NFL Free Agency officially begins on Wednesday, March 14 at 4 p.m. ET. With the splurge of offseason moves New England made a year ago, it’s tough to imagine they’ll match last year’s spending. Regardless, there are plenty of positions they need to address, and some will come via free agency.
- Defensive Tackle. An intriguing option could be former New York Jet Muhammad Wilkerson. The 2011 first round pick was recently released by the team after signing a 5-year deal worth $86 million just two years ago. Over his first seven seasons the 28-year-old proved he can be an explosive player on the field, but off the field issues have overshadowed his play at times. He was inactive the final three games of last season for violating team rules, which included missing and showing up late to team meetings. The Patriots have a history of taking gambles on players with backgrounds similar to Wilkerson’s. If they can get him at the right price, it’s worth a shot.
- Cornerback. With Malcolm Butler most likely on his way out, who will the Patriots find to play across from Stephon Gilmore? Richard Sherman has come up in discussions, but something tells me Seattle won’t give him up. Even if they do, their asking price may be too high. Another name has been former Patriot Aqib Talib. This move would make more sense if Denver ends up parting ways with the five time Pro Bowler. Talib is 32, but has yet to show signs of a significant drop off in play. He’s made it to five consecutive Pro Bowls and has stayed relatively healthy, missing only one game last season. He’s familiar with the Patriots defense and would be a good complement to a younger Gilmore. If the chance is there, New England should try and bring him back.
- Running back. After Dion Lewis’ career year, his asking price may be out of the Patriots’ range. New England has not shied away from letting players walk in the past, and the same might happen to Lewis this offseason, especially after eclipsing over 1,100 yards from scrimmage. This could be another position New England addresses in the draft, but if they decide to look into the pool of running backs, Isaiah Crowell and Jeremy Hill could be potential fits. In the past New England has split the running back duties between a couple of players, so their target doesn’t have to be an over-the-top type of player. Crowell is only 25 and is coming off a season which saw him hit 1,000 yards from scrimmage. His yards per carry (YPC) average dropped from 4.8 to 4.1 behind a solid offensive front, but given his age there is plenty of room for growth. New England could bring him in on a cheaper deal than Lewis and see if they could lift his numbers back up. Jeremy Hill is another option and provides similar skills to those of Lewis. Hill had an exceptional rookie season in 2014 where he gained over 1,110 yards on the ground while adding 215 receiving yards. His production has gone downhill since then. The 26-year-old hasn’t averaged more than 3.8 YPC since his rookie season and played in only seven games last season. It would be another gamble, but the Patriots have had success on reviving the careers of other players in the past. Again, this situation only happens if Lewis leaves. It’s rumored he’s asking for at least $18 million over three years, with $10 million guaranteed. New England could decide to pull the trigger on him, but if they don’t, they need a backup plan.