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With compensatory pick window closed, which remaining veteran free agents might fit with Patriots? 05.13.15 at 11:28 am ET
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Is there a chance Brandon Spikes finds his way back to Foxboro? (Getty Images)

Is there a chance Brandon Spikes finds his way back to Foxboro? (Getty Images)

Starting Wednesday, teams can sign existing free agents without having an effect on the compensatory pick formula for 2015. With that in mind, it’s worth revisiting the status of some of available veteran free agents we initially detailed a few weeks ago who might make a good fit with the Patriots this spring. (With the possibility of a suspension for Tom Brady looming, we added one extra name to the mix.)

Colin McCarthy: The Patriots brought the 25-year-old linebacker in for a workout earlier this spring, and apparently had some level of interest in signing the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder, who played the last four years of his career with the Titans.

Brandon Spikes: The linebacker, who appeared to burn his bridges on the way out of town last offseason, reportedly had a sit-down with the Patriots earlier this month that could ultimately pave the way for his return to the New England linebacking corps. The 27-year-old, a 6-foot-3, 250-pounder, would provide some thump in the middle against the run, as well as some depth if Dont’a Hightower is sidelined for an extended stretch with his shoulder issue.

Dane Fletcher: Another former New England linebacker currently without a home, the 28-year-old spent last season with the Bucs after four years with the Patriots. The 6-foot-2, 244-pounder is a versatile presence who also brings some special teams value to the table.

Matt Flynn: If the Patriots are without Tom Brady at the start of the season, this veteran could fit with New England in a pinch. Flynn, who will turn 30 next month, has played for the Packers, Seahawks, Bills and Raiders, and is likely the best available free-agent quarterback on the market. He had one of the finest games of his career against New England in 2010 at Gillette Stadium — with Aaron Rodgers on the shelf because of a concussion, he went 24-for-37 for 251 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in a 31-27 loss to the Patriots.

Red Bryant: The need for another defensive lineman was lessened with the selection of Malcom Brown in the first round of the 2015 draft, but the 30-year-old vet has been on New England’s radar screen for a few years now. The 6-foot-5, 328-pound defensive lineman came close to signing with the Patriots when he was a free agent in 2012, but ended up with the Seahawks. He’€™s not the elite-level defender he once was, but he’s durable (he’s played in 63 of a possible 64 regular-season games over the last four years) and is considered an excellent locker room presence.

Read More: Brandon Spikes, Colin McCarthy, Dane Fletcher, Matt Flynn
Free Agent Snapshot: Dane Fletcher 02.19.15 at 11:59 am ET
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Dane Fletcher (52) makes a tackle in the 2011 playoffs against Denver. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Dane Fletcher (52) makes a tackle during the 2011 playoffs against Denver. (Elsa/Getty Images)

When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’€™re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller,  Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Rahim Moore, Charles Clay, Jerry Hughes, Pernell McPhee and Orlando Franklin. Here is a look at inside linebacker and special teamer Dane Fletcher:

Dane Fletcher
Position: Inside linebacker
Age: 28, (turns 29 on Sept. 14)
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 244 pounds

The skinny: Fletcher is a very dependable, if not spectacular, linebacker who earned his keep in New England during his first four NFL seasons proving he can play many roles. In addition to his production on special teams, he caught the eye of Bill Belichick by showing he could make the rare transition from interior defensive lineman to inside linebacker to help fill a need. How much did Belichick think of Fletcher? He compared him to Harry Carson and Tedy Bruschi as players who have made the rare transition.  After going undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft out of Montana State, Fletcher signed with the Patriots. Fletcher became one of two undrafted rookies to make the Patriots opening day roster. After being inactive for the first three games of the 2010 season, he made his NFL debut in Week 4 against the Dolphins. In Week 6, Fletcher saw his first considerable action on defense as a reserve against the Ravens. The next week against the Chargers, Fletcher forced his first career fumble. In Week 15, Fletcher’s late-fourth quarter sack of Packers quarterback Matt Flynn, the first of Fletcher’s career, helped thwart a Packers drive and preserve a Patriots win.

By the numbers: Fletcher finished his 2010 rookie season with 23 tackles and two sacks in 13 games played, all as a reserve. Played in a career high 15 games in 2013 with the Patriots, with one start, tallying 26 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. He recorded a season-high 10 tackles against Denver in the Patriots’ come-from-behind 34-31 overtime win.

Why it would work: A Belichick favorite at the right price. Belichick could easily bring Fletcher back because he knows the player knows his system. After Belichick let Fletcher go to free agency last March, the linebacker signed a one-year, $1.2 million deal with Tampa Bay last year. Fletcher gained valuable experience in Lovie Smith‘s 4-3 scheme, which by Fletcher’s own admission was difficult to learn. Fletcher played in a 3-4 scheme for three years with the Patriots and proved versatile when the Patriots began employing some 4-3 looks. He served as the middle linebacker. The biggest factor here could be the potential losses of Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas in free agency. The linebacker who helped make the game-saving tackle on Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line could leave for greener pastures via free agency. That would open up a spot for Fletcher to return. Both Ayers and Casillas could be categorized as outside linebackers but serve multiple roles in Belichick hybrid defenses, roles Fletcher might be able to serve.

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Read More: 2015 Free Agent Snapshot, Dane Fletcher, New England Patriots,
Resetting list of Patriots and their own free agents 04.09.14 at 1:04 pm ET
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With Matthew Mulligan agreeing to a deal with the Bears on Tuesday, here’s an updated look at the Patriots 2014 free agent class. If you’re scoring at home, of its 12 free agents, New England has retained four and lost five, while three remain on the market.

Long snapper Danny Aiken: Signed a one-year deal to return to New England.
Running back LeGarrette Blount: Signed a two-year deal with Pittsburgh.
Defensive end Andre Carter: Free agent, but has expressed an interest in returning.
Wide receiver Austin Collie: Free agent.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman: Signed a four-year contract to return to New England.
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: Signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay.
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui: Signed a two-year deal to return to New England.
Tight end Matthew Mulligan: Singed a one-year deal with Chicago.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes: Signed a one-year deal with Buffalo.
Offensive lineman Will Svitek: Free agent.
Cornerback Aqib Talib: Signed a six-year deal with Denver.
Center Ryan Wendell: Signed a two-year deal to return to New England.

Read More: 2014 nfl free agency, Andre Carter, Aqib Talib, austin collie
At this point in offseason, where are Patriots personnel priorities? 04.04.14 at 9:55 pm ET
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With the offseason now one-third of the way done — and most of free agency now complete — the Patriots still have to address a few specific areas of need as part of the team-building process. Here’s a look at four personnel questions that have to be dealt with between now and the start of training camp.

Backup linebacker: Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher departed as free agents this offseason, with Spikes heading to Buffalo and Fletcher signing with Tampa Bay. Neither were starters, but over the last two seasons, both were called upon to play significant snaps for the Patriots. As a result, New England is a little thin when it comes to their linebacker depth. Currently on the roster, the Patriots have a few possibilities when it comes to backing up the expected starting trio of Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, including Steve Beauharnais, who just finished his rookie season. But their pursuit of veteran free agent Wesley Woodyard was likely a sign they believe they need more help when it comes to depth at the spot.

Strong safety: Steve Gregory was cut loose earlier this offseason, and Adrian Wilson was released on Friday. And while the Patriots did bring back Patrick Chung on Thursday, there’s some uncertainty as to what New England plans on doing at the position. Two things to remember: one, the Patriots like their defensive backs to be versatile, and so shuffling DBs from one spot to another wouldn’t be a surprise. And two, on that same vein, there are some possibilities on the roster, including Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan, the latter of whom has been the subject of much speculation this offseason when it comes to a possible move to free safety. In addition, there’s Tavon Wilson, who slid down the depth chart in 2013 to more of a special teams role, one that’s also occupied by fellow safeties Kanorris Davis and Nate Ebner. (And there’s always the possibility that Gregory could return on a reworked deal — he said this week despite the fact that he was cut by New England, “it would definitely be a place I would love to go back to.”) Regardless of whether or not New England decides to address the position in the draft, right now, it’s shaping up to be one of the more intriguing camp battles this spring and summer.

Situational pass rusher: The Patriots were believed to be at least partially in the mix for Jared Allen in free agency before he signed with the Bears, and while New England does currently have youngsters Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan on the roster as backup defensive ends, it’s a fair dropoff at this point from the starting duo of Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. In terms of free agents who could still be on the market, Will Smith remains a possibility, but his recent injury woes leave him questionable at this stage of his career. When it comes to other in-house possibilities, Andre Carter could return for at least part of the season if New England struggles to find help — he sure sounds open to the possibility of returning. In addition, Armond Armstead could also be in the mix as an interior pass rushing presence at some point if he ever does get healthy. It’s also expected that if veteran Tommy Kelly can stay on the field, he’ll offer some support as another interior pass rushing presence in 2014.

Depth at tight end and running back: While New England appears to be set when it comes to starters at the two positions, it could really use some depth at both spots, and both will likely be addressed in some form or fashion come the second and/or third day of the draft. Despite the fact the Patriots might be more inclined to move away from the two-tight end sets they ran over the last few seasons, another tight end to compliment Rob Gronkowski could be had in this draft, especially given the fact that this year appears to be a pretty good one for tight ends. In addition, the fact that the Patriots made a serious play for veteran free agent running back Maurice Jones-Drew could be taken as a sign they feel like they need someone to replace LeGarrette Blount in the backfield.

Read More: Adrian Wilson, Andre Carter, Armond Armstead, Brandon Spikes
Resetting latest on Patriots and their own free agents 03.20.14 at 3:53 pm ET
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Just over one week into free agency, here’s a status update on each of New England’s free agents:

Long snapper Danny Aiken: Signed a one-year deal to return to New England.
Running back LeGarrette Blount: No updates.
Defensive end Andre Carter: Carter has left the door open for a possible return — he expanded on his feelings in a recent interview with ESPN — but he remains in limbo, at least at this point.
Wide receiver Austin Collie: No updates.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman: Signed a four-year deal to return to New England.
Linebacker Dane Fletcher: Signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay.
Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui: Signed a two-year deal to return to New England.
Tight end Matthew Mulligan: No updates at this time, but a league source has expressed to some optimism the Maine product could return to the Patriots in 2014.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes: Signed a one-year deal with Buffalo.
Offensive lineman Will Svitek: No updates, but like Mulligan, league sources expressed a belief that the Patriots would welcome him back at a fair market rate.
Cornerback Aqib Talib: Signed a six-year deal with Denver.
Center Ryan Wendell: No updates.

Read More: 2014 nfl free agency, Andre Carter, Aqib Talib, austin collie
4 thoughts on Patriots, free agency, who’s still out there at WR 03.17.14 at 6:30 am ET
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1. Dane Fletcher signed with Tampa Bay on Sunday, the second inside/middle linebacker the Patriots have lost to this point in free agency. (Brandon Spikes went to Buffalo earlier.)

Fletcher isn’t a tremendous loss — he was a backup who provided defensive depth at the position, as well as some special teams value. (His shining moment in 2013 likely came in the regular-season win over the Broncos, when he stepped in for a struggling Dont’a Hightower and played significant snaps down the stretch and into overtime.) But from a personnel standpoint, that means a new generation of linebackers likely will be given the chance to step into the void, a group that includes Steve Beauharnais.

Even with a few guys capable of stepping into that spot, there’s the likelihood that New England tries to go out and acquire one more linebacker/special teamer, either in the draft or free agency. The Patriots tried to go after former Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard, but he ended up signing with the Titans.

From this viewpoint, South Dakota linebacker Tyler Starr could be a late-round possibility in the draft. (For more on why he might be a fit with the Patriots, check out our story here.)

It’s not a colossal priority at this point, but it’s a personnel question that needs to be addressed between now and the start of offseason workouts.

2. The last few seasons, the Patriots have made a habit of adding veteran free agent wide receivers in free agency — not household names, but relatively anonymous guys who might be a fit in Foxboro. Last year, that group included LaVelle Hawkins, Michael Jenkins and Donald Jones, none of them ultimately worked out.

And so, on the surface, there might be inclination to link them to Brandon LaFell — who was acquired Saturday as a free agent — to last year’s group. But taking a look at LaFell’s work, he might be a step up from that group. LaFell has some positional versatility, having worked on the inside, in the slot and split wide, and his versatility, combined with his surprising size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds), likely puts him a step ahead of veteran wide receivers acquired in year’s past.

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Read More: Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell, Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher
Linebacker Dane Fletcher signs with Bucs 03.16.14 at 4:11 pm ET
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The Buccaneers announced Sunday they had agreed to terms with free agent linebacker Dane Fletcher.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Fletcher is an undrafted free agent who was picked up out of Montana State in 2010, and has spent three seasons with the Patriots as a backup linebacker and special teamer. (He sat out the entire 2012 season because of a knee injury he suffered in the preseason.) His best season came in 2011 when he finished with 32 tackles in 10 games, five of them starts.

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