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Opinion: Patriots must stay aggressive

Posted Mar 19, 2014

New England needs to keep up its pursuit of free agent talent -- whatever the cost.

I love what the Patriots have done thus far, a little over a week into 2014 free agency. The front office has done something we haven’t seen since 2007: be aggressive in acquiring talented free agents.

The key word in that last phrase, of course, is “talented.” New England always signs free agents, but they rarely go after playmakers. The so-called “value” types are more their style.

But this year, thankfully, has been different so far. Going after Darrelle Revis, the best cornerback of this generation (who happens to be in his prime, no less), along with big, burly Brandon Browner more than makes up for the deficiencies at that position over the past few years. Keeping Julian Edelman on the other side of the ball and adding to the wide receiver spot with Brandon LaFell? Two more very good moves.

They mustn’t stop there, however. In fact, the Patriots should continue this aggressive onslaught, even at the expense of making some tough decisions.

This can be a 2007-like offseason – one that could catapult the Patriots back to the Super Bowl and maybe even win it again – if they make at least one more significant free agent addition. Now that they’ve taken care of the secondary, they should turn their attention to the front seven. A bona fide pass rusher is all that’s missing from this defense to make it a championship one, in my estimation.

Luckily, there’s one still on the market. His name is Jared Allen.

Yes, he’s asking for a lot of money, but New England can still make this happen. At the moment, the Patriots have a little more than $6 million of breathing room under the $133 million salary cap. And they can give themselves even more room by doing something very difficult, but very necessary: letting go of Vince Wilfork.

On Tuesday, our publisher, Fred Kirsch, asked me and my colleagues, Paul Perillo and Andy Hart, on our radio show, PFW in Progress (heard here on patriots.com and available via podcast), if we would be in favor of such a move. I said yes, despite the fact that Wilfork has been a dominant presence in the middle of the defense for the past decade, a solid member of the community, and a respected leader in the locker room.

But he’s coming off a serious Achilles tendon injury and I’m not sure how his aged body is going to respond to it. Yes, when he went out last season, the New England rush defense suffered greatly, but not just because Wilfork was lost. Veteran Tommy Kelly, the other starting d-tackle, was sidelined with a season-ending knee injury.

Kelly seems ready to come back, as evidenced by the fact that he was willing to restructure his contract to give New England even more space under this year’s cap – something Wilfork is reportedly unwilling to do. Wilfork, according to media reports, has asked the team to release him, and I say, go ahead. This is purely a business decision, not a personal one.

Clearing out Wilfork’s excess cap space (around $8 million or so) by releasing him would give the Patriots the room they’d need to lure Allen and still have plenty left over to pay for their rookie draft class and maybe even another offensive weapon or two. Having a legitimate pass rusher like Allen to partner with Chandler Jones would be a devastating one-two punch to go along with the beefed-up backfield of Revis and Browner. And it would give Rob Ninkovich the flexibility to play as a rotational third pass rusher, or to drop back as an outside linebacker.

Getting Allen would be the capper to what has been a tremendous start to free agency for New England – a period of aggressive talent acquisition we haven’t seen in years. And not a moment too soon. QB Tom Brady’s window is rapidly closing, but there’s still time to help him and the franchise win one more Super Bowl trophy. More than ever, the Patriots need to surround him with difference-making talent on both sides of the ball.

So far, they’ve done that, but there’s more to be done. I hope they keep up this aggressive pace.

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