After a successful season capped off by a Super Bowl win, the New England Patriots enter the offseason with plenty of cap space and plenty of questions across the team. There are some impending free agents that could be asking for the team to “back up the Brinks truck,” so to speak, and pay them loads of money. Guys like Dont’a Hightower, Logan Ryan, Martellus Bennett, and more will be looking for a raise, and they may be looking elsewhere for it once the free agency period begins in March. While some holes can be fixed through the NFL Draft, free agency will provide teams a chance to sign veteran players from other teams. The Patriots have been one of the best teams when it comes to free agency, with the ability to find specific roles for plenty of castoffs from other rosters. While they have plenty of salary cap space ($61,522,843, per @patscap on Twitter), the team often looks to spend the least amount of money while maximizing production from their signees. The players highlighted below included are players that are unlikely to be brought back by their current team, and would be an ideal fit for the Patriots in their respective position.
- LB Akeem Ayers, Indianapolis Colts
- Estimated market value: $2.95 million per year
Ayers, a former Patriot in 2014, is going to be available on the market this offseason after bouncing between Los Angeles and Indianapolis. He left after a Super Bowl XLIX win to head to the artist formerly known as the St. Louis Rams on a 2 year, $6 million deal. He was cut after the first year, and he then went to join Andrew Luck with a 1 year, $2.6 million deal. His value is likely somewhere between those two numbers. He was a dependable depth option that commonly stepped up in New England, and he already knows the system which is a major benefit. If Dont’a Hightower leaves and they want a veteran just in case there is a rookie collapse, Ayers would be a great choice for the team.
- RB Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
- Estimated market value: $1.45 million per year
After being a standout back with Alabama and flashing at times for Green Bay, Lacy struggled with injuries and weight problems the past two season, driving his value to an all time low since coming to the league in 2013. Even with a rough season included, Lacy has averaged 4.4 yards per carry, with almost 6 touchdowns a year. With LeGarrette Blount’s uncertainty at the running back position possibly leaving the team in need of a “bruiser”, Lacy would be an interesting choice for New England. His contract would likely have a base value of $1.45 million with added incentives and a possible weight clause that any team will give to him.
- LB Malcolm Smith, Oakland Raiders
- Estimated market value: $4.45 million per year
The former Super Bowl hero, Smith cashed in on his success against Peyton Manning with a nice 2 year, $7 million contract from the Raiders. He underwhelmed in his first season in The Bay, but has become a solid piece for Oakland as they crawled their way into playoff contention. Smith collected 186 solo tackles, 4 sacks, and 2 interceptions in his two seasons for the team, and provided solid coverage from an outside linebacker spot for the Raiders while there. He could be a great addition to fill in a role that hasn’t necessarily been filled well (pass coverage of running backs and tight ends) since Jamie Collins was traded away. His contract is affordable and may even be an upgrade over Jonathan Freeny, who spent 2016 on injured reserve.
- WR Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
- Estimated market value: $3 million per year
You may remember Patterson’s name from the 2013 NFL Draft, where the Patriots traded away their first round pick to the Vikings, who selected the former Tennessee wide receiver. While the big speedster has been a very good return specialist and solid receiver for Minnesota, he failed to meet the expectations that commonly come with the first-round pedigree he received. With questions in the return game for the Patriots after a shaky year from Cyrus Jones and the injury risk with Dion Lewis, Patterson could be a very good addition for the team, who could also use some depth at the wide receiver position. His contract is relatively affordable, still making less than Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, and likely a similar number to Danny Amendola, pending a restructure. Patterson would be a solid fit in an offense that could use a bigger, faster presence for Tom Brady.
- TE Dion Sims, Miami Dolphins
- Estimated market value: $4.5 million per year
With Martellus Bennett’s market heating up after a solid year where he powered through injury to be a steady performer for the Patriots, he will likely command too much money for the Patriots to bring him back. This leaves them with a hole or two on the tight end depth chart, with Michael Williams being an uncertainty after being placed on injured reserve last year, and Rob Gronkowski being constantly involved in freak injuries. This leads New England to consider Dion Sims, the former Dolphins’ number two tight end behind Jordan Cameron. With the recent trade of Julius Thomas, Miami will likely not look to bring Sims back, and his market will be substantially less than Bennett and former Colts’ receiver Jack Doyle. An athletic tight end that can catch passes like Sims can would be a great addition to the Patriots, and fill a hole that Josh McDaniels and co will desperately want filled.