|Free agent snapshot: Charles Tillman||02.12.14 at 10:36 am ET|
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. So far, we’ve looked at Anquan Boldin, Emmanuel Sanders, Dennis Pitta, Eric Decker, Jacoby Jones, Arthur Jones, Brent Grimes, Michael Johnson and Michael Bennett. Now, it’s Charles “Peanut” Tillman.
CHARLES “PEANUT” TILLMAN
Age: 32 (will turn 33 on Feb. 23)
Weight: 196 pounds
The skinny: Tillman has spent 11 years in the league and has put together a really impressive resume. A second-round pick of the Bears in 2003 out of Louisiana-Lafayette, he has 36 career interceptions, including at least three a season for the last four years. He’s also Chicago’s career leader in interception return yards (675), interception return touchdowns (eight) and defensive return touchdowns (nine), and is one of the best in the league at forcing fumbles — he leads the NFL with 42 forced fumbles since 2003, having apparently perfected the art of what’s known as the “Peanut Punch.”
A two-time Pro Bowler and former All-Pro, he’s also carved out a career as one of the most well respected guys in the league. Considered an extremely high-character guy, Tillman has a distinguished off-field resume. The son of an Army sergeant, he was the winner of the 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award (earlier this month, he gave away his Super Bowl tickets to a deserving military family), won the 2012 Salute to Service Award (thanks in large part to his work with the military and military families), was a finalist for the Payton award in 2007 and 2011. His foundation has helped generate more than $1 million for individuals who have been identified by local organizations as at risk or in need.
On the field, he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning, but could be part of a rotation in the secondary and would be able to serve as a mentor to the younger defensive backs. Bottom line? Whoever lands Tillman would not only get a smart and savvy veteran, they’d also be getting an extremely high-character locker room presence. At the right price — and if he’s healthy — he’d be a terrific pickup.
By the numbers: Tillman is the only player since 2003 to record 40 forced fumbles and 30 interceptions.
Why it would work: The Patriots have made it an annual tradition to bring in a well-established veteran presence at the end of his career in hopes of squeezing another year or two out of him. In return, said veteran gets a chance to win a ring and at least one more payday. (The most recent example is Tommy Kelly.) Tillman, who has played in just six postseason games in his 11-year career and none since 2010, is just that sort of veteran. The Patriots need to build some depth in the secondary, and the presence of a longer, leaner body like Tillman will allow them to get a little bigger at corner. Because of a triceps injury he suffered midway through the 2013 season and his age, Tillman is expected to be available at a reasonable price. And for a franchise that’s always on the lookout for high-character guys in the post Aaron Hernandez era, you can’t do much better than someone like Tillman.
Why it might not work: Health. Tillman is returning from a triceps injury, and for a player on the north side of 30, it’s never easy to return from an injury that put you on IR for the rest of the year. (He also struggled with groin and knee injuries in 2013.) While the Patriots have shown an extraordinary amount of patience in the past with veterans returning from injury (Jake Ballard, Leon Washington), they might not be so inclined to do the same with Tillman. Tillman also clearly has an affection for former Bears coach Lovie Smith, who recently got the head coaching job in Tampa, and could be more willing to give a discount to his old coach as opposed to signing somewhere else.
Quote: “I’m not really worried about it. I have some decisions I have to make in the next couple of weeks, couple of months. I am just going to see what happens. I have some options, I have some thoughts.” — Tillman on the prospect of free agency
Our take: Some of it will depend on what happens with Aqib Talib, but if Tillman is willing to take a chance, as well as what would likely be a pay cut (he was paid almost $8 million last year), he could probably find a home with the Patriots. He isn’t an elite-level corner anymore, and there are questions about what sort of player he’ll be after last year’s triceps injury, but Tillman could become a part of a New England secondary that needs another long-limbed corner to provide depth, and be the latest veteran to try to win a ring late in his career with the Patriots. The Patriots shouldn’t go much beyond two seasons and relatively short money, but if they can make it work, on paper, Tillman would appear to be a really good fit.
|Recapping our free agent snapshot series||02.09.14 at 4:39 pm ET|
Here’s our complete list of free agent possibilities for the Patriots we’ve profiled so far with links to each post, complete with a snapshot as to how each might fit in Foxboro. (We’ll add to this in the upcoming week.)
|Free agent snapshot: Michael Bennett||at 11:28 am ET|
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. So far, we’ve looked at Anquan Boldin, Emmanuel Sanders, Dennis Pitta, Eric Decker, Jacoby Jones, Arthur Jones, Brent Grimes and Michael Johnson. Now, it’s Michael Bennett.
Position: Defensive lineman
Age: 28 (will turn 29 on Nov. 13)
Weight: 274 pounds
The skinny: Bennett is essentially hitting free agency at the perfect time — he signed a one-year deal worth $4.8 million last offseason, and then proceeded to go out and play a sizable role in a dominant defense for a team that won the Super Bowl. He finished the 2013 season with 8.5 sacks, and has 17.5 sacks in his last two seasons. A versatile defensive lineman who has played up and down the line, the 6-foot-4, 274-pounder has played at least 13 games a season the last four years, and has a good rep around the league, one that will now only be enhanced by the fact that he has a Super Bowl ring. A former undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M, he’ll likely follow in the footsteps of his brother Martellus, who signed a one-year contract with the Giants in 2012, had a good season and parlayed that into a long-term deal with the Bears.
By the numbers: Per Pro Football Focus, Bennett led the Seahawks in quarterback hits (17) and quarterback hurries (39) in 2013. (By way of comparison, he would have led the Patriots in quarterback hits — Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones had 14 each — and tied for second in quarterback hurries — Ninkovich had 46.)
Why it would work: Bennett has tremendous versatility, having lined up pretty much everywhere on the defensive line over the course of his career. While it took a while for him to find his footing in the pros, he’s had a tremendous amount of success wherever he’s been over the last few seasons.
Why it might not work: Money. Bennett is looking to get paid — in his words — like one of ‘the top guys,’ and unless the Patriots can get creative with some of their cap space, it’ll be a challenge. There’s also the problem of trying to pry Bennett away from a Super Bowl champion — he’s professed his love and admiration for Pete Carroll and his teammates on several occasions, and in addition to the question about getting paid, it doesn’t seem likely that he’d be inclined to bolt from a good situation in Seattle.
Quote: “He had shown versatility that he could play inside and outside, but I didn’t appreciate how constant he is effort-wise. I didn’t have that sense about him watching him on film, but he is a relentless football player. You love guys like that — he’s going to get everything out of every play. He takes some chances. He’s a risk taker in his rushes, in his playmaking, and in the running game. He’ll make some mistakes at times, but he’s also going to make some huge plays. I think it’s the intensity that he brings; we were surprised at that. That shows up, and that’s a great asset.” — Carroll on Bennett
Our take: It’s worth mentioning that Bennett played for Greg Schiano in Tampa Bay before making his way to Seattle (he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Seahawks before being swiped by the Bucs … and then returning to Seattle again) and we know Bill Belichick has a soft spot for former Schiano guys. It seems to make a lot of sense of paper — Belichick lies awake at night dreaming about guys with Bennett’s skill set and versatility — but there are a lot of questions about how to execute the move. As previously stated, it would require lots of cap work, as well as what could be the difficult task of luring him away from a defending champion. If New England could somehow make it work financially, it makes a lot of sense.
|Free agent snapshot: Michael Johnson||02.06.14 at 4:46 pm ET|
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. So far, we’ve looked at Anquan Boldin, Emmanuel Sanders, Dennis Pitta, Eric Decker, Jacoby Jones, Arthur Jones and Brent Grimes. Now, it’s Michael Johnson.
Position: Defensive end
Age: 26 (will turn 27 on Feb. 7)
Weight: 270 pounds
The skinny: Johnson was taken in the third round of the 2009 draft by the Bengals out of Georgia Tech, and the long, leanish lineman has grown into a key role in the Cincinnati defense. In five seasons, he has 26.5 career sacks, including 11.5 in 2012, his best year to date. Johnson has a lot going for him — he’s young, fairly durable (he’s played in 30 regular-season games the last two years, but was sidelined briefly this year because of a concussion) and has some positional versatility in the sense that he’s played both defensive end and defensive tackle. He has a reputation of occasionally taking plays off, but that won’t dissuade too many teams — he’ll likely enter the free agent market as a highly sought-after commodity because of his abilities to stop the run when needed, as well as get after the passer. The pass rush numbers dropped in 2013 (3.5 sacks), bit it’s also important to note that (according to Pro Football Focus) he had 40 quarterback hurries and 16 quarterback hits in 2013. (By way of comparison, according to PFF’s numbers, Johnson would have been second on the Patriots last season in hurries and first in hits.) The Patriots had some interest in Johnson last year before he was franchised, so he’s already popped up on New England’s radar screen. But the Patriots will likely be one of a handful of teams interested in pursuing Johnson, who will be an intriguing presence when free agency rolls around in March.
By the numbers: 7. Johnson tied for the league lead (with teammate Carlos Dunlap) in batted passes in 2013.
Why it would work: It’s believed that the Bengals are unlikely to franchise Johnson for a second straight season, as doing so would take an estimated $12 million and eat up a massive amount of their available cap space. In addition, Johnson’s ability to rush, as well as drop into coverage, could create an interesting dynamic on the New England defensive line, giving some relief to Chandler Jones. (Jones has occasionally struggled when asked to drop into coverage as the 4-3 defensive end.)
Why it might not work: It’s expected that Johnson is going to draw a serious payday, so if the Patriots wanted to try and make it work, they’d have to get very creative when it came to cap space. (On ESPN’s ‘NFL Insiders’ Thursday, NFL columnist Adam Caplan suggested that Johnson might command ‘maybe $10 million a year’ on the open market.) There’s also a school of thought that some of Johnson’s success was tied in part to the presence of Geno Atkins, the elite level defensive lineman who spent a large part of the 2013 season on the same d-line. Because of the presence of Atkins, offensive lines had focused their efforts on stopping him to a point where Johnson was able to benefit. However, in 2013, Atkins went down with a season-ending knee injury in October — the domino effect meant more attention for Johnson, and, as a result, fewer overall sacks.
Quote: “If you’re not believing and being positive, leave. We don’t need you. Because that’s what we’re about around here — staying focused, staying positive and keeping our energy going. Negativity breeds negativity, and we don’t do that around here. Stay with us and believe with us. That’s what you’re here for. You’re here for support. If something bad happens, that’s not our plan. Stay positive, stay encouraging. We’ll fight. Just stick with us a while.” — Johnson’s message to Cincinnati fans who were booing the Bengals late in the 2013 season
Our take: If New England went after Johnson, this would represent a pretty big splash. As we previously stated, considering the fact that the Bengals aren’t expected to franchise him, he’ll be out there. Johnson is one of the best defensive players available on the market, and will command a sizable payday. One potential landing spot for Johnson might be Minnesota — his old defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, recently got the job as head coach of the Vikings, and would likely love the idea of bringing Johnson with him to Minnesota. There’s also talk of the Georgia native wanting to go home and play for the Falcons. Regardless, if the Patriots do decide to jump in, the addition of Johnson would be a defensive splash in free agency the likes of which New England hasn’t made since Rosevelt Colvin (2003) or Adalius Thomas (2007).
|Free agent snapshot: Brent Grimes||02.05.14 at 6:00 am ET|
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 these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England. We started our series with looks at Anquan Boldin, Emmanuel Sanders, Dennis Pitta, Eric Decker, Jacoby Jones and Arthur Jones. Now, it’s Brent Grimes.
Age: 30 (will turn 31 on July 19)
Weight: 190 pounds
The skinny: Here we are, back again to advocate for Grimes as a Patriot. (If you’re just tuning in, we did this the last two years. Hey, you can’t say we’re not consistent, right?) Anyway, very little has changed when it comes to our feelings on Grimes — a tough, dependable corner who is the sort of underdog story the Patriots love. He was an undrafted free agent out of Shippensburg who battled his way into the Falcons starting lineup and ended up starting 44 games in just over five years in Atlanta, and came away with 13 picks in that stretch, including 11 interceptions in 2009 and 2010. For his efforts, he landed a Pro Bowl spot in 2010. After an Achilles injury sidelined him for almost all of 2012 — his last year with the Falcons — he bounced back to play in all 16 games with the Dolphins last season and had 16 passes defensed and four picks for Miami. (He was one of four Dolphins to reach the Pro Bowl — the second Pro Bowl nod of his career.) While age is becoming an issue, his smarts, durability and versatility (he’s played both left and right corner) make him a very good corner in the league.
By the numbers: +16.4 — The final grade given to Grimes for his work this past season by Pro Football Focus. It was second among all corners in the NFL, trailing only Tampa Bay’s Darrelle Revis, who was at 18.2.
Why it would work: If the Patriots aren’t able to re-sign Aqib Talib, Grimes figures to be an excellent Plan B. As we said, he’s got the underdog approach that certainly would fit in Foxboro. He’s a well-respected locker room guy who would also bring a positive attitude to Gillette Stadium. And the chance to swipe the best cornerback from a division rival is something that can’t be overlooked.
Why it might not work: Grimes enters the market as one of the best corners available, and as a result he’ll likely be in line for a pretty good payday. While he fits the Patriots’ traditional body type when it comes to cornerbacks, if New England is interested in following in the Seahawks‘ footsteps when it comes to the secondary, the slightly undersized Grimes probably won’t measure up. And there’s always the possibility he’s franchise by the Dolphins — it happened to him once when he was with the Falcons, and given the state of the market and Miami’s need at corner, it certainly could happen again.
Quote: “I like it here. I like the coaches, I like the players and it’s a good team. Obviously, we didn’t finish how we wanted to and close out the season well. But I just let my agents handle everything. If [the Dolphins] want to keep me here, they’ll see how it goes.” — Grimes to ESPN following the end of the 2013 season
Our take: As we stated, Grimes would be a good fallback plan if the Patriots are unable to come to terms with Talib, but he certainly wouldn’t come cheap. Several folks around the league regard Grimes as the No. 1 corner available this spring in free agency — and that’s even if he reaches the market. (The Dolphins might be forced to franchise him.) If he is available and Talib walks, New England should make Grimes a priority. And if they don’t, we’ll likely be back here once again next year.
|Free agent snapshot: Arthur Jones||02.04.14 at 6:00 am ET|
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 these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England. We started our series with looks at Anquan Boldin, Emmanuel Sanders, Dennis Pitta, Eric Decker and Jacoby Jones. Now, we go to the defensive side of the ball, and Arthur Jones.
Position: Defensive end
Age: 27 (will turn 28 on June 3)
Weight: 315 pounds
The skinny: The older brother of Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, Arthur was taken in the fifth round of the 2010 draft out of Syracuse, and has developed into one of the more underrated parts of Baltimore’s front seven over the last two years. He started 13 games this past season for the Ravens, and has 8.5 sacks since the start of the 2012 season. Not as long and lean as his brother (Chandler is 6-foot-5, 265 pounds), he’s able to generate pressure with his size, and has also a rep as a quality run-stuffer. A penetrating lineman, he had 38.5 tackles for a loss as a collegian, the most in Syracuse history for an interior lineman, and he had five this year with the Ravens to tie for the team lead. He has some positional versatility, as the Ravens have kicked him inside as needed, and has provided a boost with a consistent interior pass-rushing presence. A smart and versatile defender who has been able to flourish as a complementary part of the Baltimore defense, he would make a solid addition to most rosters at the right price.
By the numbers: 15. The number of quarterback hurries Pro Football Focus awarded Jones this past season, good enough to tie for third on the team. (For some perspective, that would put him third on the Patriots, behind Rob Ninkovich, who had 39 last year, and his brother Chandler, who had 39.)
Why it would work: The opportunity to play alongside a brother can be a powerful lure — the chance to have someone you know watching your back at all times might be the sort of thing that could attract the older brother to Foxboro. His versatility would allow the Patriots to do multiple things, including work him as a defensive tackle who could occasionally kick out to defensive end in relief of his brother Chandler or fellow defensive end Ninkovich. (There’s also the possibility New England could take advantage of Ninkovich’s versatility and move him to an outside linebacker spot if Arthur is needed as a defensive end.)
Why it might not work: While the Ravens aren’t expected to franchise him, Jones is expected to be one of the better free-agent defensive linemen on the market this year, and will almost certainly command serious money that could put him out of New England’s reach. In addition, playing alongside your brother can be an occasional double-edged sword — the questions for both would likely get tiresome pretty quickly. There’s also a semi-checkered injury history — he missed the 2013 season opener due to an irregular heartbeat, and knee and pectoral injuries that kept him out of much of the 2009 season as a collegian.
Quote: “I can’t say enough complimentary things about him as a person and as a pro. I think he’s one of the most improved guys that we have. From where he’s come to where he is now, he’s just vastly improved. There’s really not a time when we come out of a game saying, ‘Boy, I don’t know about that game.’ He’s had great performances every week.” — Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees on Jones’ 2013 season
Our take: It would likely take a good chunk of cash, but the idea of the Jones brothers together in New England would be intriguing. The Patriots need some help when it comes to building depth up front — Chris Jones, Joe Vellano and Sealver Siliga are good short-term fixes, but represent a considerable step down from the Vince Wilfork–Tommy Kelly combo that started the 2013 season for New England. Jones would represent a significant upgrade, and could work in relief of one of the defensive tackles and also spend time at defensive end. He’s already on New England’s radar, as he had a visit with the Patriots shortly before the 2010 draft. While that was a while ago, all the front office would need to do to update their files would be to ask Chandler for an update.
|Free agent snapshot: Jacoby Jones||01.31.14 at 10:15 am ET|
When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. Over the next two weeks — with the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag — we’ll look at 10 possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that these guys aren’t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they are players we think would be a good fit in New England. We started our series with looks at Anquan Boldin, Emmanuel Sanders, Dennis Pitta and Eric Decker. Now, we look at Jacoby Jones.
Position: Wide receiver
Age: 29 (will turn 30 on July 11)
Weight: 215 pounds
The skinny: After an electric finish to 2012 where he returned a kick 108 yards for a touchdown in the Super Bowl to help beat the Niners, Jones appeared poised for a breakout season, but a knee injury in the opener got 2013 off on a bad note. He was sidelined until Week 6, and while there were still impressive moments for Jones — he had three games with at least 50 yards receiving — he never really reached the levels he was hoping for. Working has a second or third receiving option in the Baltimore passing game for much of the year, Jones ended the season with 37 catches for 455 yards and two touchdowns. He’s not a high-end receiver, but he’s still been able to maintain a decent level of consistency — he’s had five straight years with at least 400 yards receiving. His real value could come in his special teams work, as he remains one of the best punt and kick returners in the league, and would certainly give a boost wherever he signed. Ultimately, Jones is probably a slightly under-the-radar free agent prospect who could be a nice addition for a team needing wide receiver depth, as well as a jolt in the return game.
By the numbers: 5. Including the postseason, the number of returns for touchdowns Jones has posted in the last two years for the Ravens.
Why it would work: As mentioned, Jones is a speedster who brings terrific special teams value as a return man. In 2013, he averaged 28.8 yards on kickoffs (fourth in the league) and 12.5 yards on punts (fifth in the league). However, he might represent a relative luxury item for the Ravens, who could be inclined to let him walk. It’s not believed that Baltimore would be inclined to franchise him, and with the Patriots in need of some consistency in the kick return game (and possibly at punt return as well with Julian Edelman poised to enter free agency), he could provide some stability there for New England.
Why it might not work: While he does have great straight-line speed, Jones is what scouts might term a one-dimensional speedster, and New England usually favors quicker, shiftier pass catchers as opposed to faster individuals. In addition, the possibility of a reunion between Jones and Gary Kubiak (the new Baltimore OC) could be too great for the receiver to ignore, as Jones came of age with Houston when Kubiak as head coach of the Texans. There’s a comfort level there with Kubiak that might allow him to take a discount when it comes to returning to the Ravens.
Quote: “You never see a dog stretch when he chases a car.” — Jones, speaking with the NFL Network this week, when asked why he doesn’t stretch before practice
Our take: Jones is not the type of receiver the Patriots usually favor, but his combination of special teams value and his ability to bring some depth to the receiving corps could add an interesting dimension in New England. While there’s some question as to where he would fit in the current positional grouping with the Patriots (he might represent a fallback plan for New England if someone else left), his elite-level speed and work as a returner will allow him to find a spot somewhere in the NFL. If New England and Jones could agree on some sort of relatively short-money investment — say, two years — it could be a winning matchup.