Now that the season is over, it’s time to look at the roster and specifically those players that are Free Agents. I will give my opinion on each player and whether or not they should be retained, allowed to retire, or play elsewhere.
Ted Karras – Started at Left Guard once it was determined that Michael Owenu couldn’t play Left Guard. Karras did a great job and solidified the Left Guard position. He also is a valuable backup at Center. Karras played on a one-year, show-me contract. He was originally signed when David Andrews was a Free Agent and the Patriots weren’t sure he would come back. Karras played very well and he would be valuable retention if they could bring him back at another team-friendly contract. The Patriots don’t have a lot of money to spend on Free Agents so it might take a while to re-sign him. Karras has let it be known he wants to come back.
Brian Hoyer – was originally cut from the final 53 man roster, at the roster deadline and signed as a Practice Squad backup. His value was as a mentor to Mac Jones as well as a serviceable veteran backup. I don’t see him being re-signed unless it’s at a veteran minimum.
Brandon Bolden – His play during the season was exemplary. Many folks had him not making the team out of camp as his role was that of a core Special Teamer. Bolden stepped up and took over the role of James White as the third-down back. His ability to pick up the blitz was terrific. His skill to run the ball was badly underestimated. Next season he will be 32 entering his 10th season. When rushing the ball, he ran the ball 44 times for 226 yards, a 5.1 YPC, 1 TD, and 1 FUM. Receiving he had 41 catches on 49 attempts for 405 yards, 9.9 YPC, 2 TDs. As he has always been, Bolden was a core member of all 4 special team units. He should be retained at a vet minimum contract. Bolden has let it be known through social media that he wants to come back.
James White – White signed a one-year contract before a hip sub-laxation injury ruined his season. White had 12 catches on 14 targets for 94 yards, 7.8 in the 3 games he played. When healthy he is one of the best 3rd down backs in the league. If they can sign him to another one-year, show-me contract at vet minimum I think that would be a good investment. The Patriots have only 6 draft picks this year and drafting an RB is not a high priority, so retaining White and allowing him to continue his rehab might be the right thing to do. White will be 30 entering his 9th year in the league.
Trent Brown – The big man had another good year for the Pats once he actually got on the field. The massive 6’8” 380 lb tackle will be 29 entering his 8th season in the league. Brown missed 8 games of this season after injuring his calf early in the opening game. His loss at RT was a major contributor to the Patriots’ slow start. His contract this year was for $11M after the Patriots traded for him in the off-season. I don’t see the Pats coming anywhere near that number for the big man. They can move Michael Owenu to RT, a move which they should have made immediately. They tried the Owenu experiment at LG way too long. I think they allow Brown to walk. If Brown signs elsewhere The Patriots would be in line to receive compensation.
JC Jackson – He is amongst the league’s elite cornerbacks and is in line for a big payday. They would have to offer him a league topping contract if they want to sign him long-term. The Patriots don’t have a history of signing their own Free Agents at the top of the market. It’s more likely they apply the Franchise Tag to him. Will this piss off the elite CB? Jackson was 2nd in the league with 8 Interceptions, 1st team Pro Bowl and 2nd team All-Pro. Once Stephon Gilmore was traded, Jackson knew he would be receiving a big contract offer. This is a key signing for the Patriots in the off-season.
Carl Davis – When healthy he is a force on Defense. He is a true Nose Tackle and can be very disruptive. Davis had 19 tackles and a sack in 17 games this season. His job was to handle double team blocks and keep the LBs clean. He should be brought back at a vet minimum. That may be hard to accomplish and look for him to sign elsewhere.
Dont’a Hightower – The veteran linebacker was a shell of himself. Especially down the stretch. He started slow, a product of his year off due to opting out. He played slow, missed tackles, and was generally ineffective. I expect Hightower to retire. I just don’t think his heart was in it. If he doesn’t retire I don’t expect the Patriot to re-sign him. He will be 32 next season and is coming off a season in which he was 6th on the team in tackles with 64, far below his standard.
Ja’Whaun Bentley – Led the team in tackles with 109 including 17 in the season finally versus the Dolphins. He went out early in the playoff loss to the Bills and it was very noticeable. Bentley has limited skills and is a liability when in pass coverage. Seeing him matched up against Dawson Knox was a total mismatch. Against the run, he is a beast. He dropped weight this season and that has helped, but he will never be a factor in pass coverage. Bentley will be 26 entering his 6th year. Given the age of the LB corps and his leadership skills, I think it is a priority to bring Bentley back.
Jamie Collins – He was signed after he was released by Cleveland. His one outstanding play was a spectacular Interception when he was 1st signed. He did nothing since then and was invisible in the playoff game. In 10 games he had only 20 tackles. Collins looked fat, slow, and out of shape. He will turn 33 during the season and will be allowed to walk without an offer.
Harvey Langi – The linebacker made the team out of camp for the week one game. In 7 games he had only 3 tackles. If he was to be re-signed, it would be a vet minimum and he would be a camp body. The Pats should let him walk.
Devin McCourty – This is the toughest decision the team and player have to make. The belief is that McCourty wants to play another season. McCourty was an ironman playing all 17 games and his 60 tackles were 7th on the team. Has he lost a step, yes without a doubt! Do the Patriots have a replacement for him on their roster? No! McCourty was overpaid in his last contract and finding a happy medium may be difficult. I think they will try and sign him but might not come to a financial agreement. This is one to watch.
Nick Folk – He has already indicated that he wants to play another season. He has been the most consistent kicker in the league and should have been the All-Pro selection. He hasn’t missed an FG inside 50 yards since week one of the 2020 season. He also made three kicks of 53 yards this year. He nearly had a game-winner that clanked off the upright versus the Buccaneers on a 56-yard kick at the end of the game. Re-signing Folk will not break the bank and the Patriots should bring him back.
Matthew Slater – I love listening to Matthew Slater speak. He is so articulate and carefully and slowly chooses the words he is saying. He will make a great football coach should he decide that is what he wants to do. It’s well known that Slater is a very religious man and may become a preacher when his days are done as a football player. Slater acknowledged at his post-game press conference that he is closer to the end of his career. He will sit down with his family to discuss his future but will not make a rash decision right after the crushing loss. I’m sure that includes a discussion with Bill Belichick. His resume is very impressive with 3 Super Bowl rings, 2 1st Team All-Pro, 3 2nd Team All-Pro, 11 Pro-Bowl selections in his 14-year career. At the start of the next year, he will turn 37. I hope he comes back and I will be sad if he does not. We are lucky to have seen a player of his caliber on and off the field. I suspect he is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. Slater when asked how he felt physically after the season, he responded that he feels really good and gave credit to the strength and conditioning coaches for making him feel like he was 32 rather than 36.
Brandon King – He is a Special Teams only player although he is listed as a linebacker. He did nothing this year and the team can do better with players they already have under contract. It’s time to say good-bye to King.
Restricted Free Agents
Jakub Johnson – Johnson has made himself into a punishing lead blocker. He came out of the International Player Pathway Program. He played collegiately at Tennessee and was awarded to the Patriots under the Pathway Program. He was signed as an Undrafted Free Agent in 2019 even though he could have stayed on the practice squad roster under the Pathway Program. The Patriots did this so they could recall him during the season. Should the Patriots give him an offer sheet? Yes but at what level? Because he was a UDFA, the Patriots would not receive any compensation should they not give him the 2nd round tender. I suspect they are going with a Right of First Refusal tender ($2.23M). The Pats would retain the ability to match any offer. Risky, but Johnson plays a position that not every team covets. Those that do already have Fullbacks.
Gunner Olzsewski – He is a reliable Punt Returner and made the 1st Team All-Pro in 2020. His numbers dropped off slightly this year. However, he did not develop as a Wide Receiver and the Patriots need someone to step up. I don’t think they can afford to have a PR-only player on the team. I would not offer him a tender because I would be afraid he would sign it. If it were me I would let him try and find something else and see if they could match it.
Jakobi Meyers – Meyers is Mac Jones’s favorite receiver. For the season he made 83 reception (1st on the team) on 126 targets for 866 yards and 2 TDs. He deserves a 2nd round tender ($3.986M). Patriots retain the right to match an offer and if they don’t, then the Pats would receive the signing team 2nd round pick in the upcoming draft. The Patriots may try to sign him to a long term contract at a number below the 2nd round tender.
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