New England Patriots: Free agency

Schefter's insights on Edelman, Wilfork

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
11:40
AM ET
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter was on the “Mike and Mike in the Morning” show on ESPN Radio on Friday (listen to the podcast here ) and discussed a couple of topics of interest to New England Patriots fans:

Edelman
On Julian Edelman: Schefter predicts the receiver market will start playing itself out today. So where do the Patriots stand with Edelman, who is visiting the 49ers?

“[The Patriots are] trying to re-sign Julian Edelman, they want him back. But they want him back at a price and a number they have in mind,” Schefter said. “The Patriots have been pretty responsible and pretty thoughtful of the marketplace for certain players. So, they’ve given Julian Edelman an offer. Clearly, it’s not to his satisfaction. So it’s up to him to play this game, which isn’t really a game, it’s his business, to go out there to see, does San Francisco or another team value me more than New England? And if they do, how much more, and is it worth it to me to move? That’s what we’re going to find out today.

“I know [the 49ers are] interested. I spoke to them. We’ll see what happens with Julian Edelman there.”

Wilfork
On Vince Wilfork: There has been some speculation that perhaps Wilfork’s request for the Patriots to cut him was somehow tied to the team handing out big money to Darrelle Revis, but Schefter says that is not the case.

“Revis and Wilfork are completely unrelated,” he said. “What happened was Vince Wilfork told the Patriots weeks ago, days ago, a long time ago, 'I am not taking a pay cut, I’m not doing that.’ So now New England is in a situation much like the Dallas Cowboys were when DeMarcus Ware said ‘I’m not going to take a pay cut.’

“So you get into these situations where the agent’s got to figure out the player’s value. He’s got to call around and say ‘Hey what’s Vince Wilfork worth to you on the open market? If he were to be free what would you be willing to pay him.’ You get a general idea of what your client would be worth on the open market.”

Schefter explained that Wilfork’s agent would compare the feedback he got from other teams to the restructured deal the Patriots are offering and decide from there the preferred route.

“Right now they’re in a standoff,” Schefter said. “The way it was described to me last night, it’s probably best for Vince Wilfork just to take a step back and we’ll see how the situation plays out. It’s not like we’re going to get an answer on this today. ... This is something that is its own negotiation even though he’s under contract.”

Source: WR Jason Avant visits with Pats

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
8:00
PM ET
The Patriots had free-agent wide receiver Jason Avant in for a visit, according to a league source.

Avant, who was recently released by the Eagles, has played his entire eight-year career in Philadelphia after being selected in the fourth round of the 2006 draft out of Michigan.

He has career totals of 297 catches for 3,646 yards, with 38 catches for 447 yards and two touchdowns last season. He's regarded as having standout hands, though he is not an explosive athlete at this stage of his career.

It's the fourth documented visit for the team in free agency, and the second wide receiver, as former Panther Brandon LaFell also was in on Wednesday.

Colleague Mike Reiss previously explored the fit for Avant in two posts on ESPNBoston.com (Free-agent fit: Wide receiver and Exploring Jason Avant as a possible fit).

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?

I can’t.

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.

[+] EnlargeAqib Talib
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesAqib Talib's injury history likely gave the Patriots pause about offering him a big, long-term deal.
Talib was terrific in his 1.5 seasons here, putting forth a body of work that was as impressive as we’ve seen since Ty Law was making big plays from 1995-2004. The Patriots had finally found a matchup No. 1 corner, and it was clear how much they valued it because game plans seemed to be built around him. Players and coaches loved Talib, but there was one caveat: His durability and injury history was shaky, as he didn’t finish either of the past two AFC Championship Games.

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.

SportsNation

Should the Patriots have been willing to pony up the $57 million over six years ($26M guaranteed) that the Broncos gave Aqib Talib?

  •  
    14%
  •  
    86%

Discuss (Total votes: 24,772)

But the Patriots don’t believe in that, in part because of the high injury rate in football, as owner Robert Kraft explained at the Super Bowl.

“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.

SportsNation

Now that Aqib Talib is gone, what should the Patriots do to replace him?

  •  
    57%
  •  
    43%

Discuss (Total votes: 16,158)

A more likely scenario, it seems, would be to simply “trade” cornerbacks with the Broncos and sign 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.

Patriots may be willing to wait out Edelman

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
10:45
PM ET
The initial hours of NFL free agency produced the expected frenzy, and the New England Patriots, as they often do, remained on the sidelines. If recent history is any indication, things should now start picking up, with a surprise or two along the way.

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.

[+] Enlarge Julian Edelman
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesJulian Edelman's timing in hitting the free agent market doesn't seem to be in his favor.
Receiver market soft. Julian Edelman has to be wondering what he has to do to catch a break. Last year at this time, the Patriots were so concerned with missing out on receiver Danny Amendola that they moved quickly away from Wes Welker when the market opened and forked over a five-year, $28.5 million deal with $10 million in bonuses and guarantees. But the receiver market is much softer this year -- the biggest signing at the position Tuesday was Dexter McCluster in Tennessee (3 years, up to $12 million) -- and the timing is tough for Edelman, who is coming off a 105-catch season.

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.

SportsNation

After we get word that Julian Edelman will indeed hit the free market, are you worried about his future with the team?

  •  
    75%
  •  
    25%

Discuss (Total votes: 9,883)

Of all the Patriots-related activity from free agency, the situation with the most layers to dissect was with Edelman. The door isn’t closed on his return, as the sides are keeping open dialogue, but it’s clear that whatever Edelman hoped would be there for him on the open market -- expectations fueled by the contract the Patriots handed out last offseason to Amendola -- hasn’t materialized at this point. The 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.

Schefter: Watch out for Pats on Revis

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
10:15
AM ET
News that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to release cornerback Darrelle Revis by 4 p.m. Wednesday if they can’t trade him before then has Patriots fans buzzing.

Would the Patriots, whose top need is at cornerback, be among the teams to go after Revis if he hits the market? ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter isn’t counting out that possibility:



Revis is scheduled to make $16 million next season as part of a deal that would be voided if he is released by Tampa Bay. He would instantly be the best available defensive back on the market, so his price tag will still be high for teams looking to bid on his services.

SportsNation

Which path would you prefer to see the Patriots take to fill their void at cornerback?

  •  
    46%
  •  
    40%
  •  
    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 16,669)

The Patriots don’t typically get in the bidding for big-ticket free agents like Revis, but would they make an exception in this case? That is Question No. 1 on the minds of Patriots fans this morning.

It’s not like they don’t have options. They might prefer, for example, to re-sign incumbent cornerback Aqib Talib to a multi-year deal at a lesser price, which would mean they could spend more money elsewhere to fill another need.

Which direction would you like to see them go? Vote in the accompanying poll to have your say.

Schefter: Patriots have eye on OT Winston

March, 20, 2013
3/20/13
9:40
AM ET
The Patriots are interested in free agent right tackle Eric Winston, a league source told ESPN's NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Winston was released by the Chiefs earlier this offseason just one year into a four-year free agent deal that made him one of the highest paid right tackles in the NFL. The Chiefs have turned their franchise over this offseason, and could be in the market for an offensive tackle with the first overall pick.

Winston is regarded as a strong zone blocking scheme offensive lineman who is capable as a pass protector. He stands at 6-foot-7 and just over 300 pounds, and has started in 103 of 108 career games played.

From a Patriots perspective, the interest in Winston could be tied to free agent tackle Sebastian Vollmer, who many believe to be the top remaining offensive lineman on the market. There's been little buzz about Vollmer's status in free agency thus far, but if he is signed elsewhere, the Patriots could add Winston to compete for the starting job.

Vollmer is likely looking for a deal that competes with other contracts signed by right tackles this offseason, highlighted by a five-year, $34 million deal given to Gosder Cherilus by the Colts that includes $10 million in guaranteed money.

Schefter reports that Winston is in Miami today to visit the Dolphins, and also has interest from the Eagles, Chargers and Cowboys.

Wes Welker deserved better

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
9:32
AM ET
In a story now posted on ESPNBoston.com, Mike Reiss writes on how the business end of football bit Wes Welker and wonders: If Welker had read the free-agency landscape better, would he still be a Patriot?
This wasn't the way it was supposed to be for Welker, who was an unrestricted veteran free agent for the first time in his career. When asked Thursday what Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway said to him to close the deal, Welker told reporters he was actually the one doing the "pitching."

So more than anything, this was about Welker thinking that market would be kinder to him, while the Patriots were fighting the early free-agency clock.

As for the temptation to think that the club's move away from Welker is reflective of a shifting of their offensive philosophy, it isn't. The offense naturally evolves each season, but that had nothing to do with the decision. In fact, part of the reason the Patriots felt like a quick decision had to be made was that if there was one player on the market who most closely resembled Welker as a potent option in the slot, it was Amendola. There was really no one else.

As for Welker, he ultimately found himself in a tough spot. He's a player whose expertise is reading coverages and adjusting accordingly; reading the free-agent market and relying on the professional advice of others to help guide him is something altogether different.

Maybe it all works out for the best and the move to Denver is the best thing to happen to him. But on Thursday, it seemed like everything was still too fresh, part of his heart with his new team, the other part still back in New England.

To read the piece, CLICK HERE.

Source: Freeney will visit Patriots today

March, 15, 2013
3/15/13
8:58
AM ET
In addition to safety Adrian Wilson and defensive end John Abraham, free-agent linebacker Dwight Freeney will visit the Patriots on Friday, sources confirmed to ESPN.

SportsNation

Of these three free agents visiting the Patriots on Friday, which would you most like to see sign with the team?

  •  
    27%
  •  
    22%
  •  
    51%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,750)

Freeney, whom Patriots quarterback Tom Brady rarely passes up the opportunity to praise, had 5 sacks and just 12 tackles in 14 games in 2012. He recently turned 33.

Drafted 11th overall by the Colts in 2002, Freeney is the franchise's career sacks leader (107.5), the only Colts player to win a league sacks title (16 in 2004) and his seven Pro Bowl appearances are tied for fifth in franchise-history with Lenny Moore. The only Colts with more Pro Bowl selections are Peyton Manning (11), Gino Marchetti and John Unitas (10 each) and Jim Parker (eight). Marchetti, Unitas, Parker and Moore are all Hall of Fame members, and Marchetti is the only Colts' defender to appear in more all-star games than Freeney.

Freeney was most effective in the traditional 4-3 defense, and after switching to the 3-4 for the first time last season, Freeney saw his numbers drop.

[+] EnlargeFreeney
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesDwight Freeney's production has been on a steady decline.
His 2012 statistics continued a steady decline over the past few seasons. In 2011, he had 19 tackles and 8.5 sacks, which was down from 25 tackles and 10 sacks in 2010. And that was down from 2009 when Freeney had 31 tackles and 13.5 sacks.

Wilson, recently released by the Cardinals has played 12 seasons in the NFL, all with Arizona, totaling 894 tackles, 27 interceptions and 25.5 sacks. He is one of just six players in NFL history with 25 or more sacks and 25 or more interceptions. He, too, is 33.

A former third-round pick out of North Carolina State, Wilson is a five-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time All-Pro choice.

Abraham, 34, finished the 2012 season with 10 sacks as a member of the Falcons, who recently released him due to salary-cap ramifications.

He was originally drafted by the Jets in the first round back in 2000, and played for them for five seasons. He has 122 career sacks in 12 seasons, including seven seasons with double-digit sacks.

Abraham has recently visited both the Seahawks and 49ers.

Three-point stance: Moving on from Welker

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
10:36
AM ET

Wes Welker's production with the Patriots over the last six years is close to that of Tom Brady's top receiving duo in his three Super Bowl seasons. Brady’s two best receivers averaged a combined 119 catches in their three Super Bowl-winning seasons (2001, 2003 and 2004). From 2007-12, Welker alone averaged 112 catches per season, but the Patriots were 6-5 in the playoffs since Welker joined the team (12-2 over Brady’s career before Welker).

1. Brady already has other options: So what will change for the Patriots without Welker? The change really began in the 2010 draft, when New England selected Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Since that draft, the Patriots have the highest percentage of receiving production coming from tight ends in the league. Gronkowski (who will be 24 in Week 1 of 2013) and Hernandez (23) are both under contract through the 2017 season.

2. Can Amendola fill Welker’s shoes?: The Patriots will still need that underneath presence. New England targeted slot receivers on 38.6 percent of pass plays last season, highest in the league. Welker’s average target distance was 6.7 yards downfield over the last four seasons (second lowest in the league). The only player with a shorter average target in the last four seasons? Danny Amendola.

Amendola is no stranger to the role Welker had in New England, having worked with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in St. Louis. In fact, Amendola nearly matched Welker's per-game production when lined up in the slot last season. Welker also had 13 drops (four in two playoff games), more than twice the number of the next closest slot receiver.

3. Can the cap space be better used?: Welker will earn $12 million over the next two years in guaranteed money, more than what Amendola’s guaranteed money has been reported ($10 million) for a longer contract. The Patriots may consider redistributing that cap space to their defense.

In New England’s three Super Bowl-winning seasons, the Patriots ranked eighth, sixth and fourth respectively in percentage of salary cap spent on defense. New England was a top-10 defensive unit in yards allowed for each of those seasons.

In recent years, Patriots have invested heavily in the offense. New England’s spending on defense ranked 29th last season, and the Patriots have ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in each of the last four seasons. Over that same time frame, the Patriots’ defense ranked 30th in yards allowed, and 31st in completions allowed, first downs allowed and yards per pass attempt allowed.

The last three Super Bowl champions ranked in the top seven in cash spent on defense. It might help New England to invest these resources on that side of the ball.

Compiled by Doug Clawson, Hank Gargiulo and John Parolin with salary data from Roster Management System.

Report: Receiver Jones visiting Patriots

March, 14, 2013
3/14/13
9:19
AM ET
A day after signing free-agent wide receiver Danny Amendola, the Patriots will host former Bills wideout Donald Jones, according to Tim Graham of the Buffalo News.

Jones, 25, spent three years in Buffalo after being undrafted out of Youngstown State. The Bills declined to tender him as a restricted free agent this offseason, allowing him to hit the open market.

The 6-foot, 208-pound Jones set career highs in catches (43), yards (443) and touchdowns (4) in 2012, serving as one of Buffalo's secondary targets in their multiple-WR sets.

In two games against the Patriots in 2012, Jones totaled eight catches for 164 yards, including a touchdown in each contest; he had a career-long catch of 68 yards in the Week 4 matchup in Buffalo.

The Patriots have only Amendola and Brandon Lloyd as established wide receivers under contract for 2013.

Calculating what Welker meant to Patriots

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
7:28
PM ET
A roundup of Wes Welker-related trends and numbers that come into play as the Patriots adapt without their leading receiver:

* Welker leads the NFL with 672 receptions since joining the Patriots in 2007, 80 more than any other player over that span.

* Welker has the most seasons with 100 receptions (five) in NFL history. He had all five with the Patriots.

* Welker leaves the Patriots as the team’s career leader in receptions. He will return to New England this season, when the Patriots host the Broncos on a to-be-determined date. The Patriots beat the Broncos 31-21 in New England in Week 5 last season.

* Welker has led all receivers in yards after the catch in 4 of the last 5 seasons.

* Welker led the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving first downs when lined up in the slot in 2012. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning completed a league-high 71.7 percent of his passes to slot receivers last season.

* How will Welker’s departure affect Tom Brady? Over the last 4 seasons, Brady has completed 72.7 percent of his passes to Welker, second to only Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson among QB-WR combinations with at least 200 targets over that span.

* Since the start of 2009, Brady has targeted Welker 616 times. No other Patriots wide receiver has more than 184 targets (Deion Branch) during that time.

* According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Welker could become the 13th player to have both Brady and Manning as a teammate (minimum 1 game played with each). He would join players such as Adam Vinatieri, Dan Koppen and Tyrone Poole.

* Welker stays close to the line of scrimmage. Only Danny Amendola (6 yards) has a shorter average target depth than Welker (6.7 yards) among wide receivers over the last 4 seasons. Since the start of 2008, 85 percent of Welker’s receptions have been within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. No other wide receiver has had a higher rate of receptions within 10 yards during that time.

* Welker led the NFL in receptions, receiving yards and receiving first downs out of the slot last season. He had more of each when lined up in the slot than all Broncos wide receivers combined.

* Manning completed 71.7 percent of his passes to slot receivers last year, best among all quarterbacks with at least 50 targets to slot receivers.

* Welker, Drew Brees, Larry Fitzgerald and Joe Thomas are the only offensive players to make the Pro Bowl in each of the last 5 seasons.

Details of Chung, Thomas deals

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
1:52
PM ET
While the Patriots have yet to sign any free-agent deals, a pair of their own free agents have already found new teams: Safety Patrick Chung is now an Eagle and guard Donald Thomas a Colt.

Prior to free agency beginning, we projected that both Chung and Thomas would land elsewhere, with an estimate of three years and $12 million for Chung and four years and $14 million for Thomas.

The financial details for each of their deals are starting to trickle in, giving us some context on their departures.

According to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chung's deal will span three-years with a maximum value of $10 million, $3.25 million of which is guaranteed. Given that Chung had fallen down the Patriots' depth chart, those figures far exceed what they likely would have been willing to pay to bring him back. Chung has a strong chance to start in Philadelphia, as their safety group struggled in 2012.

Thomas, meanwhile, has in fact landed a four-year deal worth $14 million, according to Pro Football Talk. That represents a handsome raise for the 27-year old, and is a sign that he's viewed as a starter in Indianapolis. The Patriots probably viewed Thomas as a starting-caliber talent as well, but with Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly under contract, paying Thomas that much money to be a reserve was too steep.

Schefter: What's going on with Welker

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
10:46
AM ET


It’s been tough to read the tea leaves on where things stand with free-agent receiver Wes Welker and the Patriots, but ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter seemed to accurately sum it up this morning on SportsCenter (video above):

“Everybody is waiting on Wes Welker, to see exactly what is going on here. ... The fact of the matter is, if there was a big offer on the table at the outset of free agency, he would have taken that.

“I don’t think anybody really knows exactly what’s going on with Wes Welker at this point in time. This could go on for just a little bit of time. The one thing we know is, he doesn’t seem wedded to the idea of being back in New England. I don’t think any of his actions are such that you’d say he’s a sure thing to be back in New England.

“I think he’s going to go out there, he’s going to test, he’s going to talk to teams. He’s going to see if there’s a team out there willing to pay him. If there is a team willing to pay him, I think he’s willing to leave New England.”

Scouting report: Josh Cribbs

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
10:05
AM ET
Tuesday was a quiet first day of free agency for the Patriots, the biggest buzz linking them to a former Kent State quarterback turned NFL wide receiver. And we’re not talking about Julian Edelman, the team’s own free agent who is on the open market for the first time in his career.

[+] EnlargeJosh Cribbs
AP Photo/Mark DuncanLike Julian Edelman, Josh Cribbs was a Kent State quarterback who trasitioned into a receiving and return role in the NFL.
The name that was most discussed in reports is longtime Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs, who like Edelman transitioned positions successfully after his days as the Golden Flash's signal caller.

Cribbs, who will turn 30 in June, was named to his third Pro Bowl last season as a kick returner, an area in which he has excelled during his career. His eight career kickoff returns for touchdowns are tied for an NFL record, and he's added three more punt returns for a touchdown. His work in Cleveland earned him a spot on the NFL's All-Decade team for the 2000s.

His most productive offensive year came in 2011, when he finished with 41 receptions for 518 yards and four touchdowns, but Cribbs was limited to just seven catches last season.

Here's a brief scouting report on Cribbs both as an offensive and special teams player.

OFFENSE

Alignment. Cribbs aligned as a "Z" receiver for Cleveland, which most often places him on the perimeter of the formation to the tight end side (one yard off the line of scrimmage). As previously mentioned, his role in 2012 was limited on offense, but he has previously been used as a "Wildcat" quarterback and on jet motion across the formation for wide receiver sweeps.

Skills. Cribbs has very good quickness, good initial burst and good straight-line speed. He's a sufficient route runner, but doesn't run an extensive tree. He is at his best on routes that come back toward the line of scrimmage, as he is able to use his length and frame (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) to leverage and wall off defenders. He has short, choppy steps at the top of his routes and doesn't extend from defensive backs, but can win in competitive catch situations with his frame. He has a tendency to let the ball come close to his chest before catching it, but has reliable hands on the whole. He's not an elite change-of-direction player, but he has very good contact strength and can take on hits in the open field.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Roles. This is where Cribbs has excelled throughout his career, and not just as a gifted returner. He has been a sensational coverage player on special teams, highlighted by 70 tackles during his first four seasons. He can play on the kickoff coverage team and has the skills and toughness to work as a gunner as well. Of course, he's also a punt and kickoff returner.

Skills. Unlike many of the best returners in today's NFL, Cribbs is not an elite speed player. He has very good speed and ability to separate when a path clears, but it's his ability to see lanes, break tackles and avoid contact that make him unique. He has an excellent spin move to dodge tacklers and is tough with the football in his hands. He has good instincts and was one of the best return men in the NFL last season. He averaged 27.4 yards per kick return (fourth in the NFL) and 12 yards per punt return (sixth).

PATRIOTS ASSESSMENT

Based off of a film study of Cribbs, he offers depth for the Patriots at wide receiver and would be a core special teams player. If Wes Welker and Edelman are retained, Cribbs would sit behind both on the depth chart, but Josh McDaniels would likely find ways to get creative with his skill set. He's not an every-down receiver, but he's a chess piece who can be used in specific roles.

On special teams, Cribbs would give the Patriots a ready-made return option on both punts and kickoffs. Jeff Demps figures to factor into that equation as well, and certainly holds the edge from a speed perspective. Cribbs can play on core special teams units as well, although not at the same level that he was at early in his career (his impact was much like Matthew Slater's today).

While not a splashy pickup, Cribbs is a dependable veteran who would add value in two phases of the game.

Patriots 'survive' opening flurry

March, 12, 2013
3/12/13
7:55
PM ET
Some initial thoughts after the four-hour frenzy to open free agency:

Over the last month, we've spent a lot of time in this space talking about the "Big 3" of Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer, and the Patriots' chances of retaining them.

All three hit the free-agent market at 4 p.m. ET, and it would have only taken one team to blow them away with an offer to make them ex-Patriots. At this point, it hasn't happened, which one could view as an early "victory" for the Patriots.

It was notable from this perspective that the Colts targeted Gosder Cherilus (Lions), the Bears went for Jermon Bushrod (Saints) and the Rams set up a visit with Jake Long (Dolphins). Those were viewed as three of the biggest tackle-needy teams, all candidates for Vollmer.

The Patriots would like Vollmer to return, but the sides weren't close in pre-free agency talks. While acknowledging that things can change in an instant, this early turn of events could potentially alter the picture and improve the possibility of Vollmer's return. A lot could depend on how the market settles after today's initial flurry (the Falcons are also reportedly close to re-signing left tackle Sam Baker).

As for Talib, outside of the Colts agreeing with Greg Toler (Cardinals), none of the big-name cornerbacks agreed to big deals on Tuesday. The Broncos set up a visit with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, per reports, but otherwise it was quiet, perhaps as a result of a saturated market at the position. Talib is a top priority for the Patriots, and this keeps the team in the mix as the initial risk of having another team swoop in with a blockbuster offer seems to have passed.

The same could be said for Welker at this point. Entering free agency, one wondered if a team such as the Broncos or Colts might pounce, but their initial targets came at other positions.

The Patriots want Welker to return, but the sides obviously have different ideas of a contract that works at this point. From this view, the Patriots "gambled" that their offer to Welker would reflect well once the market took shape. They might ultimately be proven correct, but there still could be a risk of alienating Welker -- a player whom Tom Brady called the "heart and soul" of the team last year -- in the process. And the longer Welker waits, the possibility grows that the Patriots could target someone else, such as Danny Amendola (Rams).

These are the current dynamics in play in an ever-changing market.

One NFL.com writer opined Tuesday that the Patriots had the most to lose on the first day of free agency. Turns out they didn't lose any of their "Big 3", surviving the early flurry.

For now.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider