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5 Underrated Free Agents The New England Patriots Should Target This Offseason

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5 Underrated Free Agents The New England Patriots Should Target

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots must address several needs through both the draft and free agency in order to ensure their fourth consecutive AFC Championship game appearance.

The Patriots have more holes to fill on both sides of the ball than most want to believe, especially on defense. The inability to win the Super Bowl the past four seasons warrants changes. The glaring needs concern the offensive line and the receiving corps. A bona fide receiver quarterback Tom Brady could rely on has been missing since Randy Moss left the team in 2010. A number of good wide receivers will still be available when the Patriots pick No. 29 overall in the draft, but with the recent failures of coach Bill Belichick and his drafting of wide receivers, I anticipate the Patriots to address this need in free agency. Interior offensive line could be also be the pick here to keep Brady upright and healthy for a few more seasons.

On defense, the Patriots, while solid in most areas, still need a player or two to turn this defense into a more consistent unit. Another defensive lineman who could provide an outside pass rush against elite offenses is a must as is a leader in a talented yet very inconsistent secondary.

One of these needs might be addressed at No. 29, although Belichick likes to trade down as often as possible. Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt and Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman have been selected here in several mock drafts. Secondary would be a necessary pick here, but the Patriots have spent plenty of picks in recent years on secondary players who have mostly flamed out.

While the NFL Draft is still months away, NFL free agency is around the corner in March where teams can begin to address their needs this offseason.

NFL free agency is not about the big names at the top of the free agency lists. Instead it's about the underrated players who are off the radar yet can still produce at a high level.

Here is my attempt to find the five most underrated free agents that the New England Patriots should target this offseason. Some may be obvious while some might make you re-think what the team's true need really are.

Brian Kalchik is a writer for Follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and connect with him on Google.

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5. Wade Smith, Guard, Houston Texans

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The Patriots' offensive line was so in flux at the end of last season that left guard Logan Mankins filled in as the left tackle and numerous changes left the offense vulnerable to a loss in the AFC Championship game.

Wade Smith is an older player, but his experience and solid play is something that Bill Belichick will look for. Smith would fill the role of a Brian Waters in 2011 as a veteran presence who could start opposite Mankins on the interior offensive line.

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4. Dustin Keller, Tight End, Miami Dolphins

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

New England's tight ends have had some forms of questions with them the past two seasons. Rob Gronkowski can't stay healthy, Aaron Hernandez is no longer with the team and the Patriots relied on Michael Hoomanawanui for a majority of last season.

A good short-term option would be the Miami Dolphins' Dustin Keller. Keller comes with question marks of his own after a torn ACL last season, but the tight end still is capable of making plays in the passing game which, in turn, will give Brady a trusted weapon in the middle of the field he can rely on.

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3. Ed Reed, Safety, New York Jets

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New England was rumored to have a chance at Ed Reed last season once the Baltimore Ravens decided not to re-sign the future Hall of Fame safety.

With a poor season on the Houston Texans due more to Houston's own problems than Reed, the New York Jets signed Reed mid-season to help them become a good defensive unit.

New England doesn't waste this chance at a future Hall of Fame player. Reed would give the Patriots' secondary leadership and stability where both were lacking last year.

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2. Justin Tuck, Defensive End, New York Giants

The Star Ledger

New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck frustrated Belichick and the Patriots in two Super Bowl losses. With Tuck scheduled for free agency this year and the Giants already having two young and athletic defensive ends in Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka, Tuck most likely will be let go by the team.

Tuck should be targeted by the Patriots for his edge rush ability and his ability to be a leader on a talented but still young Patriots defense.

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1. Hakeem Nicks, Wide Receiver, New York Giants

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The most obvious need for the Patriots has to be a true No. 1 wide receiver. Since Moss was released, the Patriots have struggled to get big plays from their passing game, forcing Brady to throw more check-downs and short passes.

New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is among the best free agent wide receivers this offseason. While Nicks had a falling out in New York, in New England the talented receiver can revitalize his career after recording zero touchdowns in 2013.