Love the free-agent buzz, and here are some nuggets picked up along the trail today:
1. I'm expecting the team to at least have one of their own free agents agreeing to terms by the start of free agency, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's special teams captain Matthew Slater. He's an important re-signing for them. Top NFL special teams players can command anywhere from $1.5-$3 million per season and Slater was a Pro Bowler last year.
2. Don't be surprised if the Patriots make an early play for a tight end in free agency. The benefits would be multiple -- adding important depth behind Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, while also providing the flexibility to move Hernandez to receiver. Hernandez played 77 percent of the snaps in 2011, and I'd estimate that 65 percent of them came away from the line of scrimmage. So it's almost like he's a receiver anyway. Keep an eye on Broncos tight end Daniel Fells, who as noted here, the Patriots had in for a visit in 2010. Furthermore, the tight end class in the draft is not considered deep, so addressing it in free agency makes sense and Fells is the type of moderate cost option that could be appealing to New England.
3. After reading tweets from Ian Rapoport and Shalise Manza-Young this morning about Seahawks defensive lineman Red Bryant and Patriots interest in him, some market research ensued. If the Patriots prepare to fish in those free-agent waters, the market projects to be in the $6 million per year range for Bryant. That's closer to Vince Wilfork territory ($8 million per season). This leads to the question: Would the Patriots be interested at that rich price? Another reminder, from this perspective, why the best approach is drafting and developing linemen because once those big guys hit free agency they often have a rich market. Another thing to consider: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll created a specific role for Bryant (5 technique in the 4-3 defense), and Bryant thrived in it. Bryant hadn't emerged before that switch, so interested suitors must project his best fit. The Patriots have played similar concepts, so it's probably not as big of a deal to them.