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Maza's Musings

Unsolicited sports opinion and insight

Month

February 2016

Looking outward

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.

 

Five injured 2015 Patriots that could help the 2016 Patriots

We’ve all already heard about the high profile injuries that hurt the Patriots’ chances in 2015. There has already been plenty of talk about what New England should or could do in terms of acquiring talent to bolster the 2016 version of the Patriots. But the team already has some internal options who had minor or non-existent roles in 2015 and ended up on the shelf, but shouldn’t be forgotten when building your way-too-early depth charts.

The disclaimer here is this: None of these players can be considered locks to make the roster in 2016, but could prove something in order to carve out a role.

Trey Flowers, DE Largely forgotten due to the relative success of Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard on the ends of the Patriots’ defensive line, Flowers didn’t spend much time on the field in New England, prompting some to think his placement on injured reserve was more a way for the team to stash him for a year and clear room on the roster to address other needs (the Patriots picked up running back Trey Williams the same day). He’s a former two-time All-SEC athlete whose 48 career tackles for loss are the second most by an SEC defender since 2005. He would still have to prove himself, but could have value as a run-stopping defensive end, or move inside in smaller sub-packages.

AJ Derby, TE The Scott Chandler experience did not turn out as expected and there’s a decent chance the veteran will be released to relieve some cap pressure, which opens up some opportunities at the tight end position. Derby spent the entire season on IR with an undisclosed injury, which suggests maybe the Patriots were simply hoping to stash him away for the season as he learns a position that he had just switched to in his final year at Arkansas. He’s 6-foot-5, 255 pounds with good athleticism, including a 4.72 40 time, which would have placed him third in the 2015 Combine, had he not been suffering from a stress fracture in his foot and sidelined for the event. Considered more of a pass catcher, he could act as that second tight end split  out off the line in an effort to create mismatches.

Tyler Gaffney, RB If he can stay healthy, the six-foot, 220-pound late-round pick out of Stanford the Patriots plucked from the Carolina Panthers in 2014 could have an opportunity to play a role as an internal option to take some of the workload previously shouldered by LaGarrette Blount, who may leave via free agency. He’s ended up on IR each of the last two seasons and has never had a regular season snap, but is someone Bill Belichick is said to value, especially for his work ethic, evidenced by the team’s willingness to hold onto him for another lost season. He’ll certainly see some manner of outside competition, but as the roster currently projects, he would be the team’s best in-house option as a between the tackles runner.

Brandon Gibson, WR Did someone order a big-bodied receiver on the cheap? Gibson was an inexpensive one-year signing after a forgettable tenure in Miami that included a patellar tendon tear. He was having a strong preseason, catching 12 passes for 98 yards before getting hurt in the second preseason game and ending up on season ending IR. Granted, preseason stats don’t mean a lot, but reports were good out of Foxboro. Gibson is slated to become an unrestricted free agent in March, but could return on a short money, incentive-laden kind of deal. He has experience in McDaniels’ system, posting his best professional season under the direction of the Patriots’ signal caller in 2010 with the Rams. Gibson has always been known as a guy who knows how to use his size (6 feet, 210 pounds) to his advantage and has played the slot for a good portion of his career, which, along with his size, could make him an asset in running interference in the underneath pick plays the Patriots love so much. At 28 and coming off of multiple knee injuries, he might not have anything left, but could be worth another flier.

Chris Jones, DT Jones started the year on the PUP list after offseason calf surgery and was never taken off, so his season was lost to IR. The Patriots had depth at the position in 2015, they face the prospect of losing Akiem Hicks and Sealver Siliga, and Jones would add a body at the position. He also isn’t a lock to make the team, but it helps that Jones also has special teams experience. He was the guy who committed a penalty on a Jets 56-yard attempt that cost the Patriots a game in 2013, he also blocked what would have been a game-winning kick against New York in 2014, probably his biggest claims to fame thus far in his career.

 

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