About a month into the 2017 NFL free agency market and there are few big names left to sign. Former Minnesota Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson came to visit and workout for the Patriots but left without a contract offer. LeGarrette Blount is still available to return after 18 rushing touchdowns and over 1,000 yards on the ground failed to generate interest again on the open market.
While Blount could still return, the Patriots are still awash in salary cap space heading towards the NFL draft at the end of the month. The NFLPA has the Patriots with over $25,000,000 in cap space but that does not include Alan Branch’s contract (which is not official yet). Miguel Benzan at Patscap.com has the Patriots with just under $22 million in salary cap space.
New England needs to leave room for their seven NFL draft picks later this month but the Patriots have not done anything with the contract of Danny Amendola yet either. Amendola has a cap hit of almost $7.8 million and there is no way that a wide receiver who is fourth or fifth on the depth chart (Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and probably Malcolm Mitchell are ahead of Amendola) is going to make that kind of money. Just cutting Amendola frees up $6.5 million of cap space.
Another point brought up by Mike Reiss at ESPN.com was that the Patriots have only 66 players on the roster. With seven draft picks bringing them to 73 players, the Patriots could conceivably bring in up to 17 undrafted free agents to get the roster to 90 players heading into training camp. With an estimated $30 million in cap space once Amendola’s contract is resolved, the Patriots could have room for a few more free agents before or after the NFL draft.
At running back, if not Blount, the Patriots have kicked the tires on Peterson and could take a look at former Chiefs’ running back Jamaal Charles, former Seahawks’ running back Christine Michael, former Steelers’ running back DeAngelo Williams or former New York Giants’ running back and Dancing with the Stars’ contestant Rashad Jennings. None of these four have the pedigree of Peterson nor do any of them have the proven production of Blount.
A running back who would make sense in New England is former Jacksonville Jaguars’ running back and former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson is an electric athlete who was linked to the Patriots prior to the 2013 NFL draft. Robinson got lost in the Jaguars’ offense last year but has decent size (five-foot-eleven and 199 pounds) and can run and catch the ball out of the backfield.
The Patriots need depth at defensive end despite the added Kony Ealy and free agent pickup Lawrence Guy having the ability to slip outside to pressure as well. Jared Odrick, who was released by Jacksonville, is an end/hybrid player who already visited Foxboro this offseason and could yet be signed to a deal.
Another name to watch is longtime Colt and former Atlanta Falcons’ pass rusher Dwight Freeney. The Patriots saw him up-close in Super Bowl 51 and until he ran out of gas in the fourth quarter, the old man provided a lot of pressure on Tom Brady. Former Texans, Bills, and Dolphins’ defensive end Mario Williams may be available cheap to provide depth at the position.
An intriguing name who has not seen much attention in free agency is former Colts’ pass rusher Erik Walden. His only visit was with Tennessee and he left without a contract. Walden had 11 sacks for the Colts last year and is more of a 3-4 outside linebacker than a 4-3 defensive end. He is 31 but he has been a consistent performer in Indianapolis.
Another name of note at the position is Devin Taylor. Taylor had seven sacks for the Detroit Lions in 2015 but had a down year last season. After sitting on the sidelines through the first month of free agency, Taylor could be had on a cheap incentive-laden deal. The former Gamecock defensive end had 15 sacks in four seasons in Detroit and has the length (six-foot-seven) and size (266 pounds) that New England favors in a defensive end.
Finally, despite the depth at wide receiver already, do not count out former Arizona Cardinals’ wide receiver Michael Floyd returning to push Malcolm Mitchell at outside receiver. Floyd would likely not sign until his home arrest is over near the start of training camp but the Patriots paid $1 million last year to give Floyd a one-month trial. That kind of investment means he may be on his way back to give the Patriots the deepest wide receiver group in the NFL in 2017.