On a whirlwind opening day of NFL free agency that saw about two dozen players find new homes and two potential Hall of Fame pass rushers released, the Patriots were content to sit back and do nothing — even with their own players.
The Patriots’ top two free agents, cornerback Aqib Talib and receiver Julian Edelman, officially got to the open market after failing to strike deals with the team before the start of the new league year at 4 p.m.
It is unclear where the Patriots stand with Talib and the cornerback position. Teams may be waiting to see the market take shape and whether Darrelle Revis will become a free agent on Wednesday afternoon, as the Buccaneers are expected to cut him if they can’t find a trade partner. His departure seems certain, as Alterraun Verner agreed to a four-year deal with Tampa in the vicinity of $26 million, $14 million of which is guaranteed, according to reports Tuesday night.
Only one other cornerback signed — Indianapolis retained Vontae Davis for an eye-popping $39 million over four seasons with $20 million guaranteed.
As for Edelman, the Patriots are in danger of losing their top receiver for the second year in a row. Last year they let Wes Welker leave for Denver over $1 million, and they are currently at an impasse with Edelman, who will continue to negotiate with the Patriots but will also speak with other teams, a league source told the Globe.
Reports have already linked Edelman to the Browns and Ravens, and the Texans could be a good fit with new coach Bill O’Brien.
Edelman, entering his sixth NFL season, is coming off a breakout year in which he led the Patriots with 105 catches for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. He also has been a standout punt returner throughout his career, averaging 12.3 yards per return.
Edelman would like to return to the Patriots, but doesn’t seem intent on giving them a hometown discount. He was a seventh-round pick in 2009 and has been paid near-minimum salaries. Last year he barely received any interest in free agency, and he returned to the Patriots on a 1-year, league-minimum contract with incentives.
Edelman likes playing in New England with Tom Brady — the two share the same agents — but after establishing himself as the team’s top receiver, Edelman wants to cash in, especially since big paydays only come once or twice in a career.
Edelman could be looking to better the $10 million guaranteed that the Patriots gave Danny Amendola last season.
“It’s just business,” the source said.
However, the Patriots still have plenty of options at receiver and cornerback in free agency. If the Patriots don’t want to spend top dollar on a cornerback, they can target Antonio Cromartie or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, among others. At receiver, Eric Decker may have a hard time striking it big, while Hakeem Nicks, James Jones, Emmanuel Sanders, and Kenny Britt can likely be had for relative bargains.
And in an interesting move, the Falcons released tight end Tony Gonzalez, who retired and took a job on the CBS pre-game show. The Falcons were forced to release Gonzalez because he never filed retirement papers and was due a $3 million roster bonus this week. Now that Gonzalez is free, it will prompt speculation that he will play for a Super Bowl competitor this fall.
While the Patriots never seemed to be in on some of the big defensive players like defensive end Arthur Jones (now with Colts) and defensive tackle Paul Soliai (now with Falcons), a few interesting pass rushers hit the free agency pool on Tuesday in Dallas’s DeMarcus Ware and Chicago’s Julius Peppers. Ware (31) and Peppers (34) are getting old, but could potentially be good options for the Patriots to boost their pass rush at a relatively low price. Jared Allen is also a free agent, and he visited the Broncos on Tuesday, according to reports.
The Patriots also didn’t do much with their other free agents and haven’t made any roster cuts or contract extensions.
Broncos veteran linebacker Wesley Woodyard visited New England on Tuesday, according to a Denver radio report, and he could be the replacement for Brandon Spikes, who isn’t expected back after four seasons with the Patriots. Spikes, a second-round pick in 2010, said goodbye on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s been real, it’s been fun. But it hasn’t been real fun lol,” he wrote. “Thank u to the cities of New England & @Patriots for an amazing run.”
The Patriots also haven’t re-signed center Ryan Wendell, and may lose backup linebacker Dane Fletcher, who visited Tampa Bay on Tuesday, according to reports.