DEDHAM - NFL free agency opens up March 14 and the New England Patriots may be a bit more active than usual. With gaping holes on defense, uncertainty and disappointment at tight end and a deteriorating offensive line, here are a few players Bill Belichick could target:
Ben Watson -- Watson returning to New England makes a lot of sense. The 6-foot-3, 251-pound tight end, who was drafted the the Patriots with the 32nd pick in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft, hauled in 61 catches for 522 yards and four scores with the Baltimore Ravens last season. Watson is familiar with the system, having played in New England from 2004-09. With Rob Gronkowski’s future and health (always) in doubt, and Dwayne Allen underachieving in the passing game, Watson wouldn’t be a bad option for Belichick to explore.
Julius Peppers -- There’s no beating around the bush - the Patriots are in dire need of a pass rusher. Their inability to apply really any pressure at all on Nick Foles, among a few other things, ultimately led to their demise. New England desperately has to get a competent edge rusher opposite Trey Flowers. Belichick has shown a liking for aging rushers, (Andre Carter & James Harrison) so there should be no reason to rule out Peppers to the Patriots just yet. Plus, the guy can still play, despite being 38.
James Hurst -- Hurst, too, makes a lot of sense for the Patriots. With three free-agent offensive tackles of their own on the market, New England has some work to do to protect Tom Brady. The 26-year-old Hurst went from an undrafted free agent in 2014 to a full-time starter last season in Baltimore. Hurst can play both guard and tackle spots, and would fit well in New England. Hurst is not the ideal fit to take over for Marcus Cannon or Nate Solder, but he’s the type of guy who can spill almost anyone, similarly to what LaAdrian Waddle (also a free agent) did last season.
Kyle Fuller -- Malcolm Butler is more than likely on his way out of New England, leaving an immense hole at cornerback. The 6-foot Fuller provides a size upgrade over the 5-foot-11 Butler, and is two years younger. The Virginia Tech product, who was drafted in 2014, was the Chicago Bears’ top cornerback last season, intercepting two passes and batting down 22. Fuller, like Butler, is also one of the better tackling cornerbacks in the league as well.
Clubs have until March 6 to slap the franchise tag on a player of their choice.
Nate Rollins is an intern in the Boston 25 Sports department.
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