Hightower, Bennett Lead Patriots’ Long List of Free Agents
New England Patriots fans are still celebrating the Super Bowl but for the organization, the calendar has turned to 2017.
The off-season is where championship teams are built. Bill Belichick and his scouts are looking at potential free agents, draft prospects and members of the New England Patriots Super Bowl team that they have to decide their future. The Patriots have many free agents that helped them during their two most recent Super Bowl runs.
Here is the list of the free agents for New England:
- TE Martellus Bennett: Bennett was a key off-season acquisition last off-season for New England. He bought into the Patriot way and stepped up big after Rob Gronkowski went down for the season. He may be looking to cash in after winning the Super Bowl but if Bennett does decide to return to the New England Patriots, to go along with a healthy Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, emerging Malcolm Mitchell, the Patriots offseason will be loaded.
- RB LeGarrette Blount: It was Blount force trauma all season long as Blount carried the offense especially during the first four games that Tom Brady was out. Blount rushed for over 1,800 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. However, Blount’s production during the last half of the season and in the playoffs declined dramatically. Blount has not had great postseason runs with the New England Patriots (excluding his two games against Indianapolis) so maybe that would help the Patriots’ decision on whether or not to bring back big back.
- RB Brandon Bolden: Bolden has been a solid special teams player for New England Patriots but has not seen much playing time in the offense. The Patriots have two running backs on the roster at the moment and some that they have signed to future contracts. However, Bolden could be on the list of players the Patriots could sign for cheap money.
- DL Alan Branch: Branch was a solid rock on the defensive line this season. He helped the Patriots rank toward the top of the league in run defense. But Branch is on the back-end of his career and the New England Patriots have young lineman that have been coming to their own. Branch might be back, like Bolden, on a cheap contract because not many teams are in the market for an aging defensive lineman.
- FB James Develin: Develin is a great blocking fullback and he is vital to the running game. It would be very shocking if Develin did not return to the team next season.
- WR Michael Floyd: Floyd did not play much for the Patriots after coming over from Arizona and with his impending legal issues, who knows what the future holds for him. It would be nice for Floyd to resurrect his career with New England.
- S Duron Harmon: Harmon has improved tremendously in the New England Patriots secondary and he even turned into quite the leader in the locker room. He was very vocal during halftime of the Super Bowl about the Patriots making a comeback (which they did). It would be great to see Harmon back as Belichick would love to have the Rutgers product back in a Patriots uniform.
- LB Dont’a Hightower: Hightower has made two plays in the last two Super Bowls that have either helped the Patriots win or swung momentum into the favor of the New England Patriots. He has been as consistent as any linebacker in the league. He is the quarterback on the Patriots defense and he was a captain for the team this season. The only reason why I do not think the Patriots bring Hightower back is the money. The Patriots have never been a team to pay top dollar for a player. Hightower is just as valuable to the defense as anyone at the moment aside from Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty. The most logical outcome here would be the Patriots using their franchise tag on their star linebacker.
- DE Chris Long: After spending many years in St. Louis, Long made his way to New England and helped the Patriots win the Super Bowl. Now, while Long did not light up the stat sheet, but Long played consistent ball all season long. It could be possible that Long comes back on a one-year basis for cheap money.
- LB Barkevious Mingo: Mingo did not see the field much aside from special teams. However, he has potential to be a big time pass rusher. If the Patriots decide to not bring back some of their pass rushers, he could return to New England.
- CB Logan Ryan: Ryan was one of the most improved players on the team last season. He developed into a terrific second cornerback. He could cash in big on a team looking for a number one corner. Hopefully, he will want to stay in New England.
- TE Greg Scruggs: The Patriots have enough tight ends at the moment. Belichick likes to have more than two tight ends on the roster. So Scruggs could be back on a one-year basis like some of the other players.
- DE Jabaal Sheard: After starting his New England career red-hot, his production and snaps declined. Sheard ran into some issues that lead to him being benched despite not being injured. Just like Long, he did not light up the stat sheet but was a consistent pass rusher. Sheard even branched out into coverage off the snap. He could see more of a prominent role elsewhere. But he developed into a nice addition for New England a few years ago and could return to the team.
- CB Malcolm Butler (Restricted): Butler has emerged to be one of the game’s best cornerbacks since Super Bowl XLIX. The New England Patriots have not had luck finding rookie cornerbacks but the Patriots struck gold with Butler. Butler has earned a long-term contract.
- OL Cameron Fleming (Restricted): Fleming would be a key component in keeping the Patriots offensive line stable for years to come.
As previously stated, most of these players’ contributions helped the Patriots win two Super Bowls in the last two years. But which of these players will be back and which ones will be wearing new jerseys next season?
The Patriots currently have over $60 million to spend. They have a priority list a mile long and it will be an interesting offseason to say the least.