What’s at play with key Patriots free agents
Photo by: Herald File Aqib Talib 1 Friday, February 7, 2014
Bill Belichick is on the golf course this weekend, no surprise as coaches and front office members usually take some time off before gearing up for the combine in two weeks.
So where does that leave the Pats with their key free agents? Belichick said it can take 4-6 weeks to evaluate those decisions, and they’ve got exclusive negotiating rights until free agency opens March 11.
There’s still plenty of time to formulate a plan, and things will continue to develop at the combine when coaches and personnel gurus conveniently bump into agents at restaurants or coat closets in hotels. That’s when each side will bounce numbers off one another as they prepare for formal negotiations.
Here is where the Patriots likely stand with their five starters who are a month away from the open market:
Age by Week 1 of 2014 season: 28
Experience: Six seasons (11⁄2 with Pats)
Key Stats: 4 interceptions, 13 passes defensed, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery in 2013.
Pats’ plan: If it’s anything like last year, the Pats will offer Talib a team-friendly, long-term deal to see if he’ll bite. He won’t. They’ll want him for three years because teams don’t like to extend players past 30, but expect them to hit $7 million per season to shave off a fourth year. That plan would hurt their hope to include injury incentives based on games played, though it’s possible a snap-count incentive could trigger a fourth year in the deal.
Talib’s plan: Talib banked on himself with the one-year deal and looked like a genius before his Week 6 injury. He’ll want four years on the open market and is expected to be loyal to the money, though he said he does want to return to the Pats.
Skinny: There’s no chance the Patriots hit Talib with a franchise tag that will approach $12 million, though he’d be happy to play out the season under that exorbitant price. There’s no denying they want him back, and look at Bill Belichick’s public defense of Talib after the AFC Championship Game loss as an example. Talib will likely take a hometown discount if it’s close, but not if he perceives the Pats as low-balling him. If the Pats want him at three years and $21 million and Talib wants four years and $32 million, look for a compromise of three years, games-played incentives worth an extra $2 million and All-Pro incentives that help the deal approach about $25 million, so long as the cornerback market doesn’t unexpectedly tank like last year.
Position: Wide receiver
Age by Week 1 of 2014: 28
Experience: Five seasons (all with Pats)
Key Stats: 105 catches, 1,056 yards, 6 touchdowns in 2013.
Pats’ plan: Edelman was terrific in 2013, but the Pats might want to rework the dynamics of their receivers in 2014, which would keep their offer within their limits. They offered Wes Welker two years and $10 million guaranteed and may use that as the baseline with Edelman. A third year might be in order, though. It’s possible the Pats go three years and $12 million with games-played, catch and Pro Bowl incentives approaching a max value of $15 million.
Edelman’s plan: Edelman should believe he’s every bit as valuable as Danny Amendola’s five-year deal worth a max of $31 million, so he’ll test free agency to get it. He felt spurned when the Pats allowed him to visit the Giants for two days during his month in free agency last year, so there won’t be any hometown discounts this time.
Skinny: Edelman has earned a total of about $3 million in his first five seasons with the Patriots, and he’ll get more than that in his signing bonus. Don’t blame him for being loyal to the money in March, and the Patriots will have to compete to retain him.
Position: Running back
Age by Week 1 of 2014: 27
Experience: Four seasons (1 with Pats)
Key Stat: 431 yards rushing and eight touchdowns in a three-game span down the stretch.
Pats’ plan: They offered Danny Woodhead close to the minimum last year, and he was more valuable to them than Blount over the long haul. If Blount re-signs, he’ll have to be the highest paid running back on the roster (Stevan Ridley’s rookie deal is four years for $3 million), but it can’t be by much. Don’t expect the Pats to offer much more than $2 million over two years.
Blount’s plan: Blount badly wants to stay, so his faith will be tested here. If he thinks he can get $2-3 million per year on the open market, that’s where he’ll go.
Skinny: Belichick loves Blount, but he also knows running backs are replaceable and their roles change on the fly. It would be out of character to offer a long-term commitment, so Blount’s priorities (money or familiarity and a reputation revival) will determine his uniform in 2014.
Position: Inside linebacker
Age by Week 1 of 2014: 27
Experience: Four seasons (all with Pats)
Key Stat: Spikes was second on the team with 134 total tackles and 78 solo tackles.
Pats’ plan: Before the injured reserve controversy, the Pats were expected to really lowball Spikes (maybe $4 million over two years, if that) to see if he’d bite. Now, a contract offer seems like a long shot.
Spikes’ plan: He’ll enter free agency and will probably get a deal close to Rey Maualuga’s two-year, $6.5 million contract, which was orchestrated by the same agency last year. But when Philip Wheeler can corral five years and $26 million, including $13 million guaranteed, Spikes could go big against a weak class of inside linebackers.
Skinny: Spikes’ days with the Patriots appear to be over. The leak of the late meeting was proof that someone wants him gone, and his greatest ally in Pepper Johnson is out. Spikes and Dont’a Hightower even exchanged helmets the day after the season ended. All parties saw the writing on the wall.
Age by Week 1 of 2014: 28
Experience: Six seasons (all with Pats)
Key Stat: Wendell led NFL offensive linemen in snaps in each of the last two seasons.
Pats’ plan: They know a 6-foot-2, 300-pound center won’t break the bank in free agency, so they might start low (say, three years, $7.5 million) but probably won’t need to screw around too much. Keeping the starting line intact after Dante Scarnecchia’s retirement should be a priority in this transition stage.
Wendell’s plan: Wendell probably wants something similar to Dan Connolly’s deal (three years, $9.75 million), and that’s fair. Centers aren’t big-ticket items on the open market, so seeking leverage in free agency might even be a gamble that could yield unfavorable results.
Skinny: The two sides are right for each other. This one might even get done before free agency.