I like to blog like Bill Belichick would, by focusing only on the immediate obstacle in front of the Patriots, but since we’re coming off a bye week I’m going to break with Bill a bit here and take a look at some pending free agents.
The offseason is always a fascinating slow burn, and like most years, the Patriots have a number of key players who are scheduled to hit free agency. Their departures could open significant holes on the roster. Or re-signing them could signal the direction the team plans to take in 2018 and beyond.
It’s also worth pointing out these players now because a strong second half of the season would significantly upgrade the contracts they can receive this spring.
Here are the five more interesting players/positions to me…
First, let’s take a moment to talk about the pending free agents that aren’t all that interesting to me. I’d expect Danny Amendola, Brandon Bolden and Nate Ebner to be Pats or Nothing at this point. Amendola would surely sign up for another year after three seasons of restructuring. Now they can just give him a new manageable contract and I think he’s shown he’ll take what they offer. Bolden and Ebner are very good special teamers, but other teams won’t value them like the Pats will and if they walk, it’s not the end of the world.
The market for Johnson Bademosi (who I’m betting gets an extension) and Marquis Flowers shouldn’t be anything special, while Rex Burkhead is still very much an unknown after missing much of the first half with a rib injury. If the Pats want to keep anyone from these two groups, they should be able to.
Now for the interesting guys…
- Nate Solder (with Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle) — Solder’s up and down season has been well documented. He’s come on late but the Patriots’ decision to let him enter the final year of his deal says they’re not sold that he’s the long term fix. Even with Solder’s struggles there would still be a market for him, and with Fleming and Waddle also hitting free agency, it’s clear the Patriots will have to do something. Tony Garcia is getting a red shirt year, but he looked a long way off from being the heir apparent at left tackle. Maybe he can take over the third swing spot, but even that seems like it might be a stretch until we see him in a full training camp. Left tackle is a vital spot and the Patriots don’t have a clear succession plan like the did when the groomed Solder for a year before Matt Light retired. If anyone could benefit from a great second half, it’s Solder.
- Malcolm Butler — The franchise tag is certainly in play with Butler, but something tells me he wouldn’t be too psyched about it. And if he had issues with the trade rumors last season, a contentious tagging might piss him off even more. Despite some inconsistency, Butler has been the best defensive back this season and the fire he plays with is contagious. It makes me sick to imagine losing Butler and all that he brings to the defense. There have been murmurs here and there that the Pats were still trying to work out a long-term deal with Butler, but after the Gilmore deal, which was a total departure from their norm, it’s so hard to see them paying Butler anywhere near a similar salary. No, I think it’s Franchise Tag or he walks. Ugh…
- Matthew Slater — The whole team seemed to play better once Matthew Slater returned from injury this year. Though he’s mostly a special teamer, his leadership on the entire team is a vital element. Losing Slater would be a huge blow to the team as a whole. We know Belichick appreciates quality special teams play as much as anyone so I feel pretty good they’ll keep Slater, but it’s definitely a situation to keep an eye on.
- Dion Lewis — This one scares me because Lewis has returned to form and really given the offense a huge spark. At this moment losing Lewis after only getting a taste of his elusiveness would be depressing. That’s why no one else has more to lose or gain in the second half that the electric running back. If he continues this pace and does some special things under the big playoff lights his free agency price might go out of the Patriots range. If he gets hurt again or falls off the Pats could likely take him back on a manageable deal, but if that happens do they really want or need him back? Probably not. Between him and Burkhead you figure at least one has to stay. Unfortunately whoever that one is is likely the one who does less here in the last few months.
- Cassius Marsh — Marsh has had his moments good and bad. The good are usually when he’s attacking and the bad are when he’s trying to set the edge. We all know how important setting the edge is and that could be his fatal flaw in New England. I’m not really worried one way or another, Marsh could fit as a rotational rusher and spot linebacker, but he has a lot to prove in the final eight games plus playoffs if he wants to be considered a building block.