Free-agent fit: Safety

March, 6, 2013
3/06/13
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Second in a series on free-agent fits at various positions leading into the start of free agency March 12.

Position: Safety

Players under contract for 2013: Devin McCourty, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner

Level of need: Moderate-to-high

[+] EnlargeDavid Bruton
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesDavid Bruton, who was drafted by Josh McDaniels and the Broncos in 2009, could give the Pats depth at safety while also contributing on special teams.
Projected top targets: David Bruton (Broncos), Dashon Goldson (49ers), Ed Reed (Ravens)

Why Bruton fits: A fourth-round draft choice of the Broncos in 2009 under then-head coach Josh McDaniels, the 6-foot-2, 217-pound Bruton is a top-notch special teams player who could factor into the defensive mix in sub packages. If the Patriots are looking to add depth at safety, with proven special teams value, this is their type of target. McDaniels obviously knows him well.

Why Goldson fits: Of all the free-agent safeties available, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Goldson looks like the cream of the crop in terms of age (28), health and production (just 2 starts missed over last 4 seasons). He’d add a physical presence to any defensive backfield and it’s notable that the Patriots visited with him in free agency in 2011 before Goldson elected to return to San Francisco. He probably won’t come cheap.

Why Reed fits: The connection between Bill Belichick and Reed is well known. While Reed is nearing the end of his career, he is still a presence on the back end with his ability to cover ground quickly. Reed has said he hopes to return to the Ravens, but if things don’t work out, he should have no shortage of suitors.

Other names of note: Yeremiah Bell (Jets), Patrick Chung (Patriots), Chris Clemons (Dolphins), Craig Dahl (Rams), Louis Delmas (Lions), Abram Elam (Chiefs), LaRon Landry (Jets), William Moore (Falcons), Kenny Phillips (Giants), Glover Quin (Texans), Jamarca Sanford (Vikings)

[+] EnlargeWilson
Kevin Hoffman/US PresswireIs Tavon Wilson ready to take on a bigger role with the Patriots?
Market conditions: Analysts rate the draft as being deep at safety, which could factor in to how aggressively teams approach this position in free agency. Although not as deep as cornerback, there are some solid free-agent safeties available this year. With the Bills placing the franchise tag on Jairus Byrd, that took one of the top safeties off the market.

Questions to ponder at position: Is Tavon Wilson, the team’s surprising 2012 second-round draft choice, ready to graduate from dime back to a more regular role? … Are the Patriots ready to fully commit to Devin McCourty at safety, giving him a full offseason to further grow at a position in which he seemed to have more upside? … Does the team agree with the likes of Rodney Harrison that an intimidating hard-hitting presence is needed at safety? … Could Nate Ebner develop into more than a special teamer?

YOUR TURN: Which of these would you like to see in a Patriots uniform? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog entry.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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