Patriots

Breaking down 2012 Patriots free agency

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Breaking down 2012 Patriots free agency

Longing for an orderly list of NFL free agent dealings? Pro Football Weekly, in its all-knowingness, did the dang thing.

The list is long -- organized by position -- so let's boil it down to Patriots players.

QUARTERBACK
Brian Hoyer - Restricted Free Agent, New England - Re-signed to a one-year, 1.927 million contract on March 23.

RUNNING BACK
Joseph Addai -- Cut by Indianapolis March 9 - Signed with New England May 5 to a one-year, 1.069 million deal.
Kevin Faulk -- Unrestricted Free Agent, NE -- ?
BenJarvus Green-Ellis - Unrestricted Free Agent, NE -- Signed by Cincinnati on March 21 for three years, 9 million.

FULLBACK
Tony Fiammetta - UFA, Dallas -- Signed by NE March 26 for one year, 615,000.
Spencer Larsen - UFA, Denver -- Signed by NE to a two-year, 1.7 million deal on March 22.

WIDE RECEIVER
Deion Branch - UFA, NE - Re-signed March 22 for one year, 1.325 million.
Jabar Gaffney - Cut by Washington May 1 - Signed by NE May 2 for two years, 2.3 million.
Brandon Lloyd - UFA, St. Louis - Signed by NE March 17 for three years, 12 million.
Matthew Slater - UFA, NE - Re-signed March 14 for three years, 5.4 million.
Donte' Stallworth - UFA, Washington - Signed by NE March 19 for one year, 875,000.
Tiquan Underwood - Cut by NE May 3 - Signed by Tampa Bay May 7, two years.
Wes Welker - Franchise Free Agent, NE - Tagged May 15 for one year, 9.515 million. (Deadline for multi-year extension: July 16.)

TIGHT END
Daniel Fells - UFA, Denver - Signed by NE for three years, 5.25 million on March 19.
OFFENSIVE GUARD
Robert Gallery - Cut by Seattle - Signed by NE

CENTER
Dan Connolly - UFA, NE - Re-signed for three years, 9.7 million on March 15.
Dan Koppen - UFA, NE - Re-signed April 13 for two years, 3.05 million.
Jamey Richard - UFA, Indianapolis - Signed by NE May 25 to an undisclosed deal.

DEFENSIVE END
Mark Anderson - UFA, NE - Signed by Buffalo March 21 to a four-year, 19.5 million deal.
Andre Carter - UFA, NE - ?
Shaun Ellis - UFA, NE - ?
Jonathan Fanene - UFA, Cincinnati - Signed by NE March 14 to a three-year, 12 million
Trevor Scott - UFA, Oakland - Signed by NE March 17 for one year, 1.15 million.
Gerard Warren - UFA, NE - Re-signed April 31 for one year, 925,000.

LINEBACKER
Bobby Carpenter - UFA, Detroit - Signed by NE April 5 to a one-year, 775,000 deal.
Gary Guyton - UFA, NE - Signed by Miami to a one-year, 765,000 deal on April 13.
Niko Koutouvides - UFA, NE - Re-signed March 13 for one year, 825,000.
Tracy White - UFA, NE - Re-signed for one year, 990,000 on March 14.

DEFENSIVE BACK
Will Allen - UFA, Miami - Signed by NE March 21 for one year, 1 million.
Marquice Cole - RFA, not tendered by Jets - Signed by NE March 19 to a one-year, 650,000 deal.
Nate Jones - UFA, NE - ?
Steve Gregory - UFA, San Diego - Signed by NE March 15 to a three-year, 7.05 million contract.
James Ihedigbo - UFA, NE - ?
Antwaun Molden - UFA, NE - Signed by Giants to undisclosed deal.

The current 90-man roster could change dramatically between now and August 31's final cuts, but one thing is for sure: there's been an influx of possible impact UFAs brought in this offseason.

New England has largely backed off top-tier free agents since the 2007 Adalius Thomas signing -- five years, 35 million with 20M guaranteed -- fizzled out.

Things have changed over just one season.

Consider this: 2011's regular season roster had 30 Patriots draft picks and just 13 players acquired as UFA. There are now 34 picks and 24 veteran free agents (including only signed players, so no Carter, Ellis, etc.).

Who sticks and who goes? It will all shake out over the coming weeks. New England certainly has more talent to choose from.

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

MORE PATRIOTS

The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.