On March 9th at 4pm, teams around the NFL will engage in a feeding frenzy as free agency officially opens.
This season certainly seems to be the Year of the Aging Veteran, with several big names set to become free agents.
The Minnesota Vikings announced on Tuesday that they would not be picking up the contract option for Adrian Peterson, instead allowing him to become a free agent. Peterson has been a focal point for the Vikings offense since being drafted by them in 2007, setting the NFL single game rushing record of 296 yards and an MVP year in 2012.
On the same day, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Kansas City Chiefs plan to release former superstar running back Jamaal Charles.
In New England, head coach Bill Belichick and his squad are facing their own obstacles as the impending start of free agency brings about the potential exit of several key players.
Outside linebacker and keystone defensive member Dont’a Hightower has already elected to test his value in free agency, and NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport has reported that tight end Martellus Bennett intends to do the same.
Hightower’s potential loss is likely to hit the team particularly hard, as he has excelled on the Patriots since being drafted in 2012. Over the course of four seasons, Hightower has racked up a combined 372 tackles and 17 sacks while functioning as a leader for the defense on and off the field.
Other notable Patriots set to hit the market on Thursday include defensive end Chris Long, running back LeGarrette Blount, cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan, and strong safety Duron Harmon.
The Patriots will enter free agency with $62 million in cap space, the sixth most in the NFL. In addition to allowing them to extend several of their current key players such as Butler, this allows the team to explore other opportunities in addressing weak points and preparing for the future.
When it comes to future success, the defensive line is an issue that must be handled. Although they played well in this year’s Super Bowl, the Patriots’ defense ranked 16th in the league in sacks this season and often had trouble putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Although keeping Hightower is not vital to the team’s success given the Patriots’ track record, it should be considered a priority.
The Patriots have reportedly also expressed interest in Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow, who had an uncharacteristically quiet season in 2016 after totaling four sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions in his previous three seasons with Atlanta.
On the offensive front, the Pats have been exploring several wide receiver options. Earlier on Saturday, the Saints rejected an offer of the Patriots’ first-round pick (32nd overall) for third year receiver Brandin Cooks, a breakout talent in New Orleans. There has also been mutual interest between the Patriots and 33-year-old Brandon Marshall, who was released by the New York Jets at his request on Friday.
Earlier in the season, Rapoport reported that prior to trading linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns for a conditional third-round pick, they had contacted the Houston Texans about the possibility of trading Collins for receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
It seems evident that the Patriots are looking to acquire a speedy receiver that will expand Tom Brady’s arsenal and serve as the team’s deep threat, a role currently only partially filled by Chris Hogan.
If they are able to agree to reasonable terms with a capable veteran such as Marshall, they would have a greatly reduced need for 2016 newcomer Michael Floyd, as well as Patriots veteran Danny Amendola, whose $7.8 million cap hit is likely something the team would prefer to avoid.
The question of backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo still remains, as well. Although Adam Schefter has reported that the Patriots no longer plan to trade Garoppolo, teams continue to express interest.
If Garoppolo does part with New England, it is unlikely to be for anything less than a first-round draft pick. The Browns in particular have been linked to a potential trade, as they possess two first round picks and are in a position to agree to such a trade.
The possible exit of Garoppolo presents the Patriots with the opportunity to seek out a veteran quarterback to play second fiddle to Brady as third-string Jacoby Brissett continues to develop as a player.
Several big names seem prepared to change teams this offseason, and for the Patriots, big moves in key positions will be crucial if a repeat championship win is to be in their future.
*Massasoit Tribune Faculty Advisor’s Note: Go Raiders.