Mailbag: LeGarrette Blount, Aqib Talib, and free agency

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Free agency has finally begun. The month-long lull of no activity in the NFL is over. That means there are plenty of questions regarding the Patriots’ priorities in the early offseason. Our readers sent in quite a few this week:

How critical is returning LeGarrette Blount to the Patriots’ offense? He was the big daddy for the Patties’ last year. –Ron Stone from Denver, CO

LeGarrette Blount was a beast for the Pats, particularly down the home stretch of the 2013 season. He is a unique talent and a monster in the running game. That being said, he is hardly critical to the offense.

Blount is a bruising power runner on first and second down. He is very effective doing what he does best, so the Patriots would certainly love to bring him back. But if they don’t, they already have other options on the roster. Stevan Ridley might even be more capable than Blount. Brandon Bolden is another solid option with more versatility. The Patriots are unlikely to offer Blount much more than a couple million per year, but if the price is right you can expect him to be trampling defenders while wearing red, white, and blue next year.

Is defensive tackle a priority for the Patriots in free agency or are Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly going to come back strong? What about Armond Armstead? –Steve from Biddeford, ME

Steve, you basically just asked three questions in one, and I think that should tell you all you need to know. As good as Vince Wilfork has been in the past, he might not be his former self after returning from an Achilles tear at age 32. Tommy Kelly is also coming back from a season ending injury (knee), and is a year older than Wilfork. Finally, Armond Armstead has yet to play a down in the NFL.

With so many question marks, defensive tackle needs to be the Patriots’ top priority in free agency. If they don’t handle it in free agency, they’ll probably be forced to spend multiple draft picks at the position. That could work out, but it also serves as an obstacle to New England’s typical draft strategy of selecting the best player available regardless of position.

Are the Patriots going to regret letting Talib hit the open market? –Kirk from Amherst, MA

The Patriots passed on the opportunity to use their franchise tag prior to Monday’s deadline. While that did not come as a huge surprise, it would not have been out of the question to use it on wide receiver Julian Edelman or cornerback Aqib Talib.

Talib would have earned $11.8 million if tagged, and will probably garner less than that on the open market. However, there is no longer any guarantee that the Patriots will be the team paying him next season unless they reach an agreement before March 11.

To answer your question, Kirk, I don’t think they will regret letting Talib test the free agent market. If they really want to bring him back, they should still be able to do it for less than $11.8 million. This way they won’t be overpaying him. For Talib’s probable market value, look no further than the contract the Miami Dolphins offered cornerback Brent Grimes on Monday worth roughly $32 million over four years.

Any chance the Pats snag Jairus Byrd in free agency? –Devin from Attleboro, MA

Yes. It’s hard to believe the Pats would go after Byrd (widely considered to be the top free agent safety this offseason) if they invest a lot of money in Talib. However, if they don’t end up retaining Talib, Byrd instantly becomes a possibility. He would look awfully good paired with Devin McCourty on the back end of the Patriots’ D.

Thanks to everyone for the emails. Tweet all your Patriots-related questions, comments, and stories to @cover32_NE or @TC_Howard. You can also email questions to tanner@cover32.com.