Free-agent fit: Safety

We've identified Chris Clemons, T.J. Ward and Donte Whitner as potential free-agent targets for the Patriots. Getty Images

Third installment in a multipart series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 11.

Position: Safety

Players under contract for 2013: Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon, Adrian Wilson, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, Kanorris Davis

Level of need: Moderate-to-high

Projected top targets: Chris Clemons (Dolphins), T.J. Ward (Browns), Donte Whitner (49ers)

Why Clemons fits: He is part of the second tier at the position, which could put him more in line with the Patriots’ budget, and he has good size (6-1, 214) and runs well. The Patriots know him well from having faced him twice a year since 2009.

Why Ward fits: The hard-hitting Ward is entering his prime years and would bring an edge to the secondary. The Patriots should have good intelligence on him as assistant to the coaching staff Mike Lombardi was Cleveland’s general manager last season. One big hurdle to overcome: A likely high price tag.

Why Whitner fits: His presence would be similar to what the Patriots tried last year with Adrian Wilson -- a bigger, hard-hitting safety who is more of a liability in coverage.

Other names of note: Antoine Bethea (Colts), Jairus Byrd (Bills), Ryan Clark (Steelers), Louis Delmas (Lions), Steve Gregory (Patriots), James Ihedigbo (Ravens), Malcolm Jenkins (Saints), Brandon Meriweather (Redskins), Quintin Mikell (Panthers), Mike Mitchell (Panthers), Ed Reed (Jets)

Franchise tag: none

Market conditions: Free agency is stronger than the draft at the top end because of the presence of Cleveland’s Ward and Buffalo’s Byrd. Few would have been surprised if one of them was assigned a franchise or transition tag, but that didn’t happen. In the draft, Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are viewed as first-round picks, as the overall class is considered to be solid but not spectacular.

Questions to answer at the position: Will 2013 third-round pick Duron Harmon emerge as the starter next to Devin McCourty? Does McCourty, entering the final year of his contract, get an extension? Will Adrian Wilson be on the team? Will Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner emerge as anything more then special teams standouts?