As the Patriots prepare to make some decisions – some tough, some not so much – on who will stay and who will go in the new league year, other teams are doing the same. Here’s a list of some players expected to hit the market who could be intriguing targets for New England.
Geoff Schawrtz, Guard. Schwartz, who will turn 30 this summer, was released by the New York Giants earlier this month as a cap casualty. His time in New York was marred by injuries, including a broken ankle in Week 12 that ended his 2015 season. The fact that he started just 13 games the past two seasons is a concern, but also makes him a candidate for a “show me” deal. The Newark Star-Ledger reported he was training at full speed now, so he would project to at least be healthy by camp. Known as a more than competent run blocker, he could provide depth and experience on the interior of the offensive line that didn’t do a lot to open up holes for runs up the middle in 2015.
Marvin Jones, Wide Receiver. Certainly not the splash that some Patriots fans would be looking for, Jones, a free agent, would fit the bill as the deep threat some believe New England needs to “stretch the field” and open things up for slot guys Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola underneath. Playing behind A.J. Green, he managed to rack up more than 800 yards and a handful of touchdowns in 2015 and had 10 scores a year ago. What’s more, he dropped just two passes, boasting a 1.9 percent drop ratio, one of the lowest in the league. Amendola was the best of New England’s regular wide outs in that respect at 2.3 (Brandon LaFell was at 8.1 and Julian Edelman came in a shade over 9). The soon-to-be 26-year-old figures to be in for a payday, so it remains to be seen just how much cap room the Patriots would have and what they would be willing to fork over for a position they have not historically valued in free agency.
Jahri Evans, Guard. Another cap casualty, Evans, now 33, has had a tremendous career during which he’s only played in New Orleans, who let him go earlier this month. With a wealth of experience and six Pro Bowls under his belt, he could provide some veteran leadership for what is a pretty young group on the inside of the offensive line. His health makes him a little bit of a liability – he played in just 11 games last season due to injury – but was still an effective blocker when he was healthy. The Patriots spent a fair amount of draft capital on its interior line, so whether they would be willing to put Tre’ Jackson or Shaq Mason in the back seat is tough to call, especially since both flashed potential in 2015, but Evens fits the mold of a veteran nearing the end of his career who might take a shot at competing for a starting job with a Super Bowl contender rather than grabbing a guaranteed spot elsewhere.
Michael Griffin, Free Safety. Griffin was also cut due to his high cap number, saving the Tennessee Titans almost $7 million. Twice a Pro-Bowler and considered earlier in his career to be a ball hawk, Griffin no longer has that kind of elite ability and was really exposed in coverage as an every-down player but he did record more than 100 tackles each of the last two years. He could be viable in a reserve role defensive backfield that is probably going to end up letting Duron Harmon and Tavon Wilson. He’s 31, so he might be looking for one last big payday and the Patriots have bigger priorities than safety, but if the market softens for him, the chance to make a Super Bowl run in lieu of more cash might be alluring.
DeMeco Ryans, Linebacker. Have we caught onto a pattern here? Ryans is expected to become a free agent as a cap cut by the Eagles after the last two seasons have been derailed by injury. Though he is now two full seasons removed from his first really productive year, the former Pro-Bowler is considered to be an extremely hardworking pro. His injury history would probably limit his value on the open market and while the Patriots are pretty set at inside linebacker, he could fill the soon-to-be-vacated role of Jerod Mayo.
Matt Forte, Running Back. Yep, here it is. Forte, who was told he would not be re-signed by the Bears, is one of the most underrated athletes in the NFL. There’s an obvious connection here because the Patriots are one of the most running back-needy teams in the league with LeGarrette Blount likely gone and Dion Lewis coming back from a serious knee injury and because New England values versatility. Here’s the problem – Forte is 30 and automatically becomes the best running back out there on free agency, so the odds he would take a discount are not as high as some might hope. Let’s fact it, while this looks like a dream scenario on paper, this is really the running back’s last chance to cash in big. Given the Patriots’ cap situation and what should be the priority of locking up some key defensive pieces long-term, it doesn’t seem likely that there would be a match.
Dwayne Allen, Tight End. It’s been rumored that the Colts are going to retain just one of their two top tight ends and Andrew Luck’s buddy from Stanford Coby Fleener is the guy who will stay. With it likely the Patriots will part ways with Scott Chandler after things didn’t work out in 2015, the depth behind Rob Gronkowski would be incredibly thin at the position. Allen was said to have been frustrated with his role as second fiddle in the Colts offense, but the Patriots manage to find a way to get guys who produce involved. He’s a effective blocker and has proven to be competent as a pass catcher when given the opportunity. The price would have to be right, but Allen could be a valuable piece in what could be extremely effective two tight end sets.
Arian Foster, Running Back. It’s been some time since Foster has been healthy and the odds that all the injuries have taken away some of his effectiveness are pretty good. With that said, it would make him a perfect candidate as a guy looking to prove something in camp, especially with what could be a significant role in a Tom Brady-led offense at stake. Obviously a lot depends on how his rehabilitation from his torn Achilles progresses. Like Forte, Foster has proven to be an effective option in the passing game in his career. Before getting injured last year, he had 22 catches a pace he wasn’t going to keep up, but given his history, 60 for the year wouldn’t have been outside the range of possibility. Also like Forte, he’ll be 30 next season. Unlike Forte, he probably won’t command a high salary or much, if any, guaranteed money.