With free agency to begin March 11, and the draft from May 8-10, one thing NFL teams generally do at this time is marry the two to better assess the best approach to filling potential needs.
For example, if a team knows it's a deep draft for top-quality offensive tackles (2014 is such), it might be less inclined to be as aggressive at that position in free agency. With this in mind, our plan is to look at each position in the coming days through a similar lens.
Next on the list: Safety
Draft: ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. previously said: "Safety depth is very average. If you want a safety, you may have to think first or second round. I don't see great safeties lasting into the middle rounds this year." Louisville's Calvin Pryor and Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are viewed as the top two prospects and both are around 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, which is solid size.
Free agency: The Browns' T.J. Ward and the Bills' Jairus Byrd are two of the top players at any position scheduled for unrestricted free agency and both could be assigned the franchise tag. Miami's Chris Clemons could be an under-the-radar asset that draws interest, while New Orleans' Malcolm Jenkins is a solid player. San Francisco's Donte Whitner is one of the harder-hitting safeties set to hit the market, along with Tennessee's Bernard Pollard, Baltimore's James Ihedigbo and Washington's Brandon Meriweather. The Panthers' duo of Quintin Mikell and Mike Mitchell is also scheduled for free agency, making this a pretty deep position when compared to the draft.
Patriots perspective: All five safeties return in 2014, with the group led by Devin McCourty, who enters the final year of his contract. After having used early-round picks at the position in 2012 (Tavon Wilson, second round) and 2013 (Duron Harmon, third round), and with Wilson sliding into the background and Harmon still developing, the Patriots seem more likely to focus on the deeper veteran free-agent pool if they are looking to bolster the position. Last year's signing of Adrian Wilson didn't pan out. Maybe they try again in that area.