With the dust of the lockout and CBA negotiations still settling, and as general managers, capologists, and reporters alike scramble to try to understand the new terms under which teams may operate news is already being made around the league as teams work to renegotiate deals with internal free agents, work trades with other teams, and begin speaking with external free agents. As such, it seems a great time to review where the Patriots stand, who may or may not return, and where the Patriots might be players in the market in the days to come.
First of all, breaking news. This morning the Patriots kept Sammy Morris on the roster, signing him to a one year deal. The terms of the deal were not revealed, however with the logjam the Patriots currently have at running back (2 rookies drafted, Kevin Faulk returning, Danny Woodhead on the roster, Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis a restricted free agent) the signing was interesting in itself. It almost certainly means that one of those backs we expect to see back won't be, the question is who?
The next piece of breaking news involves the division rival Jets, who have reportedly come to an agreement with WR Santonio Holmes, effectively keeping him off the open market and avoiding a bidding war with the Washington Redskins and billionaire owner Dan Snyder. Holmes was widely considered the best offensive free agent on the market, and getting him was clearly a priority for New York. All day long reports have linked the Jets to free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, as they make an effort to create what would likely be considered the greatest cornerback tandem of our generation, pairing Asomugha with current shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis. Such a pairing is unlikely is money is the driving force behind Asomugha's free agency, but should the possibility intrigue Nnamdi a backfield made up of Revis and Asomugha would give us as Patriots fans nightmares. I'll keep an eye on this situation as it develops and let you know should things take a turn for the worse and Asomugha reciprocate and show real interest in the Jets as well.
What's next for the Patriots? After drafting Nate Solder with their first pick in April's draft, many have speculated on the future of Matt Light, who is an unrestricted free agent this year and is seeking what will likely be a career ending deal. While players looking for their last deal aren't likely to turn down the most money, the presence of Solder doesn't rule out his return particularly after the CBA outlined a rookie wage scale. While I'm not sure what Solder's number will be, it should be manageable. As long as Light isn't looking for a long term deal, and accepts something in the 3-4 year range, he could still return.
There are several other free agents whose futures with the Patriots are uncertain, but the most prominent is certainly Matt Light. You'll hear discussion about Logan Mankins, but in reality he's a part of the team, as he was franchised and is expected to sign his franchise tender and join the team in training camp on time this year regardless of his level of happiness with the franchise tag.
As for outside free agents, here are a few names to keep an eye on. I have no confirmation of interest, in many cases there aren't even popular rumors regarding these guys, they're just guys that make sense to me:
Ernie Sims-He just makes sense to me. He's a pass rusher from the right side who could be available fairly cheap. The Patriots love bringing in veterans to play linebacker in their complicated defense, and Sims might be an answer.
Ben Leber-He's a quality OLB veteran as well. While he's stated his first choice is to resign with the Vikings-where he's spent his whole career so far-they may not be able to afford him. He's played in a 4-3 his whole career, but a guy that can produce steadily like he can might be able to make a shift to LOLB in a 3-4 system.
Cullen Jenkins-The price tag for Jenkins just might be too high for the typically frugal Patriots' front office, but at 6-2, 305 lbs. Jenkins would be a great fit on a line already containing the likes of nose tackle Vince Wilfork and returning defensive end Ty Warren. Jenkins is an 8 year vet who is 30 years old and has spent his career in Green Bay.
Shaun Ellis-This name might ring a bell with long time Patriot fans who remember the Patriots having to give up a first round pick when they lured Bill Belichick away from the New York Jets. Shaun Ellis became that pick, and has spent the past decade as a stalwart on the Jets' defensive line, as dependable and regular as the day is long, starting 170 of 176 available regular season games during his tenure in New York. While I don't make a habit of praising Jets' players too often, Ellis would be a solid addition to our line where he could finish out an exemplary career in style, as opposed to in that awful "gangreen".
There you have it, a quick, two minute run down on where the Patriots stand now, and a few players that might have their eye. Keep an eye on this page for updates as news continues to break throughout New England and the AFC East in general in this fast-moving time that marks the busiest free agent period in the history of the league.
(Just to highlight how busy it is, breaking news has Tyler Thigpen headed to Buffalo for the upcoming season. He spent last year primarily as a backup in Miami.)