Ryan Spagnoli – Pats Militia
Just about an hour after the New England Patriots won their fifth title, Bill Belichick said that the Patriots are already ‘five weeks behind’ the rest of the teams in the league. He isn’t wrong either, in fact, the Patriots face a ton of questions this offseason; Who will they re-sign? Who will walk away? Who will get traded? It’s all up in the air right now but New England has some decisions to make regarding there 2017 roster.
Hightower is likely the most wanted defensive player on the market this year. The Patriots have an option of trying to work out a long term deal with the Pro Bowl Linebacker or can franchise him, but would cost them roughly fifteen million dollars for one year. Hightower is going to cost a lot especially after saving the last two Super Bowl’s with a goal line stuff of Marshawn Lynch and a strip sack of Matt Ryan. I believe if the Patriots can’t get something longterm done this month, they will franchise tag him and try to work on an extension as next season plays out.
Martellus Bennett’s role catching passes diminished as the season went on (many people believed they were being cautious after Gronk’s injury) but he helped the Patriots with his blocking ability.
Bennett is another one that is sort of up in the air and no one really knows what is going to happen. However, with Gronkowski’s injury history, Bennett will use that to his advantage when negotiating with the Patriots, barring if he wants to come back here or not. If the Patriots don’t have to use the franchise tag on Dont’a Hightower, I’d expect them to use it on Bennett.
From un-drafted to Super Bowl hero, Malcolm Butler is emerging as a top corner in the NFL. As a restricted free agent, the Patriots could allow the competition around them do the negotiating. I have no doubt in my mind that the Patriots will bring Butler back as he is their # 1 corner, he is young, physical, and improving year after year. Look for the Patriots to try and lock Butler up on a long term deal.
Blount is coming off a career year in touchdowns and rushing yards. The 30 year old led Patriots running backs with 1161 rushing yards on 299 rushing attempts. Blount also broke the single season rushing touchdown record with 18. The Patriots love the combination of having a power back like Blount and then quick, shifty pass catching backs like Lewis and White.
However, Blount is 30 years old and was a non-factor once the postseason came around. Blount hasn’t had much success anywhere else he has been and he seems to love being here so if the Patriots do in fact want to bring him back, expect it to be a for a year or two on a low budget deal but I would expect the Patriots to let him go, and look elsewhere for his same style of running.
Ryan emerged this season and played as a true # 2 corner down the stretch. However, with Ryan being so young and the cornerback position so slim, the Patriots definitely want to bring him back, but if Ryan can get ‘#1 cornerback’ type of money elsewhere, they’ll likely let him go.
Long’s situation is interesting, it’s been known that Long has loved it here and loved finally being on a winning team. However, I don’t believe the Patriots will sign him to another one year deal and with him being 31 it may be tough for them to sign him to a long term deal. Expect the Patriots to explore the defensive end position in the draft if they can’t work something out with Long.
Vollmer, age 32, has dealt with multiple hip surgeries that could cause him to retire. With the Patriots offensive line playing great this season, expect the Patriots to let go of Vollmer and look to add offensive line depth through either the draft or free agency.
Harmon was a great third/fourth string safety behind McCourty and Chung for four years, however, the Patriots will likely look in the draft for safety depth and let Harmon walk. Harmon will most likely get a decent amount of money from a team that will allow him to play on most snaps.
Floyd came over after being released by the Cardinals late in the year and played just three games for the Patriots since he was inactive the AFC title game and Super Bowl. Floyd will have to figure out his sentence and such after his DUI just a week before joining the Patriots. The former first round pick is a great receiver who I think will fit well with the Patriots offense if given a fair chance.
Branch, 32, had a career year in New England this season and proved to be a huge anchor to the defense against the run. Branch also had a huge game in the Super Bowl recovering Dont’a Hightower’s strip sack starting the Patriots Super Bowl 51 comeback. Unless Branch is willing to take a one or two year deal on a low-budget deal, than I would expect the Patriots to part ways with Branch.