<
>

What are the odds that the Patriots will sign free-agent CB Richard Sherman?

Exploring hot New England Patriots topics in the form of a mailbag:

Mark, one oddsmaker views the Patriots as having the best chance to land Richard Sherman as a free agent. The team's history of making those types of moves might be part of that, coupled with Sherman telling Tom Pelissero of NFL Network that one of the things he's looking for is a top quarterback and a place he's comfortable. Well, the Patriots have reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Tom Brady to check off the first box, and Bill Belichick -- especially when he wants a player -- has a way of providing a high level of comfort. As for the Patriots' corner situation, they would have a void to fill with Malcolm Butler's expected departure in free agency, and a Sherman-Stephon Gilmore 1-2 punch is an intriguing thought.

In the end, economics will be a factor, as the Patriots have about $22-23 million in cap space and will need a good chunk of it if they are to re-sign some of their own players, such as left tackle Nate Solder and receiver Danny Amendola. So I don't envision the Patriots breaking the bank for Sherman, especially with him coming off an Achilles injury. But if the market for Sherman doesn't explode, and Sherman is motivated to make it happen in New England, the fit would make a lot of sense. As it stands now, Sherman's first free-agent visit is with the 49ers, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, who notes that it could be his only visit. ESPN's Josina Anderson also spoke to Sherman, who relayed the teams that have reached out to him and the Patriots weren't one of them at this point.

Migo, I expect the Patriots to keep an open dialogue with Solder and Dion Lewis throughout the free-agent negotiating process, and the end result will be based, in part, on how the market unfolds and if it matches the team's comfort level. Of course, Solder and Lewis will have a big say in that as well. The Patriots would like both players back and nothing is set in stone anywhere at this point. One last thing to add: The Patriots' best offer sometimes doesn't come until very late in the process (e.g. Devin McCourty) so I think it's too early to decisively say which direction things are headed.

Ezekiel, they could always give Solder and right guard Shaq Mason big contracts, but something would have to give elsewhere on the roster in that scenario. That's why I think it's less likely to happen, as the team usually doesn't like to tie up a high percentage of its cap in one position. When looking ahead to 2019, Mason, defensive end Trey Flowers and receiver Brandin Cooks are three core players heading toward unrestricted free agency. The fact the overall cap rises will help, but likely not enough to lock them all up at high-market rates.

Sam, it is enough because some of those holes will be filled through the draft, and those salaries are more easily digestible with the cap. That highlights the importance of developing players, with Trey Flowers a solid example in recent years. A 2015 fourth-round pick out of Arkansas, he hardly played as a rookie but has had two solid seasons since and is now a core player at an affordable salary. They need a few more picks like that, coupled with solid development.

Chris, the Patriots use a three-safety package as much as any team in the NFL, so I don't think anyone would be ousted with the addition of another safety. More than anything, it might challenge Jordan Richards to hold on to the No. 4 spot, while also giving the coaching staff more options on a week-to-week basis. That type of set-up could limit the wear and tear of the safeties over the course of the season.

Alex, when the Patriots release a player or don't re-sign them, they often don't close the door entirely on a return because one never knows how things will unfold. Bennett himself is a good example of that from last year. So while it seems unlikely to me that Bennett will return at this point, perhaps circumstances change down the road (e.g. Rob Gronkowski isn't available etc.) that alters the outlook.

Eric, it might take some time, but I'm sure there's a way to run the numbers of the teams who have the most special-teams-only players, or to at least analyze that in some form by understanding each team's personnel. Let me look into it and I will circle back. It also reminds me a story leading up to Super Bowl LII, when Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge was talking about facing the Eagles and noted how they were similar to New England in that they devoted a handful of roster spots to special-teams-only players. So that philosophical approach was noted at the time, and it showed up in the game itself, where the Eagles were strong on special teams.