In part 1 I listed the following as the Patriots' needs and explained why:
In this post, I'll lay out how I think they'll go about their offseason strategy.
Bill Bellichick, on many occasions, has said there are three parts to the personnel game in the offseason: a. Resigning your own players; b. Free-agents; and c. Draft
Due to the timing of when free-agency starts, a and b come first, then you fill in the holes you still have with the draft, or look for trades, which are rare (but they did get Ted Washington that way one year.)
I believe the Patriots will focus on their own players this year and only dive minimally into the free agent market. They have very few key players hitting the free-agent market this year -- Patriots who are free agents are:
P. Woods (restricted)
Obviously Cassell is the big story, but I'm going to leave that alone for now. I think Sanders is a priority as he's come on strong and the Patriots are thin at safety. They won't break the bank for him, but if he comes at a reasonable price, they'll bring him back. Pierre Woods is a restricted free agent. I expect the Pats to tender him a second round offer, and I don't think anyone will go after him knowing that it will cost them a second round pick. Lamont Jordan is an interesting question -- he ran well this year, and at the right price I think the Patriots would love to see him come back, but if it's too expensive they have Morris, Faulk, and Maroney under contract. I think Jabar Gaffney will give the Patriots a discount -- he's said before he loves playing in New England -- and he's not going to break the bank anywhere else anyway.
The real reason I think the Patriots will focus on resigning their own players is due to the number of critical players who have only one year left on their contract. Starters who will be free agents after the 2009 season are:
J. Green (not technically a starter, but in the mix at D line)
Plus D. Thomas, R. O'Callaghan
One thing that has been a tenent of Bill Bellichick in the last several years is that he likes to keep his linemen together. Seymour, Wilfork, and Mankins would all command big salaries if allowed to hit the open market. I think the Pats will move to lock up one or two of them to a longer term deal before this season starts. Additionally, don't be surprised if they offer Hobbs a long term deal. They screwed up with their last CB, Samuel, who had a break-out year during the last year of his contract, driving up his price. Had they made a deal for him one year prior, they'd still have him at an acceptable price. If they like Hobbs -- and I know a lot of fans are down on him, but Bellichick knows what he wants -- then they might give him a 3 or 4 year extension for reasonable money to keep from losing him at the end of the year. Although I'd put the odds at less than 50-50. Seymour, Wilfork, Mankins, and Neal will be the priorities. The lineman always have been for this team. They locked up Koppen, Light, Warren, and Neal (last time) with extensions before they ever hit free-agency. So they're likely to do it again. True team guys like Vrabel and Bruschi they'll probably wait on since Bruschi may retire and Vrabel is very likely to resign with the Pats and not test free agency.
So with the focus necessary on their own players, the Patriots will be less active in free agency. I'd look for them to bring in a mid-tier CB -- Coach Bill loves his veterans on defense. They may also look for safety depth, especially if they can't resign Sanders. But I don't think you'll see any earth-shattering moves by the Pats in the free agent market this off-season. They aren't willing or able to spend the big bucks it would take to get one of the 3 Ravens defenders who are FAs, or the CB from the Raiders.
Whatever they do in the free agent market is going to shape what they look to do in the draft, so predicting the draft now is difficult, at best. But in my next post I'll look at what I think they'll do given what we know now, then I'll refine it as the free-agency period starts.