The first order of business as teams approach free agency is to get their own house in order. The way to do that is to have a plan, figure out what is available in terms of cap space and then place values on the players. If cap room has to be created, then certain players are marked as possible cuts, some are allowed to leave via free agency while others are approached to negotiate a more suitable deal that brings their value to the team more in line with the plan.
The Patriots have a number of high profile players headed for free agency or possible cap cuts. The free agents who are free to sign elsewhere if no new deal is made before March 3rd are kicker Adam Vinatieri, and wide receiver David Givens. The possible cap casualties are linebacker Willie McGinest (approx $8.3 Million), running back Corey Dillon (approx $6 million) and corner back Tyrone Poole (approx $2.5 million).
The figures provided ( ) are estimated or reported current cap figures assuming no restructioning. They do not represent cap savings if that player is relased or traded.
Willie McGinest, LB
McGinest has stated he would like to finish his career in New England if the situation permits. He has openly discussed the possibility of working out a new deal, but has not talked in terms of specifics. One Scout.com source told Patriots Insider that Patriots Vice President of Player Personnel Scott Pioli and Head Coach Bill Belichick approached Willie McGinest once prior to the end of the season regarding his contract status. This source told us "The team at that time was apparently willing to restructure his deal, which was to include a modest pay-cut."
That restructuring never materialized and the season ended with no new deal.
As of earlier in this week Gary Uberstine, McGinest's agent, had not been notified by the team that they intend to release the veteran, linebacker. Scout.com also reports that McGinest questions surfaced in Indianapolis and he would be a hot commodity if released.
The team is approaching the McGinest situation with care. He is a leader, and as a long time veteran and former first-round draft pick of the team, many of the players in the locker room would consider his release as being wrong. His postseason sack record speaks to the notion that McGinest can still play the game at a high level.
Sources in league circles have indicated to us that -- at this time -- McGinest will be released. That being said, the Patriots are known for getting things done at the last moment or when unexpected. So there is no guarantee the team will not be able to find some way to reach a deal that would allow McGinest to finish his career in New England.
Corey Dillon, RB
The word is that the Patriots are looking very hard for a running back. According to our Scout.com source, the team would like to remove Corey Dillon's cap charge from the books. Our source goes on to tell us that the organization is concerned that they do not have sufficient talent on the roster at the position. The team would have to find a replacement for Dillon before they can make a move, and the free agents on the market are certain to command deals that would be equally restrictive.
Patriots Insider and Scout.com reported earlier that the team was heavily scouting running backs, although they managed to keep it relatively quiet. You can read more about one target they have in mind if he's available in the draft here (link).
If the team can pick up a top grade back in the Draft, they just may try to move or release Dillon before the season.
David Givens, WR
Reported earlier by Patriots Insider, the David Givens situation looks less promising than the others. According to our source, "Talks with representatives for Givens have been slow," we were told. "It does not look like he will sign prior to the free agent player signing period."
Givens is looking to get paid after playing most of his career under his rookie contract and last season under a restricted free agent tender of $1.43 million. He turned in a solid season with 59 receptions for 738 yards and two touchdowns. While not as good as his 2004 production, he did manage to turn in big performances in wins over Pittsburgh (9 rec, 130 yds) and Tampa Bay (6 rec, 137 yds).
Givens is looking for number-one receiver money, but the team does not view him as a legitimate number-one. He was injured again in 2005 starting only 10 games. That injury affected his total production, but it was the incremental metrics that may be more indicative of his situation. Givens suffered a decline in average gain per reception falling to 12.5 down from 15-plus in 2004. He also saw a drop in first downs made, sinking to 32, down from 47 last season.
Although Givens is rated as the top wide receiver available in the Scout.com free agent database, the team may be better suited to pursuing one of their other free agents (Tim Dwight, Troy Brown and Andre Davis) while drafting a receiver of the future. They could also just wait to pickup a cap casualty. Joe Jurevicius, Antwaan Randel El and Antonio Bryant are some names expected to hit the free agent market.
Adam Vinatieri, K
Talk about the Patriots place kicker has been muted. Bill Parcells' Dallas Cowboys are looking for a kicker, and are interested in both Vinatieri and Tampa Bay's Matt Bryant. Bryant obviously would be the cheaper alternative, but it is believed Parcells covets Vinatieri if he can be had.
There is no indication that Vinatieri wants out of New England where he has achieved pseudo-legendary status through the winning kicks he made in the Super Bowl. Our source at Scout.com tells Patriots Insider that the team was talking to Vinatieri on Monday.
The Patriots had the opportunity to place the franchise tag on Vinatieri for the second season in a row, but they declined to do so. Last season Vinatieri played under the tag for a $2.51 million salary, if he were tagged again that number would be over $3 million.
Vinatieri told Patriots Insider in training camp that he wanted a long-term deal, but wouldn't worry about it once the season began. The season arrived and no new deal was reached. True to his word, Vinatieri avoided contract talk, saying he preferred that his agent only call him when things were close.
The current assumption for Vinatieri is that the team will make him a fair offer, but maybe not the top paid player in the league. If Vinatieri feels it's fair, there's a good chance he'll continue to be "Mr Clutch" in the cold climes of the Northeast.
Tyrone Poole, DB
One player flying well under the radar in terms of buzz is cornerback Tyrone Poole. Poole has been injured often, missing all but one game in 2005, and only seeing action in five games in 2004. Poole has been injured the majority of his time in New England finishing each of the last two seasons on injured reserve. His first season was the only one in New England he was able to play in all sixteen regular season games.
Team sources are telling Scout.com that Poole will be released, ending a disappointing three-year tenure with the club.
Be sure to stay tuned to Patriots Insider for more details as they become available. If you haven't checked the forums or the TIPLINE, you may want to visit those often to catch the latest news updates.