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MORSE: Potential Free Agents for Patriots

Mark Morse
Mark Morse on Twitter
February 22, 2023 at 9:32 am ET

MORSE: Potential Free Agents for Patriots(PHOTO: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)
Posted: Feb 22, 2023 09:32
🕑 Read Time: 8 minutes

Potential Free Agents for Patriots

As we come up to the start of the new league year and free agency is about to begin, I thought I would throw out some names of players I think the New England Patriots might be interested in.  Rankings and write-ups are provided by Pro Football Focus as noted.  PFF rankings in parentheses.

CB JAMES BRADBERRY, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (15)

PFF – “We wrote earlier this year about potential candidates for extensions before the 2022 season concluded, and Bradberry found himself on that list because of a great start to the year. His 46.0% completion percentage allowed was the fourth-best mark among cornerbacks for the 2022 regular season, and his 19 forced incompletions ranked second.

Bradberry is likely best as a No. 2 after years of proving himself as a reliable No. 1, but there should be a huge market for his services nonetheless, as he’s proven to be adaptable, reliable, and available throughout his NFL career. This season marked his fourth consecutive campaign with 1,000-plus snaps.”

OT JAWAAN TAYLOR, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (16)

PFF – “Taylor had a career year as a pass protector, earning his highest pass-blocking grade with a 76.4 mark that landed him in the top 25 among tackles on the year. Taylor allowed pressure on just 2.5% of dropbacks, the third-lowest mark among tackles in the NFL, though quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s lightning-quick 2.51-second average time to throw certainly helped. However, Taylor’s 76.7 pass-blocking grade on true pass sets still ranked 14th among tackles and his 5.2% pressure rate allowed was a top-10 mark.

On the other hand, Taylor had the highest rate of negatively graded run blocks among tackles in the NFL (22.4%). This is, of course, the less important aspect of tackle play, but it’s undoubtedly still a cause for concern if a lineman is earning a negative grade on more than one out of every five rushing plays.”  Age and availability are positives for Taylor.”

Taylor will turn 26 in the season and he hasn’t missed a down in 4 years.  Will new Offensive Line coach Adrian Klemm be able to coach Run Blocking or Pass Blocking easier?   Connor McDermott was a very good run blocker (see my write-up about his re-signing).

LB TREMAINE EDMUNDS, BUFFALO BILLS  (17)

PFF – “Edmunds made huge strides in coverage in 2022, a major weakness in his game through his first four seasons. He is a truly freakish athlete and will be 25 years old throughout his entire sixth NFL season in 2023 after being selected No. 16 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft as the second-youngest player in the overall class.

Edmunds’ 86.9 coverage grade in 2022 was the third-best mark among off-ball linebackers, and he forced an incompletion on 10.3% of targets into his coverage while allowing just four explosive receptions the entire season (0.9% of targets into his coverage, ninth among linebackers). Edmunds also missed just 6.5% of potential tackles, the lowest rate of his career and another huge sign of continued growth from a football intelligence and play recognition standpoint.”

Take from your opponent and weaken their lineup while strengthening yours.  Edmunds turns 25 in May.  This is the equivalent of signing Matt Judon.

S JORDAN POYER, BUFFALO BILLS  (19)

PFF – “Poyer was seeking an extension before the 2022 season, and his performance this year goes a long way in proving why he was worthy of a new deal, but various injuries have also illustrated perhaps why Buffalo was wary of committing to the 31-year-old beyond 2022. That said, Poyer logged 950-plus snaps in every season from 2017-21, so his toughness and willingness to play through ailments cannot be questioned.

The 2022 campaign marked Poyer’s fourth consecutive regular season earning coverage grades and overall grades above 70.0, with a lot of turnover in the Bills’ secondary throughout the season, most notably with his safety partner Micah Hyde lost for the year. Poyer’s 92.1 coverage grade since 2020 is the best among safeties. He still has good football left to be played. “

I believe that Safety is the number one need on this team.  I would be shocked if Devin McCourty comes back for another season.  If he doesn’t they have a huge hole to fill.  Matt Bowen of ESPN had Poyer as one of two Free Agents the Patriots should sign.  Bowen stated “A highly instinctual defensive back, Poyer could match in coverage, check tight ends, or track the ball from post/deep-half alignments in New England. And he can play multiple roles in Belichick’s sub-packages. Last season, Poyer logged four interceptions and eight pass breakups for the Bills.”

Poyer will be 32 as the season starts which is old for a Free Agent.  I like the idea of hurting an opponent by taking a Free Agent from them while filling a need on our team.

RB TONY POLLARD, DALLAS COWBOYS  (37)

PFF – “Pollard slowly but surely ate into Ezekiel Elliott’s workload this season as the back who clearly had way more burst and ability to break off explosive plays, with his 31 explosive rushes the sixth most in the NFL despite him working as the No. 2 back for the most part. He’s also a dynamic receiving weapon, with five explosive receptions landing him in the top 15. Clearly, he’s a big play waiting to happen every time he steps on the field, but the one knock — if you wanted to find one — would be occasional negative plays, with his 9.3% stuff rate ranking 20th highest among 67 backs with at least 50 carries.

Dallas still trusted Elliott more in short-yardage situations and at the goal line, which is completely understandable, but we’re nitpicking here. Pollard deserves the opportunity to lead a backfield, and that opportunity may still come in Dallas.”

This signing is unrealistic.  Pollard is going to want $7M a year.  He is a terrific third-down back, that can catch and block, but this season he showed he could be the number one RB.  Don’t be surprised where he ends up.  Dallas can’t pay both Ezekiel Elliott and Pollard.  Pollard was the better back in 2022.

LB BOBBY OKEREKE INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (50)

PFF – “Okereke stepped up in a major way in the absence of fellow off-ball linebacker Shaquille Leonard, with his 72.9-grade ranking 23rd at the position. Okereke was particularly stout against the run, with his 13 defensive stops against the run tied for the 13th most. Okereke is now coming off back-to-back seasons with at least 100 tackles and 50 defensive stops.

The former third-round pick still has room to grow as a coverage player, but at 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, he moves well enough in space to not be a liability in coverage.”

Okereke is one of that new breed of LB.  He is smaller and fast (4.58).  In season he will turn 27.  I just like this Stanford grad.

WR WR D.J. CHARK JR., DETROIT LIONS (56)

PFF – Chark signed a one-year, $10 million flier last offseason and unfortunately missed Weeks 4-11 due to injury, but he finished the year quite strong as the Lions turned their season around down the stretch.

From Week 12 through the end of the season, Chark earned a 72.5 receiving grade with three outings of 90-plus receiving yards over six games, 11 explosive receptions (tied for 13th), and an average of 17.6 yards per reception (11th). That’s Chark’s game, a field-stretcher with a 6-foot-4 frame and a 4.34 40-yard dash. He will always be near the top of the league in average depth of target and yards per reception, and there is always a market for those services.”

Chark has had back-to-back injury-plagued seasons.  When healthy in 2019 he put up 73 catches on 118 targets, for 1008 yards and 8 TDs.  He has a legitimate 4.38 speed that can take the top off a defense while opening up the field for other receivers.  At 6’3” he is a true X receiver.

WR ALLEN LAZARD, GREEN BAY PACKERS  (63)

PFF – “Lazard is a major beneficiary of a weak free-agent group at wide receiver, but his unique skill set makes him stand out in his own right. Lazard is built like a modern-day tight end, with his 6-foot-5, 227-pound frame helping him earn a 78.2 run-blocking grade from 2019-21, which ranked seventh among wide receivers.

Lazard has proven he’s more than just a blocker, setting new career highs in targets (98), receptions (60), and receiving yards (788) in 2022, with his 73.9 receiving grade a new top mark despite the increase in receiving volume stepping up as the No. 1 receiver in Davante Adams’  absence.”

Lazard would be a possible replacement if the Patriots were to lose Jakobi Meyers.  They run about the same with Lazard slightly faster at 4.55.  Meyers is ranked as the number 7 Free Agent by PFF.

OT OT KELVIN BEACHUM, ARIZONA CARDINALS (73)

PFF – “Beachum earned his 10th straight season-long pass-blocking grade above 70.0 and showed few signs of slowing down at 33 years old, logging over 1,100 snaps with a revolving door of lineman teammates at each of the other four positions all season long.

He’s limited as a run blocker, and that won’t change, but you know what you’re going to get with Beachum at right tackle, and you’re likely going to get tremendous value considering he’s coming off a two-year, $4 million deal signed in 2021.”

Beachum will be 32 during the season.  The only reason I have him here is the Adrian Klemm connection.  Klemm coached him for 4 years at SMU and again with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Beachum would be a stop-gap measure while the younger lineman develops.

 

Morse’s Morsels

Patriots re-sign Connor McDermott

I think this was a great move by the Patriots.  McDermott played ok during the 6 games he started down the stretch.  His run blocking was outstanding.  PFF had him with a 79.8 Run Blocking rating.  That was good for the top ten.  However, his pass-blocking needs work.  He ended up with a 53.7 Pass Blocking rating because he gave up 18 QB hurries in 6 games.  The good news was that he only gave up 1 sack.  He had 4 penalties in those 6 games.  So as of right now, they have at least the starting 5 back from the end of last year.  McDermott was coached by Adrian Klemm all 4 years at UCLA where he was a Captain.  I am feeling much more comfortable with McDermott being re-signed and the possibility of a few new linemen being added.  I compare McDermott to Mike McGlinchey, not as good in the pass-blocking department, slightly better run blocker, but considerably less against the Salary Cap.

Matthew Slater is coming back for his 16th season

I was so pleasantly surprised to see that Slater was coming back.   The “Reverend” is the spiritual leader of the team.  He has been elected Captain for 12 years now.  Slater is such a great example for the young players coming through the team.  He is a 3x Super Bowl Champion, 2x All-Pro 1st team, 3x All-Pro 2nd Team, and 10 x Pro Bowl selection.  He has also won the Bart Starr award and Dan Rooney Award.  He is a likely future inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  This will be his 16th season in the NFL and he is still going at 37 (38 in season).  He was 2nd on the team in special team tackles last season with 13.

The work that Slater does in the community can’t be overlooked either.  There was some talk of Slater becoming a coach at the end of his playing days and the Patriots had an open opportunity available for him.  Slater is eligible for a Salary Cap discount and his contract for 2023 will only count $1.3M against the cap according to Miguel Benzan.

 

LaBryan Ray is Waived

Ray showed promise in Pre-season but just couldn’t stay healthy.  That was his problem at Alabama, you could never depend upon him to be available because of numerous injuries.  He showed flashes of talent that made him a 5-star recruit at Alabama.  As the old saying goes, you can’t make the team from the tub.  If you are out with injuries (soaking in the whirlpool tub) then you can’t show what you got on the field.

 

Arizona asked permission to Interview DeMarcus Covington for their DC position.    

Covington must have really impressed some people at the Senior Bowl as the Defensive Coordinator for the American Squad.    He is an up–and–coming defensive coach that is well-respected throughout the league.  The Patriots have lost so many coaches in the last three years, losing their second coach this season would have hurt a lot.  The Patriots lost Nick Caley (TE coach) to Los Angeles Rams.  Caley’s contract was up and he chose not to stay after he was passed over for the Offensive Coordinator job.  Arizona made a choice and it wasn’t Covington, which is great news for the Patriots.

 

Philadelphia loses both Offensive and Defensive Coordinators

Success breeds opportunities for assistant coaches.  The Eagles are losing both coordinators in one off-season.  Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen became the Indianapolis Colts head coach and Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon was named the Arizona Cardinals Head Coach.  This is the first time since 1994 that immediately after the Super Bowl a team lost both their coordinators to new head coaching positions.    Philadelphia also lost Defensive Consultant Vic Fangio, who would have likely been named Defensive Coordinator, to the Miami Dolphins who named him Defensive Coordinator.

 

HBCU Combine 

The HBCU Combine was conducted this week and a name has shot out of the workout.  Wide Receiver Xavier Smith out of Florida A&M posted a 4.38 40-yard dash.  The 5′ 9″ slot receiver was one of two HBCU receivers to break 1,000 receiving.  Others showing well were:

Andrew Farmer DE Lane College 6’3″ 250 lbs ram a 4.72 40 and a 38″ vertical leap

Dion Golatt QB Bowie St Threw the ball very well.  His mechanics were near flawless

Jacory Rankin WR Mississippi Valley St.  popped in the 5-10-5 drill, he received a standing ovation

Emmanuel Wilson RB Fort Valley St runs very smoothly and is a silky runner

 

HBCU Legacy Bowl is Saturday on NFL Network at 3:00 CT

About Mark Morse

Merrimack Valley native and lifelong fan of the New England Patriots. My earliest memories of the Patriots were attending as a child with my dad, the off-season practice at Phillips Academy. I was at the Patriots game at Harvard Stadium in 1970 where Bob “Harpo” Gladieux was called out of the stands by the stadium announcer over the PA to play in the game. Analyzing the draft since ESPN first started to televise it in 1980 and former writer for the Lowell Sun Newspaper.


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