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Patriots News 03-13, How Will NE Handle Free Agency?

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
2 months ago at 5:00 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary

Patriots News 03-13, How Will NE Handle Free Agency?Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, here are your weekly Patriots news 02-13 and some NFL notes

With the annual NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in the rear-view mirror, the Patriots did their due diligence on a number of potential draft prospects, especially wide receivers, which will make much of the fan base happy. 

And the date to franchise tag the team’s own free agents now is in the past as well. The Patriots chose not to franchise CB J.C. Jackson, which in my opinion, means that we’ve probably seen the last of Jackson in a Patriots uniform (more below). 

With the legal tampering period beginning tomorrow, the league year begins on Wednesday at 4 p.m. and the feeding frenzy will begin. With little available cap space, don’t expect the Patriots to be big players as they were a year ago. They can still clear up some valuable cap space by cutting, trading, or just re-doing some of the contracts of their players. 

Today, we take another look at free agency and how the Patriots may decide to begin the roster-building of the team that begins now. 

Quick Hitters For the Pats, and the NFL: 

Deshaun Watson: Ah, the criminal justice system, she moves in predictable directions. A Houston Grand Jury declined to indict Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson following a lengthy police investigation sparked by lawsuits filed by 22 women who have accused him of harassment and sexual assault.

“I thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ for letting the truth be heard,” Watson said outside the court after the proceedings. 

“I’m just going to keep fighting to rebuild my name and rebuild my appearance in the community. And on the legal side handle what we need to handle. But also ready to get on the field, and prep for that.”

With his criminal charges behind him, expect the trade discussions with several teams to begin in earnest. Among the teams expected to make a push for Watson’s services include Seattle, Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Philadelphia. One team to keep an eye on is Pittsburgh, there were reports of Watson saying that he wanted to play for the Steelers. 

Of course, he would be still subject to league discipline. Perhaps my jaded view of Park Avenue is coloring this statement, but who out there believes that his suspension under the league would be much less in Pittsburgh than say, Philly, their rivals across the state? We’ll probably never know.

Trades Start Off the Beginning of the Year:  Three trades shook up the NFL this week, two were surprising, one was not. 

The LA Chargers brought in Edge player Khalil Mack for a 2nd rounder in 2022 and a 6th in 2023. Mack is still an outstanding player, and the Chargers defense was…in a word awful in 2021. So that was a great move by LA, as well as Chicago. 

Denver made a huge trade for former Seattle QB Russell Wilson for players including Drew Lock and Noah Fant, two 1st-round picks, and two 2nd-rounders. That will immediately vault Denver into contention in a QB-laden AFC West.

The third trade was Indy moving on from Carson Wentz after just one season, which was expected. What was not expected was what the Colts got for him (two 3rd-round picks). Not a very good move by Washington. 

Salary Cap Article: If you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, please check out the excellent piece from Bernd Buchmasser on how the Patriots can get more cap space in 2022. It doesn’t mean they have to make every move, but he puts out some excellent options. One shouldn’t be surprised, Bernd is an outstanding analyst and writer for the Pulpit. 

Scott Sinclair: Who…you ask? He’s the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the University of Georgia. He and his staff of Juwan Taylor, Meghan Turcotte, and Tersoo Uhaa all deserve a raise. If you watched the NFL Combine last week, the players from Georgia absolutely blew it away. Kudos to the staff. Incredible job. 

Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2” in a bit, please check it out. Derek and I discussed the latest on free agency and some options in the draft. 

Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.

Patriots Free Agency Guide 2022:

The Patriots are facing a lot of tough decisions, especially on defense this offseason. On a podcast earlier this week, I equated it similar to what the team faced in 2009, where they had a defense that was aging and needed pretty much an overhaul. It wasn’t done overnight and took a couple of years to get it right, but they did. 

So, let’s take a look at the Patriots roster once again and try to figure out positionally where they make some moves in free agency or wait for the draft. 

Quarterbacks

The team has Mac Jones and Jarrett Stidham under contract with Brian Hoyer a free agent. The team is seemingly set for the long haul with Jones, now it strictly getting him to develop as they hope he will. 

I would think they’ll try to bring back Hoyer, who knows the offense quite well and was a very good mentor to Jones. It makes sense to bring him back as he’s not going to break the bank and seems quite content in New England. If they were to go into free agency for a vet, maybe Andy Dalton as emergency insurance in the event Jones gets hurt. 

Running Backs

The team is seemingly set at running back with a potent 1a-1b combo of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. Little used and untrusted J.J. Taylor is still on the roster. James White, Brandon Bolden, and FB Jakob Johnson (RFA) are free agents. 

The team needs a third-down passing back, a role that White excelled in for several years, but his hip injury could potentially be one he won’t be the same player coming back from. The team will probably know if White can be the same player soon.

Bolden filled in nicely but isn’t the answer, although I do see him returning for his versatility and his locker room leadership. They’ll probably offer a low-ball deal to Johnson, but I have the feeling they’ll move on from White. 

There are several pass catchers in the draft and we’ll get to those later, but if they were to dip into free agency, (possibly both) then I think that J.D. McKissic from Seattle or Darrel Williams from KC would fit. Possibly Marlon Mack (Colts), but the money would have to be right.

Wide Receivers 

With Jakobi Meyers a restricted free agent, the Patriots will no doubt move to bring him back and in a move that won’t break the bank. Along with Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, and N’Keal Harry (trade?) while a position of need, the cupboard is hardly bare. 

Meyers and Gunner Olszewski (RFA) are the only two free agents this year. While Meyers is a must sign, Gunner is not. He has not developed into a WR and his kick return prowess, which brought him an All-Pro berth in 2020, fell off quite a bit in 2021. 

So…here, I see them trying to sign a veteran on the inexpensive side. Fans clamoring for an Amari Cooper trade ($20 million), Tyler Lockett ($13 million bonus), OBJ, or Juju Smith-Schuster will probably be disappointed.

Another double dip via free agency and the draft may be in order here. But temper those expectations. Look for Jamison Crowder or D.J. Chark in free agency. 

Tight Ends

The Patriots made a splash last offseason with the signing of Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, the only free agent is Troy Fumagalli, who was hurt in camp and never saw the field. Will the team continue to wait and see if Devin Asiasi ever develops? Or do they move on? 

Without cutting Henry (not going to happen) or Smith or working a trade for one of them, none of the higher-end free agents are coming here since they want to play. But two of the better ones on the market are Zach Ertz and Gerald Everett. Feeling the draft is the way here or even a UDFA. 

Offensive Line

Lots of question marks to be answered here. Isaiah Wynn is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is slated to make more than $10 million in 2022. Is he going to remain or will the team attempt to trade him for draft capital and cap relief? The issue is, both RT Trent Brown and LG Ted Karras are both free agents and could command big money. C David Andrews isn’t going anywhere, and RG Shaq Mason could also be trade bait, as he counts $10 million against the cap. 

There are a lot of ways the team can go in this regard. The team as they always do has stockpiled a lot of bodies and this will decide in which direction they go. Michael Onwenu can play guard or tackle, Justin Herron, Yasir Durant, Yodne Cajuste, and last year’s rookie Will Sherman round out the roster. 

I don’t see any outside free agents here. The team will attempt to bring back Brown and Karras and definitely address this area in the draft. 

Defensive Line

The Patriots invested in the DL last year, bringing in Henry Anderson, Davon Godchaux, and drafting Christian Barmore while bringing back Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise, and Carl Davis. Davis is the unit’s only free agent. 

The line’s play faded down the stretch, and the normally steady and dependable Guy had a very uneven season. Byron Cowart missed all of last year on PUP. Bringing back Davis should be an easy proposition. I could see the team moving on from Anderson and possibly even Guy, but his cap hit is very reasonable. 

If they were going to invest in free agency, I’d love to see the Niners’ D.J. Jones in a Patriots uniform. The draft will probably see an addition, too bad Jordan Davis will be long gone by #21.

Linebackers

The Patriots are probably going to clean house here, as their core group showed their age a year ago. They already cut loose Kyle Van Noy and with Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Ja’Whaun Bentley are all free agents. Brandon King is a free agent also but he’s a linebacker in name only. He’s there for special teams. 

The linebacking core was the cornerstone for the defense in several Super Bowls, but the times, like Bob Dylan said, “are a-changing”. The feeling here is that the team lets Hightower and Collins walk and tries to bring back Bentley for his two-down toughness and leadership. 

Matthew Judon was an excellent signing a year ago, but they wore him down with too many snaps. They’ve invested draft capital in Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, Anfernee Jennings, and Ronnie Perkins. It is time to see if these younger more athletic players have a future or not. The team invested in Cameron McGrone who was injured prior to the draft and Raekwon McMillian last year and he was having a great camp before landing on IR. They also have Harvey Langhi and Jalani Tavai. Time for these players to sink or swim in the deep end.

Many fans want Bobby Wagner (who wouldn’t?). But he wants to get paid and compete for a Super Bowl. Neither one of those things is likely to happen in New England in 2022. Look to the draft here, but they could bring in guys like Alex Anzalone and Kamu Grugier-Hill.

Cornerbacks

The Patriots opted NOT to franchise tag J.C. Jackson, which means he’ll hit free agency and we can expect several teams to contact him beginning tomorrow. Does it bar the door for his return? No, but don’t expect him back here either. The former UDFA is set to cash in big, barring any unforeseen thing happening between now and Weds. 

The Patriots will get back Jonathan Jones and have Jalen Mills, Shaun Wade, Myles Bryant as well as Joejuan Williams. So, they need a big influx of talent at the position. 

There isn’t anyone in FA that is comparable to Jackson, so look for the team to bring in an established vet who can still play a bit and won’t break the bank (think 2009, Leigh Bodden). The guys that I think would fit are Donte Jackson from Carolina and Charvarius Ward from the Chiefs. And then find some young blood in the draft. 

Safeties

The Patriots’ long-time captain, Devin McCourty is a free agent, and he seems to want to return for the 2022 season. And the feeling here is that we’re all for it as long as he doesn’t break the bank. McCourty played about 95 percent of the snaps on defense last year and his leadership on and off the field is unquestioned. 

The team has Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Justin Bethel, and the intriguing Joshuah Bledsoe on the roster. The team drafted Bledsoe, like McGrone, knowing he was hurt and that they wouldn’t get anything from him in 2021. 

If they decide against bringing back McCourty or he retires, then Tyrann Matthieu would be an intriguing choice. Perhaps Bobby McCain, who was exiled to football Siberia in Washington. 

Special Teams

Nick Folk and Matthew Slater are the lone FAs that have to be re-signed. LS Joe Cardona is solid, Jake Bailey had an off year but it could have been a knee injury, but with his cap hit, Bill Belichick may decide to let him go and draft a young punter. He’s done this before. 

The Patriots also have other core special teams players, in Justin Bethel and Cody Davis. King, Olszewski, and King are possibly gone. I would let them all walk and bring in a new returner, preferably one that can play WR.  

The team has K Quinn Nordin but how can anyone argue with the last two seasons with Nick Folk. He’s made 55-56 FG attempts inside of 50-yards since 2020. 

Slater is a HOF player on STs. He was hinting around at retirement, but they should attempt to bring him back for at least one more year. 

_______________

“So, how was your week?”

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on Stitcher and Streamyard as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens, and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.

 


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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Brandon Bolden Damien Harris Devin McCourty Dont'a Hightower James White Jamie Collins Kyle Van Noy Mac Jones N'Keal Harry New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers


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