Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com doesn't believe the Patriots will use the franchise tag on any of their free agents -- including Wes Welker, Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer. "I think the team wants all three players to return, but if the projection is that it's going to be a down market leaguewide, my assumption is that the team's strategy will be to let the market ultimately determine the value of the contracts," writes Reiss.
Tony Grossi of ESPNCleveland.com reports that Ryan Mallett is still a player that new Browns VP of Player Personnel Michael Lombardi covets. Rumors have swirled since early January that Cleveland could have trade interest in the Patriots backup quarterback, however those rumors have died down in recent weeks. "But trading for Mallett - still not out of the question - is problematic because the Browns expended their second-round draft choice nine months early in the supplemental draft to take receiver Josh Gordon," adds Grossi.
Mary Paoletti of CSNNE.com writes that the Patriots have been meeting with a number of top receiver prospects at the NFL Combine. Players who have reportedly sat down with New England include Tennessee's Cordarelle Patterson, USC's Robert Woods, and Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins. Paoletti adds that the 5-11, 205-pound Hopkins has unique potential. "His catch radius, ability to win contested balls, and willingness to take hits should be attractive to Tom Brady."
Evan Silva of Rotoworld.com ranks his top-50 NFL free agents and envisions Aqib Talib and Sebastian Vollmer returning to New England on long-term deals. Wes Welker, who comes in at No. 17 on the free agent list, is a player that Silva sees moving on from the Patriots. "Although they eventually leaned on him due to Aaron Hernandez and Julian Edelman's injuries, the Pats opened last season essentially phasing Welker out of their offense. It's probably a sign of things to come." Silva predicts Welker will sign with the Bears on a three-year, $27 million contract.
Karen Guregian of The Boston Herald believes the likelihood of the Patriots landing free agents Ed Reed or Charles Woodson appears slim. She adds that the best bet to find safety help could be in this year's NFL Draft, which is said to be loaded with talent at the position. "There's been a lot of buzz about LSU free safety Eric Reid, who's 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, has coverage skills and hits like a freight train," writes Guregian. "Then there's Florida International strong safety Johnathan Cyprien, whose stock rose at the Senior Bowl. Cyprien is 6-0, 209 and another big, physical aggressive Rodney Harrison-like presence."