By Sterling Pingree
Welcome to the third and final part of my Patriots free agency preview. The new league year begins on March 9th and in the past two weeks I have categorized the reigning Super Bowl Champions’ players that are due to become free agents on March 9th into “The Returners”, “The Price is Right” and now our final group, the ones that already have their condos on the market. This is the group that have dubbed “No Chance in Hell”.
TE- Martellus Bennett
Bennett was an entertaining breath of fresh air in Foxboro, whose production went up and down as needed but whose demeanor and toughness endured throughout. Bennett became a vital component to the offense and wreaked havoc when he and Gronk were on the field at the same time. It was largely due to Bennett’s blocking and his threat as a pass catcher that the Patriots were able to run the table after Gronk went out for the year. (Think about that for a moment. The Patriots lost a player the caliber of Rob Gronkowski and then never lost again. How many Super Bowl champions in NFL HISTORY could have endured that?)
Why Bennett will leave: He is a 9 year veteran who turns 30 next week and for a guy who played most of the season on bad feet and ankles, this could be his last chance at a multi-year contract. Bennett is a business man, who sells his own branded merchandise on his own website and writes his own children’s books. The guy is an entrepreneur who famously said at the victory parade “Super Bowl champions get paid”. If that isn’t a giant flashing neon arrow pointing out of town, I don’t know what is.
S- Duron Harmon
Harmon has been such a quietly valuable asset to the Patriots the last 4 years that I heavily debated whether or not to include him in this series. The Rutgers product has been overshadowed by secondary mates and Scarlet Knight alums Devin McCourty and Logan Ryan. Harmon’s most famous play was his clinching interception of Joe Flacco to seal the divisional round win in 2014 over Baltimore.
Why Harmon will leave: Safety is simply a position that the Patriots are already strong in with the pro bowler, McCourty and the steady veteran Patrick Chung. There is no immediate need for the Patriots to lock Harmon up and teams looking to improve their secondary on the cheaper end of the spectrum will look at Harmon as a thriftier way to make a splash in free agency by adding a Patriot to their roster.
Also intriguing, though probably very unlikely, the Patriots have been linked to Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers in numerous mock drafts at the 32nd pick. While I’m not sure if anybody has ever correctly predicted whom Belichick will select with his first round pick, the thought of the Patriots drafting a Heisman Trophy finalist at safety is awfully fun to think about.
CB- Logan Ryan
Logan Ryan is a top 3 player in my book. I should clarify here, that Logan Ryan is one of the top 3 Patriots that have frustrated me the most in his time wearing the Flying Elvis. Ryan vacillation between sensation and abomination were about as maddening as anybody I’ve watched in the last 20 years. It’s like each game was completely independent of the next. (Rounding out the other two spots in this top 3 list are Kyle Arrington and “first stint Patrick Chung”. Second stint Patrick Chung has been a joy and a privilege to watch, but man oh man, before he went to Philadelphia he about drove me over the edge.)
Why Ryan will leave: Because he’s the number 2 corner in New England and that works two fold in buying Ryan a one way ticket out of Logan. (See what I did there?) Ryan had a good run through the post season this year, highlighted by his one sack and one interception performance against Houston in the divisional round. Ryan is a 4 year veteran, just turned 26 years old and has won two Super Bowls. Somebody is going to over pay him this offseason and the Patriots will let him go because you can’t overpay your 2nd best cornerback when your top cornerback, Malcolm Butler, is a restricted free agent who has made only $1.5 million IN HIS ENTIRE THREE YEAR CAREER!
DE- Jabaal Sheard
The Patriots signed Sheard two years ago to a deal that the rest of the league smacked their foreheads over. How good of a deal did the Patriots get when they signed Jabaal Sheard away from Cleveland for $11 million over two season? Signed that same off season, Ndamukong Suh made $12 million in 2016 alone! Forget about the $96 million cap hit for Suh combined over the next 4 seasons. (Oh by the way, Sheard had 13 sacks over the last two season, Suh had just 11.)
Why Sheard will leave: Because the NFL is a copycat league and bad teams look to emulate what successful teams do well. The Patriots signed Jabaal Sheard two years ago and he immediately led the team in sacks. What bad teams will confuse in a case like this is that instead of signing a “Jabaal Sheard type” they will just go out and over pay Jabaal Sheard. The “Jabaal Sheard type” is an undervalued edge rusher who is hitting free agency at a young age and that the market has overlooked in favor of flashier names. Now after two years in New England, Jabaal Sheard is no longer a “Jabaal Sheard type” as he hits free agent market again. That won’t stop some team from overpaying him on a multi-year deal, while the Patriots replace him with the next prototype that fits the Patriots Way.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.