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Five players the Patriots should try to sign in free agency, and five they should not

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  March 12, 2013 11:06 AM

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My general policy when it comes to evaluating Patriots personnel matters is this:

Ditto To Whatever Bedard Said.

And he -- that being Greg Bedard, the Globe's NFL columnist -- has a typically insightful, reasonable, detailed take today on the state of the Patriots roster and how exactly they should fill their various voids via free agency and the draft.

If you haven't read it, well, sprint the heck out of here and absorb some real knowledge first before you dive into my usual pecked-out heaves of conjecture and fantasy.

No, really, go. I'll wait.

(Plays 103 games of Temple Run while simultaneously watching two episodes of "Arrested Development" on Netflix. Man, Buster is the greatest.)

OK, you're back? Appreciate the return. Now that we're all properly informed, let's get to some fun speculation on the players the Patriots should and shouldn't sign as the "tampering period" ends and NFL free agency formally commences at 4 p.m. with what hopefully will be a free-for-all.

I have my lists of five players they should sign and five they shouldn't -- the presumption being in all cases that the terms are reasonable for both the player and the Patriots -- and man, let me tell you, it wasn't easy.

I would love to see them go after Greg Jennings and Josh Cribbs, to name two I ultimately excluded; I just couldn't convince myself that they will. I even thought about a Richard Seymour reunion for a brief moment before recognizing about 93,000 reasons why it won't happen.

Here's my five and five, with the caveat that I hope and believe there will be some fascinating surprises. Hit me with yours in the comments or via Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.


Wes Welker: The closer we get to 4 p.m., the more I believe we'll be hearing news about a five-year, $45 million deal with the Colts or Broncos in the coming days. And while Welker isn't irreplaceable -- I believe the more frequent drops of catchable passes are a sign of subtle regression -- he is still a tremendous asset to the Patriots and Tom Brady, and it blows my mind that so many seem willing to throw the talented, inconsistent Aaron Hernandez into the slot and send Welker on his way. Welker owns the top five seasons in franchise history in terms of receptions, with his 118 catches in 2012 ranking as third-best. He has three of the top five in receiving yards, with last season's 1,354-yard output ranking as fourth-best. He is still an incredibly -- heck, historically -- productive player, and if you're taking him for granted now, mark my words, you'll regret that when he's putting up those numbers elsewhere and the Patriots are learning that not all slot receivers are built to do what he has done.

Aqib Talib: Yeah, I'm wary, too. Of the baggage, of his inability to stay on the field when the Patriots needed him most last season, of how he'll handle long-term security. But ... well, they need him, and they know him now, and he did solidify the defensive backfield (he seemed to play very well in tandem with safety Devin McCourty), and unless they want to get in on the upscale bidding for Sean Smith or believe Nnamdi Asomugha can still play, it makes sense to bring him back and hope he stays on the field and behaves himself away from it.

nelsondavidfinn313.JPGDavid Nelson: In three career games against the Patriots, Nelson has eight catches for 107 yards and no touchdowns. I actually thought his output was more impressive than that, because the rangy 6-foot-5-inch University of Florida product always seems to make a good impression. He's coming off a torn ACL that ended his season in Week 1 last season, but if healthy, he'd provide a useful big target for Tom Brady. He could be a savvy, inexpensive pickup later on in the free agent process.

Osi Umenyiora: Dwight Freeney would be my first choice to fill the role of relatively pricey situational pass rusher, but the suspicion is that he rejoins the Cult of Peyton in Denver. Umenyiora, who had nine sacks in nine games last year, 40.5 over the past four, and is vowing to be the Defensive Player of the Year next season, would be a heck of a consolation prize.

Kenny Phillips: An interesting name, I think. A versatile, talented safety who might be had at a bargain rate because of his injury history. He missed nine games with a sprained right MCL last season for the Giants and required microfracture surgery on the same knee in 2009. There's risk, but the 26-year-old former first-rounder could conceivably help more than some of the bigger-name veterans on the market such as Charles Woodson.

Victor Cruz: He's a very easy player to root for because of his winding path to success and his appreciation for his place in the game, and it would be a blast to see the UMass product make New England his football home again. (Cruz had a huge and vocal cheering section at the 2011 regular-season game between the Patriots and Giants at Gillette Stadium.) And he would be the perfect successor to Welker. So why is he on this side of the list? The cost. It's simply too much, and that's without even considering the salary he'll demand. Cruz is a restricted free agent who was tendered by the Giants, meaning the Patriots would lose their first-round pick as compensation. There's a reason no one has signed a restricted free agent since Laveranues Coles went to the Redskins in 2003. It's generally detrimental to team-building.

Danny Amendola: Just because he went to the same college as Welker and runs similar routes to Welker and has some of the same physical attributes as Welker doesn't mean he is Welker. He's an injury-prone, less-expensive consolation prize if Welker signs elsewhere, and frankly, it's not much of a consolation at all.

wilsonadrianfinn311.JPGAdrian Wilson: He was a wonderful player for a long time, a five-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro, and it's shame the Cardinals were so often irrelevant that his only real exposure came during their improbable run to Super Bowl XLIII. But the reality is that his best days are behind him. He'll be 34 in October and lost significant playing time as the 2012 season went on. This wouldn't be akin to bringing in 30-year-old Rodney Harrison in 2003. It would be akin to bringing in Rodney Harrison in 2007.

James Harrison: He's 35 in May, injury-prone, doesn't fit their scheme, and replaced Joey Porter as the Steeler who talked the most junk about Tom Brady. Pass. Let him become another team's rapidly declining mistake. He'd make a great Jet.

Ed Reed: Oh, let me tell you, if he did somehow end up with the Patriots, I'd reverse field on this like ... well, like Reed running back a Ben Roethlisberger pick and be as excited as the rest of you that Bill Belichick finally brought aboard one of his presumed all-time favorites. But while I still have my relative wits about me, I can't help but think that the time has passed, that bringing in an oft-injured safety who will be 35 when the season kicks off isn't the smartest way to utilize that cap room, especially since it would probably require moving McCourty back to cornerback. Because we're talking about one of the most talented, brightest, and instinctive players ever to play the position, I'll give the Patriots the benefit of the doubt if Reed does end up here. But if he doesn't, and gets big money elsewhere, it might just feel like a bullet dodged.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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