field. The Patriots took a risk in trading a fourth-round draft choice for Talib in November 2012, but Talib was, by almost all accounts, a model citizen on and off the field in his 1.5 seasons in New England. Players and coaches noted how he brought a presence to the meeting room, and on the field, his ability to match up with opponents' top pass-catchers was something coaches built game plans around. It goes without saying, this is a big hit to the Patriots' defense.
football journey" from this past January. He was a great interview.
Denver's window vs. Patriots' long-range approach. There is a significant philosophical difference in the way the Broncos and Patriots build their teams, and this move epitomizes it. The Broncos were one of the NFL's most aggressive teams, in terms of free-agent spending, on Day 1 of the 2014 league year. And they might not be done, with former Cowboys pass-rushing stud DeMarcus Ware reportedly set for a visit. Last year, they also poached receiver Wes Welker from the Patriots. They are all-in. Those moves run in contrast with the Patriots' slow-but-steady approach.
The biggest takeaways from the day:
All quiet surrounding Aqib Talib ... until Denver pounced. With top cornerbacks Brent Grimes (Dolphins), Sam Shields (Packers) and Vontae Davis (Colts) re-signing with their teams, and Alterraun Verner (Buccaneers) inking a deal late Tuesday, it initially left Talib as the top remaining corner on the market. Verner’s reported deal (4 years, $26.5 million, $14 million guaranteed) came in low compared to the other top corners and at that moment, from a Patriots perspective, it seemed like a positive development that Talib didn’t generate an immediate market. But then the Broncos swooped in with a big-money deal for Talib that was a shocker.
Wesley Woodyard an early target. With a top linebacker trio of Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, the Patriots weren’t forecast to be aggressive at the position early in free agency. But Woodyard’s availability had the Patriots springing to action to bring the former Denver Bronco to town on Wednesday, and Woodyard is scheduled to visit the Tennessee Titans after coming to Foxborough, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson. It’s rare to see the Patriots target an undersized linebacker this aggressively, but with more of the game being played in sub defenses (67 percent of the snaps for New England in 2013), it appears that the Patriots view a speedy, coverage-based 'backer as an important addition.
Dane Fletcher draws early visit. If you had Fletcher taking a free-agent visit (Tampa Bay) before fellow linebacker Brandon Spikes, you might consider buying a lottery ticket. That Fletcher has drawn such early interest likely punches his ticket out of town. Woodyard, if he’s signed, would immediately slide into that type of role and would represent an upgrade.
Isaac Sopoaga’s contract remains unchanged. While it seems unlikely that the Patriots will keep Sopoaga on the roster at a $3.5 million base salary, there has been no change in the veteran defensive tackle’s status. One possible reason: Until the Patriots have some clarity with Vince Wilfork’s contract situation (he’s scheduled to earn $7.5 million in base salary but the club might be looking for an adjustment of some kind), they might be more inclined to hold on to Sopoaga.
Baltimore Ravens reportedly have some interest, according to The Baltimore Sun, but it’s unclear at what level.
Edelman’s situation appears strikingly similar to the position that Welker found himself in last year, as Welker himself had to drum up interest with the Broncos and then ultimately come to grips with a contract that wasn’t as rich as what he had initially hoped for.
In the end, Welker found it easier to accept that type of contract from the Broncos than the team he felt he had given everything he had for six seasons. It stands to reason that Edelman might harbor some type of feelings along those lines as well, given that the Patriots invested big in Amendola last year, and not with him.
So the Patriots have some sensitive ground to navigate as they’d still like to retain Edelman. All told, that’s probably the biggest difference between Welker/2013 and Edelman/2014; there doesn’t seem to be as much urgency from the team to move on to Plan B this year, in part because it’s a buyer’s market for receivers.
Perhaps there will be a breakthrough on Wednesday.
As has often been the case with the Patriots, the activity usually picks up after the initial flurry of moves.
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).
Key free agents: CB Aqib Talib, WR Julian Edelman, RB LeGarrette Blount, LB Brandon Spikes, C Ryan Wendell
Where they stand: The Patriots would like Talib back, and Brent Grimes' four-year, $32 million contract with $16 million guaranteed in Miami provides a ballpark for the marketplace. Is that too rich for the Patriots? The club would also like Edelman back, but after investing in a receiver with a similar skill set last offseason (Danny Amendola), it will be interesting to see how far the Patriots are willing to extend to do so. Talib is the key piece, and similar to Wes Welker last year, it makes sense to think the team will quickly move to Plan B if a deal isn't struck by the start of free agency.
What to expect: The Patriots aren't flush with cap space, and Bill Belichick often says that free agency is one slice of the team-building process, along with the draft and trades. A focus on retaining their own, with a few complementary pieces from other teams added in free agency, would be our best guess as to how the Patriots approach things in 2014. Key spots in addition to retaining Talib and Edelman are adding a more dynamic presence at tight end, more pass-rush help and depth at defensive tackle.
1. Contingency plans if free agents Aqib Talib and Julian Edelman do not return.
2. Talib and how his market is affected by Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes.
3. Would the Patriots ever consider an offer for tight end Jimmy Graham?
4. The possibility of signing a hard-hitting strong safety ... or someone like Louis Delmas.
5. Danny Amendola reportedly being floated in trade discussions.
6. A closer look at what type of tight end the Patriots might consider in the draft.
This means that Talib can hit the open market without restrictions on March 11. He can start negotiating with other teams on March 8.
Talib, who turned 28 on Feb. 13, quickly emerged as the Patriots' No. 1 cornerback after he was acquired in a trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in November 2012. He was a free agent last offseason, as well, re-signing with the Patriots on a one-year, $5 million deal.
"[Talib] wasn't on the field a lot of the time since he's been with us," Kraft said at the Super Bowl. "It's a balance, of us balancing all that out and what is he worth. I think he's happy here and would like to be here. We're happy with him and we'd like to have him here. Now it's just about doing business."
Talib played 13 games in the regular season in 2013. He was often used to match up against opponents' top pass-catchers, from Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson to New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham. Talib totaled four interceptions, and coaches credited him with 13 pass deflections as he earned his first career Pro Bowl berth.
1. In 2012, Talib ranked last in the NFL among cornerbacks in yards per attempt against (11.6).
2. Durability issues, as he has not played a full 16-game season in his six years in the NFL.
3. "Hit or miss" ball skills, as evidenced by him going without an interception in his final nine games of 2013.
Of the three categories, the second one is the primary factor that would concern me if I was on the other side of the negotiating table.
While Talib has given up some big plays (e.g. versus Steve Smith and Josh Gordon last season), part of that is because of the confidence the Patriots have in him, which in turn leaves him with less help/support. The Patriots build game plans, in part, around Talib's ability to match up with an opponent's top pass-catching threat with limited help. And I think Talib's ball skills are generally very good; if there is a pass that can be intercepted, he is not only adept at making the play, but also creating something that might otherwise not be there.
It's really the health, and to a lesser degree, the question of whether Talib's approach might at all be affected by having a bit more financial security.
Health questions aren't unique when it comes to top cornerbacks.
Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes, who signed a four-year contract worth up to $32 million on Monday, is one notable example of this. It's easy to forget now, but he was limited to one game in 2012 because of a season-ending Achilles injury, and played in 12 of 16 games the year before that. He's coming off a 16-game season in 2013, which paved the way for his extension.
Total value: $32 million
Bonuses/guarantees: $16 million
There are still a few more details that would help us gain a better understanding of the deal, such as how much of the bonuses/guarantees are paid up front and how much of the bonus/guaranteed money is deferred.
But from an average-per-year standpoint ($8 million) and a bonuses/guarantees standpoint ($16 million), the initial details of the deal come in a bit higher than I would have originally thought. After a softer cornerback market in 2013, Grimes' deal -- per this initial report -- looks strong.
My initial reaction is that the price for Talib just went up a bit based on where I thought it might be.
I think the Patriots would do this type of deal for Talib if the $16 million in bonuses/guarantees was split into multiple parts -- such as $6 million up front, $5 million in a 2015 option bonus and another $5 million in 2016. The idea would be to protect against injury concerns and not have the full total of bonuses/guarantees paid up front where all the risk falls on the team side.
If another team was willing to pay more of it up front, I could see that being a deal-breaker from the Patriots' perspective.
Alterraun Verner (Titans) -- Jim Wyatt, the ace beat reporter from the Tennessean, has maintained for weeks that the club isn't expected to use the tag but would still like to retain him.
Vontae Davis (Colts) -- Similar to the Patriots with Talib, the Colts are working on a deal to retain Davis. Even if it isn't completed by Monday's deadline, the Colts don't plan to use the franchise tag on Davis, per Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com.
Brent Grimes (Dolphins) -- Another similar situation to the Patriots and Talib, the Dolphins have targeted Grimes as their top priority in the cornerback market. They don't plan to use the tag to retain him, but ProFootballTalk.com cites a source saying a long-term deal is more likely than not. (Update: The Dolphins announced they have re-signed Grimes. It is a four-year deal, Grimes tells ESPN's Josina Anderson.)
Aqib Talib (Patriots) -- The expectation is that the Patriots will follow the same path as the Titans, Colts and Dolphins and pass on the franchise tag for Talib while continuing to work on a longer-term deal.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Broncos) -- Not considered a franchise-tag candidate, the Broncos still hope to retain him, which puts him in a similar situation as the other top cornerbacks.
QUICK-HIT THOUGHTS: The snapshot above reflects that it would be a surprise if any of the top cornerbacks receive the franchise tag by Monday's deadline. The $11.8 million on a one-year tender is a big hit on the salary cap, and the feeling from here has been that would be the ballpark in bonuses/guarantees that a team like the Patriots might be thinking on a longer-term deal with Talib. This is a time when teams/agents are getting a better feel for what the market might be for a No. 1 cornerback (it was a bit soft last year) and once the first domino falls, the others figure to follow soon after. It's just a matter of which one falls first. That's why we'll be keeping a close eye on Verner, Davis, Grimes and Rodgers-Cromartie, in addition to Talib. With Grimes re-signing Monday, the next step is getting a closer look at the specific financial terms because they should provide a framework for where the Patriots and Talib might potentially wind up.
Let's follow that up today, as Greg Bedard of TheMMQB.com has released the rest of his list (players 1-50) and the CBSSports.com tandem of Pete Prisco and Pat Kirwan has also unveiled theirs as well.
Bedard has cornerback Aqib Talib as the No. 17 overall free agent.
"An unquestioned passion for the game and shutdown ability, but he's never played 16 games and his off-field problems aren't that far removed," Bedard writes, before adding that Talib's best fit is back in New England. "Both sides are comfortable with him there, and other teams might be reluctant to give him a big deal."
Bedard has Talib as the third best corner on the market, behind Tennessee's Alterraun Verner (No. 9) and Miami's Brent Grimes (No. 15).
Meanwhile, the Prisco/Kirwan list has Talib at No. 19 and the fourth overall cornerback behind Verner, the Colts' Vontae Davis, and Grimes.
Other Patriots on the list include:
No. 31 -- Julian Edelman
No. 68 -- Brandon Spikes
No. 95 -- LeGarrette Blount
No. 132 -- Ryan Wendell
QUICK-HIT THOUGHTS: With some top cornerbacks all hitting the market at the same time, this could be a case where all it takes is for one domino to fall before the others fall into place. In that sense, when projecting Talib's potential return to New England, it almost can't be mentioned without factoring in Verner, Davis and Grimes because they all figure to be in the same general market.
1. CB Aqib Talib -- Difference-maker when healthy and added a different dynamic to the cornerbacks room since November of 2012. A top priority for the team.
2. WR Julian Edelman -- Deserves everything coming to him after a terrific 2013 season. Patriots would obviously like him back, but if another team ups the bidding, he's probably gone.
3. RB LeGarrette Blount -- Mutual interest in his return. A player who seemingly has more value to the Patriots than most others, which makes us think it's a greater likelihood he's back.
4. LB Brandon Spikes -- The way 2013 ended makes it unlikely he returns.
5. C Ryan Wendell -- A scrappy heady performer, Wendell maximizes his talents. I don't evision the Patriots extending their budget to ensure his return, but if a market doesn't develop for him, he'd surely be welcome back in a situation where there might be top competition for the No. 1 job.
6. TE Michael Hoomanawanui-- Played his role well in 2013. Would think he's back unless another team unexpectedly ups the ante.
7. LB Dane Fletcher -- One of the Patriots' best special teams players. Would think there is a competitive bid to retain him.
8. DE Andre Carter -- They don't get much better from a locker-room perspective, but we'd be surprised if the team makes his return a priority at this point.
9. TE Matthew Mulligan -- More of a blocking presence, he filled his role well in 2013. Although the Patriots will probably look to add to the position, it wouldn't be a surprise if Mulligan competes for a roster spot again.
10. WR Austin Collie -- Veteran was dependable and should warrant serious consideration to re-sign.
11-. OT Will Svitek -- Smart, versatile veteran probably will see his spot go to a youngster, unless Sebastian Vollmer's recovery doesn't look promising.