Turns out the Patriots are, in fact, going all-in this offseason — just not on the side of the ball most expected.
Two days after agreeing to terms with Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Patriots further bolstered their secondary by agreeing with former Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner. He signed a three-year deal worth $17 million, according to reports.
“I am honored that the Patriots are making me part of their legendary organization, and am grateful for the opportunity Mr. Kraft, Coach Belichick, Nick Caserio and the entire team have given me,” Browner said on his Twitter account. “I intend to diligently work with the same passion and dedication that I have displayed since coming into the NFL to uphold the great traditions and qualities that are embodied by the Patriots.”
The Patriots haven’t addressed their offense yet in free agency — namely, who is going to catch passes from Tom Brady — but their secondary now is loaded with talent.
It’s possible that Browner, 29, will be used as the No. 2 cornerback opposite Revis. The Patriots lost their tallest cornerback when Aqib Talib defected to Denver, but Browner is 6 feet 4 inches, 220 pounds, and one of the most physical defensive backs in the NFL. His size can be used against athletic tight ends in the same way Talib did last season.
But it’s also possible that with solid depth already at cornerback with Revis, Alfonzo Dennard, Logan Ryan, and Kyle Arrington, the Patriots could use Browner at strong safety, where they have a hole since cutting Steve Gregory last week.
If Browner does change positions, it would give the Patriots tremendous flexibility with two safeties in Browner and Devin McCourty who are converted cornerbacks and could switch back to the position if injuries or performance deem it necessary.
Browner will be suspended without pay four games to start the 2014 season and docked an additional four weeks pay for violation of the NFL’s drug policy. He was initially suspended indefinitely by the NFL in December, but his punishment was changed this month because one of his “failed” drug tests came as a result of missing a test when he played in the Canadian Football League from 2007-10.
Browner was an undrafted free agent for Denver in 2005 who was injured during his rookie training camp and could subsequently only find work in Canada.
He developed into an all-star and was signed by the Seahawks in 2011, who made him their starter opposite Richard Sherman. Browner had 10 interceptions in three seasons with Seattle and made the 2011 Pro Bowl, but was suspended for February’s Super Bowl win over the Broncos.
Neither the agreements with Revis or Browner have been officially announced by the team.
Browner was the only major development to come out of Foxborough Friday, but the team is still working a couple of important angles behind the scene:
■ The Vince Wilfork situation has not been resolved, even though the big tackle told the Patriots to release him, according to NFL Network.
The Patriots don’t want to have Wilfork at his $7.5 million salary and $11.6 million cap number, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want him.
Wilfork, to this point, has refused a paycut. If Wilfork absolutely won’t budge, then yes, the Patriots will have to consider releasing him after 10 great seasons. Wilfork may have even done the team a favor by asking for a release. Now they don’t necessarily have to be the bad guy.
But Wilfork’s request is looking more like a negotiating ploy. Maybe now the Patriots can increase their offer, Wilfork can begrudgingly accept, and cooler heads can prevail.
However, the onus is mostly up to Wilfork to swallow his pride and accept a lower deal if he wants to stay in New England instead of chasing the highest free agent offer.
It’s possible the rival Bills or Jets could offer him a competitive contract to steal him away and irk the Patriots, but otherwise it’s hard to see him getting much money on the open market given that he’s a 32-year-old run-stuffing defensive tackle coming off a torn Achilles’. He also wasn’t playing very well last year in the three-plus games before his injury, although it’s possible he was trying to play through a partial tear before it finally popped.
Wilfork can still be productive as a rotational player, and his emotional attachment to the organization and Kraft family shouldn’t be understated. He’s been a great face of the franchise, and it would hurt to dump him unceremoniously.
But Wilfork isn’t worth anywhere near what his current contract is set to pay him. And it’s ultimately up to him whether he wants to stay or go.
■ The dominoes are starting to fall into place in the wide receiver market, and none of them include Edelman so far, perhaps giving him no other choice than to return to New England.
Two teams believed to be interested in Edelman spent money elsewhere at receiver. On Thursday, the Browns signed Bengals restricted free agent Andrew Hawkins to a four-year, $13 million deal that Cincinnati is not likely to match.
Hawkins, 5-7 and 180 pounds, had only 12 catches for 180 yards in eight games last season, but the Browns signed him to replace Davone Bess as their slot receiver. The Bengals already have significant investments in three receivers and two tight ends, so they probably aren’t a good fit for Edelman.
The Ravens were another team interested in Edelman, but they filled that void with former Panthers great Steve Smith Friday. A day after Smith was cut, the Ravens didn’t let him get out of the building during his visit, having Smith cancel his trip to New England and sign a three-year deal.
Edelman had his first team visit Friday when he spent time with his hometown 49ers, but San Francisco’s interest may only be tepid. Edelman left the facility without a deal and the 49ers are bringing former Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders in for a visit this weekend.
The Colts signed receiver Hakeem Nicks Friday, leaving Edelman as the best receiver still available.
Edelman, 27, had a fantastic 2013 season, with 105 catches, 1,056 yards and six touchdowns, and other suitors might emerge. But so far teams view Edelman as a system player and have been hesitant to invest significant dollars in someone with only one standout year on his résumé.
At this point, it might be best for him to return to New England on a short-term deal and prove himself again.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin