Patriots Free Agency Update 2/28

Leigh Bodden is set to become a free agent this spring, and it doesn't look like the Patriots are trying very hard to keep him off the market. Will New England have another starting cornerback in 2010? Bodden's situation isn't unique, New England has plenty of questions headed into March.

Despite parting ways with defensive coordinator Dean Pees and going without an offensive coordinator last fall, New England is not going to fill out the coaching staff with any real veteran additions. Corwin Brown leaves an underperforming Notre Dame defense to help out in the Patriots secondary, but beyond that, stealing a quote that Bill Belichick himself has used in the past, "the status is quo" with the coaching staff, for better or worse.

In terms of player needs, the Patriots have a decent amount of holes to fill considering the team was the No. 3 seed in the AFC. The lack of a pass rush carries over as the major need of the last two years. Vince Wilfork has been franchised, whether he likes it or not. And the Patriots are fortunate in that their two other high-end free agents -- Logan Mankins and Stephen Gostkowski -- will be restricted thanks to the rules of the uncapped year. Beyond retaining those three players, New England will need to add talent at linebacker, wide receiver and defensive line. Improving in other areas is also not out of the question as the Patriots enter the 2010 offseason with as many question marks on the roster as at any other time in the Bill Belichick era.


1. Defensive end/outside linebacker: Whether it's in the four-man fronts that the team ran a bit more often in 2009 or in New England's tradition 3-4 sets, the Patriots must find a legitimate pass rusher. An inability to get to the quarterback, save for Tully Banta-Cain's overachieving and misleading 10 sacks, has been the major flaw in the New England defense for the last two seasons.

2. Wide receiver: Randy Moss isn't getting any younger or more productive. Wes Welker is recovering from reconstructive knee surgery and is likely to open 2010 on PUP. And New England never found a No. 3 option behind those productive vets last fall. The Patriots must find at least two legitimate receiving options to work with Moss and developing youngster Julian Edelman.

3. Inside linebacker: Jerod Mayo battled a knee injury for a somewhat disappointing sophomore season. Former undrafted second-year player Gary Guyton was miscast on the inside in 3-4 fronts. And beyond those two young player New England has little talent or depth at inside linebacker. That's a problem, even playing behind one of the best nose tackles in the game in Vince Wilfork.

MEDICAL WATCH: WR Wes Welker underwent reconstructive knee surgery on the ACL in his left knee Feb. 2 in Boston. The All-Pro receiver will now begin six to 12 month of rehab in an effort to return to form.

--QB Tom Brady battled rib, finger and shoulder injuries throughout 2009, but said earlier this month that he would not need offseason surgery to deal with any of the injuries.




--LB Tully Banta-Cain is coming off a career year as he notched 10 sacks in the first year of his second tour of duty in New England. He started 10 of 16 games played and even talked about signing a long-term extension with the team during the year. He's expressed a strong desire to remain in a Patriots uniform.

--CB Leigh Bodden played out a one-year deal in New England, hoping to cash in this spring after a big year. He tied for the New England lead with five interceptions, but otherwise had just an average season. Though the Patriots would probably like him to return as a bridge starter to their long-term youth at the position, Bodden could attract some attention as a proven veteran on the open market.

--OLB Derrick Burgess had an extremely quiet five sacks in his first season in New England after joining the team via training-camp trade from the Raiders. He drew curious high praise from Bill Belichick late in the year and could get a chance to return to the team at a position at which it is dangerously thin.

--RB Kevin Faulk had his usual productive season in 2009 finishing second on the team in rushing and tied for third in receptions. The respected veteran has openly expressed the hope to finish his career with the only team he's ever played for and likely will get that chance.

--DE Jarvis Green got more playing time in the wake of the Richard Seymour trade and did nothing with it. While he battled multiple injuries, he started 12 of 13 games played, but recorded just one sack. He wants to test the free-agent waters and will be given every opportunity to do so.

--P Chris Hanson had what may be best described as another "blah" year in New England. The Patriots have been happy with his situational punting in the past -- he had the fewest punts returned in the NFL -- but the team could and should look to upgrade at the spot after using the draft to add a young kicker and long snapper in recent years.

--G Stephen Neal started all 12 games he played in, but missed four or more games to injury for the third straight year. The oft-injured former world-class wrestler discussed retirement following New England's playoff loss and that option seems likely. If he wants to continue to play, it would probably be in New England.

--TE Benjamin Watson played in all 16 games for the first time in his career as he played out his six-year rookie contract. But characteristically inconsistent hands made him an afterthought in the offense, catching just 29 balls though he did have five touchdowns. He probably will not be back.

--NT Vince Wilfork went to his second Pro Bowl after a summer trying to get the team to give him a long-term extension. He's a virtual lock to get the team's franchise tag. Like so many others, he won't be happy about it.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)

--*K Stephen Gostkowski is a former All-Pro. He had a decent season, and even showed improvement on his kickoffs. He'll get a decent tender and be back.

--*G Logan Mankins is becoming a perennial Pro Bowler. He would have been a top lineman if he were unrestricted, but given that he'll likely get the highest tender he finds his options more limited. He's a good bet to return unless some team blows he and the Patriots away with an RFA offer sheet.

--RB Chris Taylor was on injured reserve and has never played for New England. If he's brought back it will be as a camp body and won't be on a tender.

--*LB Pierre Woods had a chance to increase his role in 2009 given New England's lack of depth at outside linebacker. He played in 16 games with five starts, but was lackluster at best and remains a special-teams/backup type. As a former undrafted player he's a candidate to get the lowest (original draft pick) tender, but isn't quality enough to get anything above that.




--WR David Patten: FA; terms unknown.


--LB Junior Seau (retired).

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