Bill Polian, free agency & the Patriots

ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian held a media conference call on Wednesday previewing free agency. As part of the conference call, Polian identified his top free agents in an ESPN.com Insider pieceInsider. Polian also has a free-agent trackerInsider.

A few highlights from Wednesday's call, with a Patriots-based twist:

Impact of the rising salary cap: With the salary cap rising by $10 million, and projected to grow even more in the next few years, Polian opined that it could mean better deals for players in the so-called “middle class.” He used defensive end Cliff Avril as an example from 2013, as Avril settled on a short-term deal at “relatively mediocre money.” For the Patriots, my thought was that it could most help receiver Julian Edelman and possibly linebacker Brandon Spikes if that’s the way it unfolds.

Valuing free agents at a price: Polian was complimentary of the Ravens for their work in free agency, specifically how they value their own players at a certain price and don’t budge when the market moves to a level they aren’t comfortable going. One could say New England takes a similar approach. “Free agency, in and of itself, is an over-payment situation,” said Polian, who typically wasn’t a big player in the market when he was with the Colts.

Keeping free agency in perspective: One point kept coming up in the call, with Polian stressing “system fit” and how one player might look good with one team but can have a tough time transitioning to a new scheme/team. Polian also touched on how the best free-agent decisions can be a club retaining its own players. “Free agency is not free. It costs two things you never get back -- time and money,” he said. “When you have a good team and you have a good personnel department that drafts well, it behooves you to be restrained in free agency.” When this topic came up, it sparked the thought that the Patriots haven’t received as much bang for their buck in free agency in recent years.