Many Patriots fans probably feel as though free agency is setting up to be a dream scenario. The secondary has long been a problem, and not only does it appear that Ravens safety Ed Reed will be a free agent at some point, but the Packers released defensive back Charles Woodson and his $9.4 million salary-cap number.
A match made in heaven with one of those players? Perhaps. I’m sure Tom Brady would love to have Woodson, his former Michigan teammate, in the fold. And the further the last Super Bowl title gets in the distance, the more likely it is that the Patriots go for broke with an acquisition they wouldn’t normally make.
But does signing Reed or Woodson make sense? Going to take Reed out of the equation right now because even if he leaves Baltimore — not a given — the heavy favorite to land Reed is Indianapolis, where coach Chuck Pagano and Reed go back to the University of Miami.
Woodson? Just for his brain, experience, and instincts, I would expect Bill Belichick to at least check in on Woodson. Simply having an experienced player like that in the defensive backs room is valuable in its own right.
The question is, how much value do you put on that with about $16 million in cap room available (there’s room for more if the Patriots want to do extensions for Brady and/or Vince Wilfork). Then you throw in the team’s own key free agents that will need to be re-signed or replaced (Wes Welker, Sebastian Vollmer, Danny Woodhead, Julian Edelman, Trevor Scott, Deion Branch, Donald Thomas), and needed upgrades (receiver, cornerback, strong safety, pass rushers, cover linebacker), and you begin to wonder whether the Patriots have the luxury to add a player just for his experience. This isn’t fantasy football.
Then there’s the issue of where Woodson would fit and what would be expected out of him at 36 (he’ll be 37 Oct. 7) and after two collarbone breaks in just over two years. He is no longer the dominating playmaker he was for most of his seven seasons with the Packers, including 2009, when he was NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
“Wants to keep playing, but there’s little or no reason for the Packers to keep him,” wrote the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Bob McGinn after the season. “The Packers would be out of their minds to pay Woodson the $10 million he’s due in 2013 and, even if he would consider a pay cut, the team needs to get better at safety.
“At this stage, Woodson can’t cover outside and struggles covering inside. His undisciplined, freelancing style of play continued to compromise the integrity of the defense and influenced younger teammates negatively.
“Allowed seven plays of 20 yards or more even though he played just 49.8 percent of the downs. Had a disappointing season as a pressure player, forced just two takeaways, and finished last among eight defensive backs in passes broken up per snap (one every 101.8).”
Woodson is not really a cornerback anymore. His speed has declined and he peeks into the backfield too much. He can, however, cover tight ends very well if asked to.
Woodson’s skill set, because he anticipates so well through terrific study habits, indicates that he’d be better as a strong, in-the-box safety. That way, he can play with his eyes in the backfield and read the play. But his body can’t take the punishment over an entire season.
So that would make Woodson, essentially, a free safety with questionable ability to stay healthy. If the Patriots were to sign Woodson (or Reed, for that matter), that would mean a move back to cornerback for Devin McCourty. That could certainly help the cornerback position, especially if Aqib Talib doesn’t return.
Nobody is better at fitting together pieces of the puzzle than Belichick and, like Packers coach Mike McCarthy, Belichick knows how to take it easy on aging veterans. I also doubt the fact that Woodson isn’t much for offseason workouts away from his Atlanta and Orlando homes would be much of an issue (Belichick had an arrangement with, most recently, guard Brian Waters).
What we know right now is that Woodson is an unrestricted free agent and has indicated that he wants to continue playing with a contender to win his second Super Bowl title. The Patriots are certainly a contender, and need help in the secondary. Also, Woodson and Brady are friends, and Belichick has been a longtime admirer.
It will be interesting to see how things unfold. Could Woodson help the Patriots? If healthy, yes. Like everything in the NFL, this will probably come down to economics. Unlike some other players out there, Woodson might very well accept a lot less for a shot to win another Super Bowl.
In that case, it might indeed make the Patriots and Woodson a match made in heaven. Whether it works out, that’s a whole other story.
PERCEPTIONS OF PERCY
Vikings stay guarded on Harvin’s situation
It’s no secret that Bill Belichick has also been a fan of Vikings receiver Percy Harvin since Harvin’s University of Florida days under Belichick buddy Urban Meyer. It’s not hard to see why. Just in terms of talent, Harvin has the kind of varied skill set (receiving, running, returning) that could address a few needs for the Patriots.
There have been conflicting reports about Harvin’s situation with the Vikings, but the bottom line is this: He wants a new contract, one that will pay him at an elite level, and he may well hold out to get one. That, of course, would complicate any trade discussions.
There have been reports that Harvin’s issue is with the way he is used in the Vikings offense, and not his contract. Yeah, right.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was very diplomatic when talking to reporters Friday.
“We have no intent of trading Percy Harvin,” Spielman said. “Percy Harvin is under contract and we expect him, just like all of our players under contract, to be here. He is a very good football player but he knows what he does for our football team.”
Asked if Harvin will hold out, Spielman said, “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.”
The biggest thing a suitor for Harvin will have to deal with is his attitude. Meyer let him get away with just about anything, and helped to create a bit of a diva. That’s part of the reason he fell to the Vikings at No. 22 in the 2009 draft. Harvin also had issues with the Vikings coaches, including a few sideline arguments.
It all makes for a tough situation when trying to figure out what the future holds for Harvin.
“There’s a lot of rumors,” Spielman said. “There’s so much stuff flying out there this time of year that comes from everywhere.
“But I would just say don’t believe all the half-truths or the rumors or the no-truths that are out there, because there is so much stuff that flies around and flies around on the draft kids before the draft. It’s great reading.”
FEATHERING THEIR NEST
Eagles continue to add as Gamble joins flock
The Eagles surprised everyone when they pulled Chip Kelly out of Oregon to be their next head coach. They did just as well when they hired Tom Gamble from the 49ers as their new vice president of player personnel.
Gamble will report to general manager Howie Roseman, who has been searching for a football-based lieutenant since Ryan Grigson left to become the Colts general manager a year ago.
Gamble joins a staff that already features former Bills and Steelers general manager Tom Donahoe, former Saints director of player personnel Rick Mueller, and former University of Alabama director of player personnel Ed Marynowitz.
“We’re very comfortable with the people we have on the staff,” Roseman said. “We’re really excited about the futures that they have, but at the same time, when you have an opportunity to add, it’s no different than when you’re adding a great player or a great coach to your team. When you have an opportunity to add someone who’s extremely talented in what he does to your staff, you have to look at those opportunities.”
Gamble started his personnel career with the Eagles in the 1980s when his father, Harry, was team president.
The personnel department isn’t the only place where the Eagles have stocked up; Kelly announced 22 assistant coaches, with some coming from the college ranks to help ease the transition to his system.
Kelly also hired Shaun Huls as “sports science coordinator” to work alongside the strength coaches. Huls previously served as strength, conditioning, and combatives coordinator for Navy Special Warfare.
“The game of football has evolved, and I think we as coaches have to evolve with it,” Kelly said. “I think there’s a lot of other sports that have evolved faster than football has evolved from a science standpoint, and we want to be on the cutting edge of that.”
Insurance is no help if player drops in draft
Warren Zola, assistant dean for graduate programs in the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, works with Eagles athletes who have a chance to play professionally, and he pointed out some of the problems for star athletes like South Carolina end Jadeveon Clowney, who can’t enter the NFL draft until he is three years removed from high school graduation. Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com reported that Clowney, who some think should sit out his final NCAA season since he’s likely the top pick next year, is looking to buy $5 million in insurance.
“Unfortunately, the NCAA does no favors to elite student-athletes by capping the potential disability insurance policies that these players can obtain,” Zola wrote. “According to the NCAA’s ‘Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance’ (ESDI) guidelines, the cap on coverage is $5 million for permanent disability insurance.
“There are no provisions for loss-of-value insurance policies that would address an injury that lowers a player’s draft slot selection but doesn’t make them permanently injured.”
For those types of policies, the player is barred by the NCAA from borrowing against potential future earnings, so the player would have to go out of pocket for $100,000 to be fully protected. Of course, that leaves the player open to being targeted by agents who will pay that policy for them — which would make the player ineligible.
The $5 million policy seems like a waste for Clowney, so maybe he should seriously consider sitting out. Interesting call. The NCAA could avoid this and keep players on the field by footing the bill for the loss-of-value insurance policies. Don’t hold your breath.
1. Expect the Patriots to take a look at defensive end Dwight Freeney (left), the Bloomfield, Conn., product who was told by the Colts he will not be re-signed. But, as with other veterans, the price tag will likely be important for a player with declining skills (five sacks last season).
2. Commissioner Roger Goodell nearly tripled his pay in 2011 to $29.49 million, according to Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal, as he was rewarded for the new CBA and TV contracts. Players and their agents will be curious about that, since the salary cap that was $123 million in 2009 is expected to be $125 million and $130 million in 2015 and ’16, according to Kaplan.
3. It sure says a lot that Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who has made a career out of dealing with troubled players such as Albert Haynesworth, Pacman Jones, and Janoris Jenkins, released former Lions receiver Titus Young just days after claiming him.
4. While I wrote last week that the Patriots should let Brandon Lloyd, among others, walk this offseason, it wasn’t because of production. For his salary, his play was fine. My point was that if the Patriots determine they need better at that X receiver position and spend a lot of money to do it, it doesn’t make much sense to keep Lloyd. But if the Patriots don’t see many other options, keeping Lloyd (especially with a tweak in his deal) certainly makes sense, especially if Wes Welker leaves. Lloyd knows the offense. How many Patriots receivers can say that?
5. Good to see former Boston College standout Will Blackmon (Cranston, R.I./Bishop Hendricken) get another chance with the Seahawks after dealing with a knee surgery in 2012. Blackmon said last week that he ran a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash.
The Vikings intend to play home games in 2014 and ’15 outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium while their new stadium is constructed where the Metrodome is. The Patriots are due to play in Minneapolis in 2014. They also are expected to have road games at Green Bay and Kansas City that season, which could be interesting weather-wise depending on when they are played . . . Spoke to former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum for a few minutes last week between his many media stops. The Needham native sounded upbeat and is sorting through some opportunities to see what is next for him . . . New Bills coach Doug Marrone said the team will have an open competition at quarterback between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tarvaris Jackson, who re-signed with the team. Expect the Bills to add another quarterback, likely in the draft, to be the leader in the competition when training camp starts . . . Former Patriots defensive tackle Ron Brace will get a fresh start with the Redskins after signing with them last week. The BC and Worcester-Burncoat product never got on track with the Patriots because of injury and performance reasons after being taken in the second round of the 2009 draft. It didn’t appear to be for lack of effort . . . Packers free agent receiver Greg Jennings basically winked at the Dolphins when asked on NFL Network about a possible reunion with coach Joe Philbin, Green Bay’s former offensive coordinator. “I wouldn’t mind that at all,” said Jennings. “The weather is definitely nice, they have an up-and-coming quarterback, and they definitely have a defense that’s pretty solid, and some pieces on offense that are pretty solid as well. Like I said, I’m open to all options — obviously, Green Bay being one of those options as well.”Greg A. Bedard can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.