Friday, March 15, 2013 Updated: March 16, 4:20 AM ET
Patriots' Friday free-agency frenzy
By Mike Reiss ESPNBoston.com
After a relatively quiet start to the first three days of free agency -- outside of the stunning Wes Welker/Danny Amendola bombshell, of course -- the New England Patriots shifted into high gear on a frenetic free-agent Friday. This was the day we started to see the club's strategy come to life.
Let's recap, in timeline form:
8:40 a.m. -- Reports surface that the Patriots are hosting defensive end Dwight Freeney (Colts) on a visit. This comes after learning late Thursday night that defensive end John Abraham (Falcons) had arrived in town for his own Friday visit. This was the first time that the Patriots' intentions to add a veteran pass-rusher surfaced. It's unlikely the team would sign both, and the hunch here is that Abraham would be the more likely option.
11 a.m. -- The details of receiver Danny Amendola's five-year contract are revealed and it's a pact with a total value of $28.5 million, which comes in lower than the previously reported $31 million.
11:15 a.m. -- Receiver Donald Jones, formerly of the Buffalo Bills, signs a three-year deal. Seemingly every year, the Patriots target a free agent from within the division who has had some success against them, and some of Jones' best work has been in games against New England. The 25-year-old Jones was set to become a restricted free agent this offseason but the Bills didn't tender him a contract, making him free to sign with any club. At 6-feet and 208 pounds, he projects to a role on the outside, where the club figures to add more competition. Jones is coming off a career-high 41-catch season, but was phased out in Buffalo as part of a new coaching regime.
12 p.m. -- The Patriots have widely been expected to forgo paying receiver Brandon Lloyd a $3 million bonus, which is due over the weekend, but the club is open to having Lloyd return on a reduced contract. Sources tell ESPN that the Patriots are exploring the possibility with Lloyd's representatives. Lloyd is scheduled to earn a $1.9 million base salary in 2013.
12 p.m. -- It is learned that Steelers restricted free agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders is in town for a visit with the Patriots. If the Patriots sign Sanders to an offer sheet, the Steelers would have the opportunity to match. If the Steelers don't match, the Patriots would surrender a third-round draft choice to the Steelers. Former Patriots vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli called Sanders (5-11, 180) one of the underrated talents on the free-agent market and superior to any pass-catcher the Patriots could acquire in the third round of the draft. The Steelers are tight to the salary cap, so if the Patriots truly are interested it might not be too hard to craft an offer that is acceptable to Sanders and at the same time tough for the Steelers to match.
1 p.m. -- New Patriots receiver Danny Amendola holds a conference call with Patriots reporters, the idea of which is to provide an official introduction. However, it is almost an afterthought with everything else swirling. The first question asked to Amendola is about his connection to Wes Welker, which serves as a reminder that the Amendola-replaces-Welker storyline could follow him over his tenure with the team.
1:30 p.m. -- Kickoff returner Leon Washington, who signed a one-year contract with the team on Thursday night, holds a conference call with local reporters. Washington said that he had interest from the Buccaneers and Lions, but chose the Patriots, who project him as their primary kickoff returner. The Patriots averaged 21.1 yards per kickoff return last season, ranking 25th in the NFL. Washington, who played for the Seattle the last three years, represented the NFC as their Pro Bowl returner last season. His presence casts doubt on Jeff Demps' potential contributions to the club.
1:35 p.m. -- Cornerback Kyle Arrington and the Patriots reach an agreement on a four-year, $16 million contract that includes a $6.5 million signing bonus. Arrington's best fit has been in the slot, and with the Patriots playing sub packages 57 percent of the snaps last season, it's an important position on the club.
2 p.m. -- Running back Danny Woodhead defects to the Chargers, signing a two-year contract. The Patriots were interested in retaining Woodhead, who played 34 percent of the offensive snaps last season and was one of their more durable and reliable players over the last three seasons, but the Chargers got into the mix late and upped the ante. This potentially sets up third-year man Shane Vereen to transition into Woodhead's "passing" back role.
7:25 p.m. -- The first report surfaces that veteran safety Adrian Wilson (Cardinals) has agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the club. If things go according to plan, perhaps this could be similar to what the Patriots pulled off in 2003 when they signed longtime Chargers safety Rodney Harrison. Where Wilson fits in the overall defensive picture remains to be seen, but one thing that stands out is his size -- 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds. The Patriots started one of the smallest safety tandems in the NFL last season with Devin McCourty (5-10, 195) and Steve Gregory (5-11, 200), so Wilson adds a bigger, more physical presence either at safety, or as a sub-package linebacker. The 33-year-old Wilson, who spoke with Bill Belichick earlier in the week and decided New England would be his first visit, could also serve as a mentor of sorts for 2012 second-round pick Tavon Wilson (6-0, 210).
Recapping it all, it was a Friday free-agent frenzy as the Patriots' overall free-agent strategy began to come into sharper focus -- a heavy emphasis on receiver, addressing a kickoff return deficiency, adding toughness and size to the safety spot, identifying a veteran pass-rushing presence, and securing a proven depth option at cornerback.
Remaining business ahead? There still has been no breakthrough with starting cornerback Aqib Talib and starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, both of whom remain unsigned. The Patriots are still interested in their return and one would think those situations will have a resolution in the coming days.