There may a little restlessness from fans about the offseason of change on offense for the Patriots — Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Woodhead, and their 232 receptions in 2012 (58 percent of the team’s total) have been replaced by Danny Amendola, Emmanuel Sanders (if the Steelers don’t match his offer sheet), and Shane Vereen/Leon Washington (119 catches) — but much of the league doesn’t see it that way.
In reviewing the Patriots’ moves in free agency, five personnel executives thought the concern was much ado about nothing.
“If you look at the history of what they’ve done, the perimeter receivers are really interchangeable parts, to be honest,” said an AFC executive. “Just look at the transactions they’ve done in the past. They’ve replaced a player of almost equal status in Wes Welker with Danny Amendola. The only things he lacks in my mind is continuity with a quarterback, and the durability issues. The latter is a concern, the former isn’t. Tom Brady will make it work. He always does.”
Critics like to look at all the changes, but people inside the game look at the constants: Brady and the tight ends.
“Look, even if the [Rob] Gronkowski arm stuff goes poorly, he’s still going to be there when it matters,” said an NFC executive. “So is [Aaron] Hernandez. Yeah, the injuries are a concern, but they are for all of us. As long as you have the tight ends and Brady down the stretch, I don’t care who else is playing on the perimeter — they’ll win that division and a playoff game. Beyond that, they have to hope the changes put them over the top. But they’ll be there at the end, which is all you want. The rest comes down to luck and health.”
Here is a sampling of opinions about the Patriots’ free agent moves, and potential additions:
Amendola (Rams) — “His only problem has been sustaining durability. He’s very similar to the way Welker was, so he’s a plug and play player . . . They start the clock over with a younger player under contract. And this one can do a little bit more on the outside and down the field. More of an athlete. Brady will love him.”
Receiver Donald Jones (Bills) — “He has quickness, good but not great speed, and can get yards after the catch. He should be a good complement to their offense with the skills he possesses. He’s a thick, strong guy that operates well in small spaces. He’s more of a No. 2 outside guy — a “Z” — but he has a little flexibility.”
Sanders (Steelers; pending offer sheet) — “He’s probably going to have to start for them but he’s been a middle of the field guy for the Steelers. I was surprised it was a one-year sheet . . . I like the player, no question. I think he can be a contributing guy. Has quickness, speed, average size with some inside/outside flexibility . . . Has some separation skills. An ascending player who can keep improving. He was a No. 3 for the Steelers; his ceiling is as a No. 2. I’d rather have him as a No. 3 with some spot play at No. 2 — like Pittsburgh used him . . . I kind of like it. Could you get that guy in this year’s draft? Potentially, yeah, but the receiver position is a crapshoot. They probably think they’re getting a sure thing. I would be surprised if the Steelers didn’t match after losing [Mike] Wallace.
Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (Raiders) — “Positional flexibility and some three-down versatility. I did see declining production in the pass rush. He’s athletic, has size and strength, mobility, so he’s not limited to being in the box. Historically he’s been an underachiever and hit or miss with his motor. You wonder if the Patriots can motivate him . . . Even if they put him in a specific role with limited snaps, you still wonder if he’s going to bring it consistently enough. You’re going to have to police him.”
Safety Adrian Wilson (Cardinals) — “An older, savvy vet who is a declining player at this stage in terms of speed and range. But he still brings a physical presence, especially against the run . . . He can’t cover anymore. He’s never been a center-field-type guy. And at this point you don’t want him carrying a guy down the field or playing in open space. He’s best at this point in certain packages as a sub linebacker. He can add a physical presence against the run.”
Receiver Michael Jenkins (Vikings) — “Really big and long boundary receiver. Only a possessional guy; not explosive or a matchup problem. Not a very good separator. His size and reach can be a problem.”
Offensive tackle Will Svitek (Falcons) — “You can expect him to be a swing, backup tackle. He’s not a starter but he can give them some insurance because he can play left or right. Certainly a competent backup.”
Washington (Seahawks) — “He’s more than a kickoff and punt guy. I think you put him together with Shane Vereen and hope that you can replace Woodhead with them, teach Vereen some things. He’s smart, reliable, catches the ball well, and can provide a change of pace . . . He’s quick more than fast. A good, solid complementary guy. Not the same speed since his knee injury.”
Defensive end John Abraham (Falcons free agent who visited Patriots) — “He’s not a three-down player anymore. A situational pass rusher. Weak-side base defender, average at the point of attack stacking up the run. He still has some athleticism, some bend, and provides an element of speed off the edge . . . He still has a little juice left in the tank. As a role player, he can give you something for a year or two in pass rush, sure.”
They hope to haul in
A few thoughts on the Patriots’ possible acquisition of Steelers free agent Emmanuel Sanders:
■ The Patriots are basically acknowledging they have no faith in their ability to successfully project how college receivers will function in their offense. Their track record speaks for itself since 2002: eight have been drafted with little to show for it.
■ The situation becomes even more glaring when you consider that the Patriots drafted defensive end Jake Bequette with the 90th overall pick last season, and have him for four years at $2.66 million. They are using the 91st pick this year to pay Sanders $2.5 million for one season.
■ Also consider that the Steelers used picks 84 (2009), 82 (2010), and 195 (2010) to find their three top receivers from last year: Mike Wallace (Dolphins), Sanders, and Antonio Brown (signed five-year, $42.5 million extension last year).
■ I understand how people want to believe that for a third-round pick, the Patriots must have some sort of verbal extension worked out with Sanders. I don’t see it. They still don’t know whether Sanders will become fully acclimated (gain Tom Brady’s confidence). Watching Sanders on film, that’s still up in the air.
■ The other side of the coin is, why would Sanders want to do that deal heading into a contract year? He’ll make good money this season, and if he’s productive with Brady, the Patriots will be forced to use the franchise tag on Sanders ($10.5 million this year) or else he’ll hit the open market with proven production in two systems.
■ If Sanders does sign an extension, say for four years, he’ll be 30 when he’s due to become a free agent. Ask Wes Welker how it worked out for him when he signed a five-year, $18.1 million extension before suiting up for the Patriots.
■ Basically, the Patriots need to make sure Sanders is the right fit before investing in him long term. And Sanders shouldn’t just give away the leverage of free agency. He may never get a chance at it again.
in a great many roles
Always find it interesting covering the NFL how some people take routes outside of the norm. One of those is J.I. Halsell, the 35-year-old football analytics and contract adviser for the Priority Sports agency — the outfit that added former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum to represent coaches and personnel people.
Halsell, a Clark graduate, started at an IT consulting firm but for three years was miserable. He got his MBA from Seton Hall and then turned a three-month internship in the NFL office into a two-year stint reviewing and approving player contracts for the Management Council.
In 2007, Halsell switched to the team side and became the cap analyst for the Redskins.
“When you’re in the league office, it’s really more administrative and making sure teams are working within the collective bargaining agreement,” Halsell said. “With a team, there’s a lot more strategic thought, and I was able to think creatively to deal with the cap and contracts. With the Redskins always being up against the cap, that was certainly a good test.”
After being downsized during the lockout, Halsell stayed visible with various media duties in print, radio, and TV. That’s how he caught the eye of the agency that includes prominent agents Mark Bartelstein, Deryk Gilmore, Mike McCartney, Rick Smith, and Kenny Zuckerman.
“The thing I learned with what I did on the team side, you see the individual as numbers, and being on the agent side, while I’m still negotiating huge numbers for a Haloti Ngata or an Arian Foster, I get more personal interaction with players and really feel like I get to make more of an impact on them directly,” Halsell said.
Halsell’s varied experience puts him in position to go in any direction.
“If I stay on the agent side, I would like to stay with this agency and go more that route and represent players directly,” he said. “If I get the opportunity to go back to the team side, I’d love to become a general manager.”
First look at opening
round of the draft
Here’s the first of our two stabs at a mock draft, with the final version landing April 25:
1. Chiefs — Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
It’s close between Joeckel and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher for top tackle, but the former has proved it against better competition.
2. Jaguars — Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Jacksonville has to find a pass rush. Jordan has the athletic ability of a young Jason Taylor.
3. Raiders — Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
General manager Reggie McKenzie learned under Ted Thompson in Green Bay, and that means take the safe pick.
4. Eagles — Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Philly could go quarterback later but Smith’s arm/leg combination is too much to pass up.
5. Lions — Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
Detroit has to protect Matthew Stafford better if it is going to become a contender.
6. Browns — Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Nick Saban-coached corners won’t disappoint, especially one this good.
7. Cardinals — Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Arizona has been hurting on the line for years. Johnson is a plug and play guy on either side.
8. Bills — Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
Buffalo will get its quarterback later (Ryan Nassib); it needs targets. Could be Tavon Austin or Patterson.
9. Jets — Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
New York has been aging and slow on the edge the past couple of years. Rex Ryan finally gets an athlete.
10. Titans — Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
Warmack is a stud in the interior line, where the Titans still need a lot of help.
11. Chargers — Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
No offense to former Patriot Rich Ohrnberger, but San Diego needs to do better at left guard.
12. Dolphins — Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
After a busy free agency, Miami has set itself up to go any direction it wants.
13. Buccaneers — Tavon Austin , WR, West Virginia
Whether it’s trading for Darrelle Revis or staying put, Tampa needs a cornerback.
14. Panthers — Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Despite getting cleared for a heart condition, enough teams will pass on this standout and Carolina will happily grab him.
15. Saints — Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M
Their pass rush was awful, so Rob Ryan will be pounding the table for an edge player.
16. Rams — Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
A terrific physical safety. Basically imagine what you thought Patrick Chung would be, only realized.
17. Steelers — Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
With James Harrison gone, Pittsburgh needs to start replacing some of the teeth of its defense.
18. Cowboys — Eric Reid, S, LSU
Dallas needs its fair share of help, especially at safety, where it’s been lacking for some time.
19. Giants — D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
General manager Jerry Reese could go with safety or linebacker help, but the steady Fluker is too good to pass up.
20. Bears — Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
With Marc Trestman replacing Lovie Smith the Cover-2 defense is gone, so Rhodes brings more technique flexibility.
21. Bengals — Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict are back, but Cincinnati has little else at linebacker.
22. Rams — Deandre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
St. Louis is ecstatic to land one of the more polished receivers.
23. Vikings — Jonthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Now that Antoine Winfield is gone, Minnesota needs secondary help in the NFC North.
24. Colts — Keenan Allen, WR, California
Quarterback Andrew Luck has Reggie Wayne and some promising weapons but lacks another outside threat.
25. Vikings — Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The talent and need to rework the interior allays some of the character concerns.
26. Packers — Bjoern Werner, OLB, Florida State
This is where many teams may be looking to get back into the round to grab a quarterback.
27. Texans — Robert Woods, WR, USC
Receiver Andre Johnson has been lacking a suitable running mate for far too long.
28. Broncos — Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
Free agent Terrance Knighton needs more help in the soft middle of the line.
29. Patriots — Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina
Bill Belichick will be looking to deal this spot, but if he stays it’s time to groom Vince Wilfork’s replacement.
30. Falcons — Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Atlanta’s cupboard is just about bare at the position. Trufant is terrific.
31. 49ers — Jesse Williams, NT, Alabama
San Francisco could go secondary or line with first pick. Williams brings youth at the nose.
32. Ravens — Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
Free agent Rolando McClain is no sure thing but Te’o is, and he can replace Ray Lewis.
Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.