Thoughts Around the League: Free Agency, NFL Draft and What's Next for the Patriots

Derek Havens
April 04, 2014 at 09:30am ET

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It may be the middle of the offseason, but you wouldn't know it based on the NFL activity over the past several weeks.

With free agency, pre-draft workouts and transactions around the league, it's been a whirlwind. With the NFL Draft about five weeks away, veteran signings will slow down until after the annual New York event. Nevertheless, each NFL team has made significant moves that will have an impact in the season ahead.

Here are my thoughts on some NFL and Patriots topics in the headlines:

- Wilfork Restructure a Sigh of Relief to Patriots Nation: After ten years with the Patriots, defensive captain Vince Wilfork's name carries a lot of weight on and off the field. After a few reports that the 32-year-old was unhappy after being approached for a new deal, he ultimately agreed to a new contract that should make him a Patriot for life.

From a business standpoint, I could see the case to be made on both sides. With that being said, Wilfork remaining with the team leaves them with one less hole to fill. The team could add some more depth to the defensive line, but having Wilfork back will make an impact next season.

Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald had this quote from defensive back Devin McCourty on Wilfork, "He’s the heart and soul of not just the defense but the team. Everyone in that locker room listens to Vince when he speaks. He’s not a guy that is just talking all the time or talking to talk. When he speaks, everyone listens."

- DeSean Jackson Joins the Redskins: No player has been in the headlines more than former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson the past week. After the Eagles took more than a $6 million cap hit to release the troubled wideout, news broke he could be linked to Los Angeles gangs.

To me, as the week went on, it looked more and more like the Eagles used the gang ties story to calm the Philadelphia faithful after releasing one of the team's most talented players. While he undoubtedly has his baggage, the team clearly wanted to go in a different direction and the Washington Redskins gave him a new place to call home.

The Jackson signing makes too much sense for the Redskins. With no first-round pick in the year's draft, Washington had to get creative in adding talent to a mediocre roster. Jackson, combined with receivers Pierre Garçon and Andre Roberts, give quarterback Robert Griffin III a nice trio of weapons on offense.

- Blount Becomes a Steeler, MJD Nearly a Patriot?: The Patriots have a need at running back, but it's not urgent. Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden are on the roster, but all three are entering the final years of their contract with New England.

Former Patriots tailback LeGarrette Blount signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers for two-years, $3.55 million, a contract the Patriots were not comfortable matching. Veteran running back Maurice Jones-Drew signed with the Oakland Raiders for three years and said the Patriots were one of three teams he was considering.

New England also hosted free agent Michael Bush, but no contract was agreed upon after the visit. With all of these factors taken into consideration, it's clear the team feels they need another tailback, but on their financial terms. They haven't been willing to pay complimentary backs in the past -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead come to mind -- but look for them to draft a running back in this year's draft or sign one in free agency shortly after.

- Manziel, Bridgewater visits Spark Debate in New England: When a team like the Patriots have one of the league's best signal-callers, you don't expect to hear them visiting with some of the top prospects at that position. After all, they have only 30 official visits with prospects and used two on Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel along with Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater.

This sparked some debate on Boston radio and local sports headlines, with fans wondering -- Why? To me, this was partly about due diligence. If you bring these guys in, coaches can pick their brain and figure out a better way to gameplan against them. When you face them during the season, you have a better understanding of how they operate.

The other part is this crop of quarterbacks doesn't draw a consensus league wide. Everyone has their own opinion of how the top guys will work or not, so some could fall to the Patriots first pick at no. 29 overall. If that happens do they want to pull the trigger?

Tom Brady will be 37 in August, which is a reminder that he won't be here forever. Backup Ryan Mallett hasn't proven a whole lot and is on the final year of his rookie contract. So whether its due diligence in advanced scouting, preparing for the heir apparent or a higher quality backup, it makes sense for the Patriots to take a deeper look at these prospects.

Chris Johnson could end up in New Jersey: Tennessee Titans running back, Chris Johnson, will be released at any moment. It seems the Titans are ready to move on and Johnson will be a hot name on the market.

While "CJ2K" didn't live up to his big contract from a few years ago, he still has incredible playmaking ability that will make him attractive for many teams. As I look around the NFL, the New York Jets stand out.

Rex Ryan loves a strong running game and Johnson could add a spark in their backfield. Paired with Chris Ivory, the Jets would have a dangerous ground game to aid whoever takes the ball from under center in 2014. Just a prediction worth monitoring.

2014 NFL Draft Will be a Wild Ride: For hardcore football fans, the NFL Draft is somewhat of a holiday. Personally, I love every minute of it. This year won't be any different.

As many have said this is a very talented, deep rookie class this year. There will be players in the second, third and fourth rounds who will be starters from week one. It comes down to teams identifying who fits and who doesn't.

It will be interesting to see who falls on draft day and the top eight picks will have a big hand in that because of the quarterback situation.  When you look at mock drafts around the league, there will be some quality players who fall out of the first round. That's why you could see many teams, including the Patriots, try to trade down and acquire more picks in rounds 2-4.

With more teams trying to trade down, however, it creates a domino effect and it potentially makes it easier for teams to move up for the guy they want. Come May 8, prepare for a fun and chaotic day around the NFL.

The Patriots Still have Holes to Fill: New England has had a very strong offseason, signing players like Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Brandon LaFell. On paper, the team's depth chart looks solid going into the 2014 season, assuming everyone will be healthy.

As I glance through the potential 53-man roster, though, I see a few needs that could still be addressed. On offense, a running back, pass catching tight end and some offensive line depth could go a long way.

Defensively, another pass rusher, depth at linebacker and more quality at the strong safety position could transform the unit into one of the NFL's best.

I don't see the team making many more veteran additions until after the draft, when they have a better idea of what is still lacking and what could be added for a reasonable price. At the end of the day, it still comes down to value for the Patriots and building a strong roster from 1-to-53.

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