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The Scratching Post: Cheaper by the Dozen

As we head full throttle into the off-season and free agency looms,  here’s a quick list of players I’ve identified that could be targets or solutions for the Patriots in the coming weeks and especially keeping in mind that resources will be limited this year:

1. Blake Martinez (LB)-- The 28 year-old linebacker is entering the final year of his contract with the New York Giants while due a $8.5M salary and none of which is guaranteed.  Martinez only appeared in 4 games for the Giants before tearing his acl in late September, an injury he should have ample time to return from.  With a new regime entering the building, Martinez would be a prime candidate for a dump trade/ cap cut.  If/ when that would occur his familiarity in a similar system, his ties to Joe Judge and his fit in the Patriots scheme would make him a prime “buy low” candidate at LB.

2. Trey Flowers (DE)--   Basically… “ditto”.  Flowers significant ($10M) cap savings almost assures that he’ll be a cap cut this off-season along with the current system fit questions, positional logjam issues in Detroit especially if they land Hutchinson or Thibodeaux and his injury shortened season.  Along with the obvious Patriots fit since Flowers has played almost his entire career under Belichick and Patricia, this one doesn’t need much explanation. I’d consider a Flowers reunion more likely than one with Chandler Jones.

3. Ray-Ray McCloud (WR/PR)-- Gunner Olszewski becomes a restricted free agent this off-season and if the Patriots decide to conserve cap space and (hopefully) not tender him, he would then become an unrestricted free agent and either side could (hopefully) choose to move on.  McCloud would be a potential alternative to the oft-mentioned Isaiah MacKenzie as a player who offers both return and receiving skills with McCloud enjoying a semi-breakout late season and hauling in 39 receptions last year as well as handling full-time duties on both Punt and Kick returns.  And it would be a pleasant change for once to finally have a 5th WR/ ST type who can actually run a route and catch the ball.

4. Tim Settle (DT)-- Playing 33% of snaps due to injury in 2020, Settle recorded 5 sacks as a disruptive force on the WFT/ Commanders.  Last year, with more health on the interior he was shutout in only 20% of the snaps but was still an effective interior player vs the run and pass on a team that is loaded at the position  Still just turning 25 he has significant two way upside at what could be a low risk investment for a possible long-term down lineman to pair with Barmore.

5. Isaiah Oliver (CB)-- A former 2nd rounder who has been up and down in his time with the Falcons, Oliver was seemingly rounding into form early in the new system under former Patriots DC Dean Pees when he was lost for the year after only 4 games.  He has the size (6-0, 210), length and speed (4.5) to play the outside but has experience and production out of the slot as well.  Only 26 years-old there is high-side potential return here on what could be minimum risk due his tools and versatility.

6. Rashaan Evans (LB)--  If the winds of change are blowing in Foxboro, Rashaan Evans would certainly be a great reclamation project to bring in to add speed and athleticism to the Patriots LB group.  The 26 year-old Alabama product has long been connected to the Patriots and would certainly fit the mold of the agenda that is currently being pushed.  The dip in production, role, playing time reduction with Tennessee is a concern but it’s not like he hasn’t been reasonably productive and has especially enjoyed some of his best games against the Patriots.  One of the bigger questions here: what will his market actually be?

7. Tyrell Crosby (OL)-- Crosby did a solid job in a fill in role in 2020 at RT playing for Matt Patricia’s Lions.  With the addition of Penei Sewell last year he was slated to compete for the RG job but a misdiagnosed back injury wiped out most his of his training camp and landed him on IR.  Still only turning 27, he has swing tackle versatility with the ability to kick inside.  Could serve as added depth or even a potential Trent Brown replacement candidate if he should depart in free agency.

8.  Maxx Williams (TE)-- My annual Maxx Williams watch continues.  A plus blocking TE with FB experience who flashes receiving skills and is the son of former Giants OC Brian Williams.  

9.  Akiem Hicks (DT)-- An unrestricted free agent who turns 33 years-old and in another coaching/ front office turnover situation, coming off an injury shortened season.  The Bears aren’t in great cap position and already have Bilal Nichols to deal with in free agency and Eddie Goldman locked up on the interior.   Hicks could be a cost effective upgrade/ replacement for Lawrence Guy.

10.  Tracy Walker (FS)-- A productive, versatile multi-year starter for the Lions, the 27 year-old Walker would be a prime candidate to takeover for Devin McCourty.  And would likely be higher on the list if it was more probable that the Patriots could better afford what his market probably will be.  

11. Troy Reeder (LB)-- An over-aged entree as an undrafted free agent out of Delaware, Reeder has settled in as a force in the middle for the Super Bowl champ Rams who will have a lot of big decisions to make heading into a cap strangled off-season.  While there is a chance that Rams can’t swing any type of tender on the 28 year-old LB, even an original round or right of first refusal offering would make Reeder vulnerable to an offer sheet.  And per chance the Rams do offer at 2nd round level, they may be willing or looking to trade that deal down the line.  Former Lacrosse player, significant Special Teams contributor, NFL bloodlines… check, check, check...

12.  Deonte Harris (WR/PR), Shy Tuttle (DT)--  Since we’re all about value here, we’ll make this a ‘baker’s dozen’.  Both Saints players are also designated to be RFAs this off-season and could be either non-tendered/ under-tendered by the cap strapped franchise in flux or tendered and traded.   

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