On the heels of Wednesday’s Super Bowl victory rally, the New England Patriots are rolling onward. And there are several dates on the horizon for both the organization and its players to roll into.
By Feb. 16, NFL teams will be able to apply franchise and transitions tags on players set to hit free agency. By March 10, after a three-day negotiation period, teams will be facing a final deadline for exercising 2015 options and offers for exclusive-rights free agents. And by 4 p.m. that same day, the 2015 league year will turn over a new leaf into unrestricted free agency.
What head coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio will elect to do between now and then remains to be seen. But what has been seen is New England’s list of upcoming free agents.
First-team All-Pro Darrelle Revis headlines the group, as while the cornerback finds himself under contract through next season, the team with either pick up his $20 million option – which includes a $12 million roster bonus and $25 million cap number – renegotiate, or let him test the market.
Yet elsewhere, here is a glance into the unrestricted and restricted waters New England is set to face.
Shane Vereen, Halfback: The 2011 second-round pick played in all 16 regular-season games for the first time in his career, gaining 391 yards rushing and 447 yards receiving to go with five touchdowns. His biggest contribution came against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, when the backfield receiver caught 11 passes in a quick, concise underneath attack built to overcome one of the league’s best pass rushes.
Stevan Ridley, Halfback: Drafted one round after Vereen in 2011, Ridley has since rushed for 2,817 yards and 22 touchdowns over his Patriots career, but he landed on injured reserve with a torn ACL and MCL after only six games in 2014. New England was able to maintain stability at the power-back spot with LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray, who are both under contract through the 2015 season.
James Develin, Fullback – Exclusive Rights: A former Brown defensive end, Oklahoma City Yard Dawg, Florida Tusker and Cincinnati Bengal, Develin has carved a meaningful role with New England since arriving late in 2012. Once a practice-squad player and now a 46-man gameday active, the fullback’s lead blocks have kept the Patriots’ personnel multidimensional. And his second career touchdown in the NFL arrived in the AFC Championship Game after touching he ball nine times for 48 yards during the regular season. Develin is one of five exclusive-rights free agents in the fold, meaning he has under two accrued NFL seasons and cannot sign a contract with another team if the Patriots offer him one.
Greg Orton, Wideout – Exclusive Rights: The 6-foot-3, 199-pound receiver was originally signed to the Patriots’ practice squad towards the end of 2013. From there, he re-signed for training camp in 2014 before tearing his Achilles in practice. Orton had previously spent time with three different NFL teams, one UFL team and two AFL teams since going undrafted out of Purdue in 2009.
Brian Tyms, Wideout – Exclusive Rights: Signed after Orton was waived-injured in July, Tyms went on to star in the preseason and catch five passes for 82 yards and a touchdown in the regular season. The former Florida A&M Rattler, San Francisco 49er, Miami Dolphin and Cleveland Brown played 11 games for the Patriots in 2014 and also contributed as a gunner on special teams.
Dan Connolly, Guard: After being named a team captain for the first time in his career, the fourth longest-tenured Patriot went on to start 13 regular-season games and all three playoff games through Feb. 1. Connolly’s versatility at center and the two guard positions was part of the glue on a steadily improving offensive line in 2014. He will turn 33 before the season opener in 2015.
Sealver Siliga, Defensive Tackle – Exclusive Rights: A former San Fransisco 49er, Denver Bronco and Seattle Seahawk, Siliga has since made his impact on the interior of New England’s defensive line. The 6-foot-2, 325-pound Utah product has played in 12 regular-season games with nine starts since being promoted from the practice squad in the midst of 2013, spending the early half of 2014 on short-term injured reserve. He is set to become an exclusive-rights free agent.
Alan Branch, Defensive Tackle: A midseason signing after most recently being a member of the Buffalo Bills, Branch provided veteran flexibility from five-technique defensive end over to the three-technique defensive tackle in New England’s 3-4 and 4-3 fronts. The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Michigan Wolverine recorded 13 tackles in eight regular-season contests.
Akeem Ayers, Defensive End: Acquired from the Tennessee Titans before the trade deadline, the former UCLA second-round draft choice filled the void left by right end Chandler Jones’ hip injury. Ayers held up well versus the run, he dropped into zone coverage, and he also generated his share of pass rush by straight-lining and stunting to the quarterback. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound edge defender is slated to become an unrestricted free agent at only 25 years old.
Jonathan Casillas, Linebacker: Another midseason acquisition, the 27-year-old Casillas established himself as a core special-teamer and rotational linebacker in base sets. The former New Orleans Saint and Tampa Bay Buccaneer recorded 28 tackles and a forced fumble over the final eight games of the regular season.
Chris White, Linebacker: White has in 29 games for the Patriots on special teams since being claimed off waivers before the start of 2013. He recorded seven tackles in 2014.
James Morris, Linebacker – Exclusive Rights: A highly productive player at the University of Iowa, Morris had two stints with the Patriots before being placed on injured reserve at the end of the preseason. The undrafted free agent served on special teams and saw snaps on defense in his short time with the team.
Devin McCourty, Safety: The 2010 first-round cornerback by way of Rutgers should move the needle in free agency as the top free safety available. McCourty’s range from centerfield saw him register 68 tackles, one forced fumble and two interceptions during the 2014 season. The two-time All-Pro is only 27, and could be a candidate for the team’s franchise tag if a long-term agreement is not met in the next couple months.
Danny Aiken, Long Snapper: Aiken has served as New England’s long snapper for 63 of 64 games since joining the team in September of 2011. He was waived at the end of the 2014 preseason before returning for his fourth NFL regular season in Foxborough.
Stephen Gostkowski, Kicker: The 2006 fourth-round pick out of Memphis has converted on 243 of his 280 field goals with the Patriots, and he converted on 35 of his 37 tries in 2014. The 31-year-old made his third Pro Bowl and was honored as a second-team All-Pro shortly thereafter. Along the way, Gostkowski broke New England’s career scoring mark previously set by Adam Vinatieri in 2005.