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Akeem Ayers' free-agent status

One thought that came to mind after reading ESPN Insider Bill Polian's top free-agent listInsider, which breaks down the list of available players from "A-Plus" to "special veterans," was how linebacker/defensive end Akeem Ayers can thank the New England Patriots for raising his profile.

Ayers grades out as a "B" on Polian's list, with just 18 players receiving higher marks.

"He didn't fit in Tennessee but found a home as a designated pass-rusher in New England," Polian writes. "He has the length and speed to do a good job in that role going forward."

From this viewpoint, if Ayers hadn't been traded to the Patriots he probably would be looking at a one-year "prove-it" type contract to get his career back on track after falling out of favor in Tennessee. He had played just 10 defensive snaps all season before being traded to New England in October.

Now he might be in position to draw some more interest than that based on his 386 regular-season defensive snaps and the production that came with it (15 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, 1 interception, 3 special-teams tackles).

We've seen this script play out before in New England, with defensive end Mark Anderson one example coming to mind.

The Patriots had signed Anderson to a modest one-year, $1.375 million contract in 2011 and used him mostly as a sub-rushing end that year. Anderson, who had called the lack of interest in free agency humbling prior to signing in New England, responded with 10 sacks as the coaching staff put him in the best position to succeed. The next offseason, he was rewarded with a big contract from the Bills (4 years, $19.5 million).

We'll see if Ayers can parlay his own success into an Anderson-type deal, but at this point, it seems fair to say the Patriots at least helped breathe new life into his career much the same way they did with Anderson.