Third in a multi-part series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 12.
Position: Defensive line
Tackles under contract for 2013: Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Brandon Deaderick, Marcus Forston, Myron Pryor
Ends under contract for 2013: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Justin Francis, Jermaine Cunningham, Jake Bequette, Armond Armstead, Jason Vega, Tracy Robertson, Marcus Benard (LB possibility)
Level of need: Moderate
Projected top targets: Alan Branch (Seahawks), Sammie Lee Hill (Lions), Matt Shaughnessy (Raiders)
Why Branch fits: At 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, Branch can be difficult to move up front. He carved out a niche in Seattle after a slow start to his career with the Cardinals. Pursuing the 28-year-old Branch could be viewed as similar to the Patriots’ interest in Seahawks end/tackle Red Bryant last year.
Why Hill fits: The 6-foot-4, 329-pound Hill could be an undervalued asset in the marketplace, buried behind higher-profile starting tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in Detroit. He was a 2009 fourth-round draft choice out of Stillman and has some upside.
Why Shaughnessy fits: A native of Norwich, Connecticut, the 6-foot-5, 285-pound Shaughnessy is a tough player who appears to have some scheme versatility. He started all 16 games for the first time in his career last season and at 26 is in the prime of his career.
Other names of note: John Abraham (Falcons), Cliff Avril (Lions), Michael Bennett (Buccaneers), Desmond Bryant (Raiders), Andre Carter (Raiders), Shaun Cody (Texans), Mike DeVito (Jets), Glenn Dorsey (Chiefs), Sedrick Ellis (Saints), Dwight Freeney (Colts), Casey Hampton (Steelers), Ricky Jean-Francois (49ers), Jason Jones (Seahawks), Terrence Knighton (Jaguars), Paul Kruger (Ravens), Israel Idonije (Bears), Sen’Derrick Marks (Titans), Vaughn Martin (Chargers), Trevor Scott (Patriots), Richard Seymour (Raiders).
Market conditions: From bigger defensive tackles to rush ends, there are some intriguing options. A player will have different value to a club based on the specific scheme played, which makes projecting this market a challenge.
Questions to answer at position: Is more insurance needed after Vince Wilfork? … Is it too early to be thinking about Wilfork’s contract expiring after the 2014 season? … Where does Armond Armstead fit into the mix? … How does 2012 third-round pick Jake Bequette develop?
YOUR TURN: Which of these would you like to see in a Patriots uniform? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog entry.