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No need to panic over how Patriots handling free agency

Former Bills receiver Stevie Johnson (right) stiff-armed the Patriots and headed for San Diego.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Six weeks after a Super Bowl win and only one week into free agency, a good many Patriots fans are back to doing what they do best: complaining about the offseason direction of the franchise.

On Tuesday, receiver Stevie Johnson joined a growing chorus of players who seemingly have spurned the defending champion Patriots in free agency, picking the Chargers over New England. And as soon as he signed, Twitter exploded in negativity, at least in my corner of the universe.

“Why are the Krafts so cheap?” “Belichick the GM is hurting Belichick the coach.” “Why can’t they close the deal with any free agents?” “Is there a worse secondary in the league?”


Johnson is the latest free agent the Patriots “missed.” They hosted Reggie Bush, but he signed with San Francisco. They were a finalist for Brian Hartline, but he went to Cleveland. They supposedly wanted Percy Harvin, but he went to Buffalo.

Thirteen of the top 15 free agent cornerbacks have signed with teams, but none with New England.

And of course, the Patriots suffered notable attrition from last season’s Super Bowl team. Darrelle Revis went to the Jets. Brandon Browner and Vince Wilfork were released and signed elsewhere. Shane Vereen went to the Giants without much resistance.

On paper, the Patriots have certainly “lost” in free agency. But there’s really no reason for Patriots fans to panic right now. It’s time for a sanity check.

First, an important reminder: The teams that are “winning” free agency this year were terrible last year, or at least missed the playoffs. Buffalo. Miami. Jacksonville. Oakland. Tampa Bay. Philadelphia. It’s the bad teams that have to make big splashes to fill holes and invigorate fan interest. The good teams, like the Patriots, just need to keep it together.

The first week of the offseason hasn’t looked great, but there’s really no reason to think the Patriots won’t do this fall what they always do: win the AFC East and put themselves in position to make a Super Bowl run.


Let’s not forget that . . .

1. The Patriots still have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. That’s good for 9-10 wins in and of itself, especially with the Jaguars, Titans, Redskins, and the AFC East quarterbacks on their schedule.

2. They don’t have that many holes to fill. This isn’t the Ravens from a few years ago, who saw their Super Bowl team torn apart by retirements and free agency defections and a new major contract for Joe Flacco. The core of the Patriots team is in place, with 18 starters coming back, depending on your definition of a starter.

It’s why they don’t have that much cap space — a little over $11 million accounting for all offseason moves except tight end Scott Chandler. They still likely will create more cap space with Jerod Mayo and others, but they need about $3 million to sign the draft class and $5 million to make moves during the season. It’s not like they’re sitting on a wad of cash.

They’re returning almost every player of consequence from an offense that scored the fourth-most points in the NFL (29.2 per game).

Rob Gronkowski finally has an offseason to be healthy and not rehabbing. Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, and Danny Amendola are all back on reasonable contracts.


Contributors such as Tim Wright, Michael Hoomanawanui, LeGarrette Blount, and Jonas Gray are under contract, although one of the tight ends might be in trouble with the signing of Chandler. Six of the top seven offensive linemen are under contract, and left guard Dan Connolly very well could be re-signed.

The Patriots need to find another pass-catching running back to replace Vereen, but they also have an internal option in James White, last year’s fourth-round pick.

The defense has seen a little more change, particularly at cornerback. But they return almost the entire front seven — Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Mayo (probably), Sealver Siliga, and others — and still have Devin McCourty patrolling center field at a Pro Bowl level. New addition Jabaal Sheard will only help the pass rush and is a significant upgrade over Akeem Ayers.

Yes, cornerback is a big question mark right now. The Patriots need at least one more, if not two, legitimate NFL cornerbacks.

They have three average-to-decent players in Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, and Malcolm Butler — guys who have played well in stretches, but are either inconsistent or young and unproven. We’ll see what happens with Alfonzo Dennard, who fell out of favor last year, but has a chance to redeem himself this offseason.

The free agent market has just about dried up — the Patriots reportedly hosted 36-year-old Terence Newman Tuesday — and their best/only shot at landing a decent cornerback is probably to swing a trade in May or August.


But the front seven still should be quite strong, even without Wilfork. And if the 2011 Patriots could make it within 4 points of winning a Super Bowl with a decidedly mediocre secondary, it would be silly to count out the 2015 team for the same reason.

3. They’re still quietly filling holes and still getting the free agents they want. The Patriots had Sheard in the building shortly after the start of free agency, and didn’t let him go, signing him to a two-year, $11 million deal to improve their pass rush.

Chandler, a 6-7 red zone target, signed with the Patriots quickly after he was released by Buffalo. The Patriots wanted a cheaper replacement for Wilfork, and re-signed Alan Branch for two years and $6.6 million after his productive playoff run last year.

And they were proactive during the season, signing role players such as Patrick Chung, Marcus Cannon, and Brandon Bolden to extensions.

The Patriots aren’t “losing” free agents. They’re simply bowing out of the negotiations because the price tag gets too high. If the Patriots really wanted Hartline, they wouldn’t have let him go to Cleveland for two years and $6 million. Same with Johnson, who got about $10 million over three years with San Diego.

4. There are still plenty of good options out there. The Patriots can still find a solid running back to catch the football. On Tuesday, they signed Travaris Cadet, who had 38 catches last year for the Saints. How about Pierre Thomas (327 career catches), Ahmad Bradshaw (38 catches in 10 games last year), or Jacquizz Rodgers (155 catches in four years)?


They still can find a veteran wide receiver to compete for the fourth or fifth spot; Michael Crabtree, Dwayne Bowe, Greg Jennings, Denarius Moore, Reggie Wayne, and several other veterans are still available.

The draft and August cutdown period also give the Patriots plenty of time to add talent.

So just take a deep breath and enjoy that Super Bowl trophy your team just won six weeks ago. And don’t forget that as bad as things seem in the spring, the Patriots always put it together in the fall.

Related coverage:

■  Vince Wilfork signs two-year deal with Texans

■  Evan Horowitz: Do NFL teams improve after signing top free agents?

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.