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MORSE: Thoughts on the Start of Free Agency For the Patriots

Mark Morse
Mark Morse on Twitter
9 months ago at 9:25 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots News

MORSE: Thoughts on the Start of Free Agency For the PatriotsJoe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Free Agency is upon us as the Legal Tampering period turned into an opportunity for Agents to announce they have agreed in principle to new contracts for the players they represent.  These new lucrative contracts can’t be signed until the opening day of the league’s new year 3/15.

Two months ago, when I did the Patriots’ Season Post Mortem I started with their list of Free Agents and stated who I thought they should retain and why.  Atop my list were DB Jonathan Jones and Wide Receiver Jakobi Meyers.  The Patriots were able to retain Jones on a very team-friendly two-year deal.  I thought it would take a Market Rate two-year deal with an AAV of $12.5 M to sign him.

Jones wanted to be here and stated it several times.  He is projected to receive a 2-year $19M contract.  That is $3M less than projected.  It is also broken down to have a salary of just $1.25M salary in 2023 and $8M in 2024.  The Signing Bonus was $7.5M and $13M guaranteed.  Throw in a $500K playing time bonus and a $58K roster bonus.  Jones, a UDFA in 2016 out of Auburn stands only 5’9” but runs a 4.33 40-yard dash.  However, his change of direction is slow as he ran a 7.25 3-cone drill at the combine.

Jakobi Meyers chose to leave the Patriots.  He signed with the Las Vegas Raiders to play second fiddle to Davante Adams.  He will rejoin Head Coach Josh McDaniels and get to play with QB Jimmy Garoppolo.  I said that Meyers chose to leave after agreeing to a 3-year $33M contract.  That’s $11M AAV where his market value was projected at 4 years $50M.

You would think the $11M AAV would be in the Patriots’ wheelhouse for the 26-year-old wideout.  It has been reported that the Patriots’ offer was two years and $12M, kind of what they offered Wes Welker back in the day.  The Raiders jumped in when they determined that the Pats were the only other offer.

Meyers led the WRs in receptions the last two years and was a favorite of Mac Jones.  However, he didn’t lead the team in receptions last season as that honor went to Rhamondre Stevenson.   Last year was a big opportunity for Meyers to separate himself from the other Patriots receivers and he didn’t.  He will never be a #1 receiver and he won’t have to on Las Vegas.

Josina Anderson posted this quote from Meyers “They (Raiders) wanted me and I wanted them”.  That quote says it all.  Meyers no longer wanted to play in NE.  New England never got the chance to sign him at $11M a year.  His contract is actually 3 one year deals according to Taylor Kyles of CLNS Media.  The new Massachusetts Millionaires Tax may have helped sway Meyers from playing here.  Greg Bedard speculated the new tax would have cost Meyers as much as $3M.  So for the Patriots to offer an equal deal, they would have to offer more.

Meyers was outspoken about the offense played last season and also about the amount of playing time Kendrick Bourne was receiving.  That may have led to Meyers not being re-signed.  Meyers was an Un-Drafted Free Agent (UDFA) and got the most out of his ability.  He is slow (4.65 40) and doesn’t possess the quick changes of direction (7.07 3-cone drill) the traditional Patriots slot receiver has. All he did was make a clutch catch time and again.  I am disappointed that he didn’t re-sign.

Devin McCourty in one of his parting interviews listed the as-yet-signed Jones as one of the leaders that would likely take over for him.

Carl Davis DT, James Ferentz OC, Myles Bryant (RFA Tender), and Raekwon McMillan LB were also early re-signees.  Ferentz’s contract only counts $200,000 against the cap.  Myles Bryant’s tender is $2.627M and if he signs with another team and the Patriots failed to match, then the Patriots would not receive any compensation.

The 1st outside Free Agent signee was former Bronco OT Calvin Anderson.  Does anyone remember that the Patriots signed the 6’5” 300 Tackle from Texas as a UDFA after the 2019 Draft?  I didn’t.   He lasted only a month.  Last year Anderson played 7 games at Tackle for Denver.  He gave up only two sacks and 22 QB Hurries in 272 dropbacks.  Unfortunately, he had a 59.3 rum blocking grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF).  He had only one penalty called in 439 snaps.  PFF Gave him an overall 65 grade (66.1 Pass Blocking and 59.3 Run Blocking Grade).  These are the opposite of incumbent RT Connor McDermott’s 65.8 Overall (53.7 Pass Blocking and 79.8 Run Blocking).

Anderson is a little short and underweight for a standard Patriots Tackle.  His 30 reps on the Bench Press and,  3-cone drill exceeded the Patriots’ standard.  All the other drills were in line with the Patriot standard.  One of Anderson’s biggest assets is his ability to play both Tackles and G.  This makes him a versatile and valuable backup.

In what I consider a surprise, Jabrill Peppers re-signed with the Patriots on a 2-year deal worth $11M and $6M guaranteed.  Peppers had an excellent comeback year with 60 tackles.  PFF gave him an 84.8 grade which was top on the Patriots.  He also played in 35% of the Defensive snaps and 59% of Special Teams.   Pepper’s nickname is Hulk and he is not afraid to lay the wood on RBs and Receivers.

Welcome, Reilly Reiff the 11-year NFL veteran LT.  The 6’6” 313lb Hawkeye has played for 6 NFL teams including 10 games for Cincinnati Bengals in 2021.  Reports have it that Reiff solidified the Bengals’ line helping them to the AFC Championship game.   Reiff has 149 career starts.  Securing Reiff means the Patriots don’t have to take an OT with the #14 pick or if they are dissatisfied with Trent Brown, can cut him and save $10M against the cap.  This also doesn’t mean they won’t take a Tackle at #14.  They would have Reiff available to coach up a rookie and not force him into the lineup as they did with Cole Strange.

According to Phil Perry, Ryan Poles GM of the Bears had this to say about Reiff – “That guy did more than a lot of people think for that O-line room and the mentality. He’s a reason why we ran the ball so well. We finished. We had an attitude. We had an identity and that’s a lot because of guys like him.”

He started 10 games for the Bears in 2022.  The contract is for one year at $5M.  I should be fair about Reiff.  There is just as good a chance that Reiff decides in the middle of camp that he just doesn’t have it in him for another season.  Keep that in mind.  Not saying that Reiff is a quitter, just that he is not the Holy Grail.  Reiff has never been named to the Pro Bowl.  McDermott was ranked 46, Anderson ranked 48 and then Reiff was graded as #51 by PFF OT grades.

The Patriots also assigned an original round tender on Restricted Free Agent Yodny Cajuste.  That equates to $2.743M.  No team is touching him and having to give up a 3rd round pick.

The Patriots have everyone back in the secondary except McCourty.  That is remarkable.  I like moving Jon Jones to Safety replacing McCourty.  The single high safety requires speed and none of the safeties on the team and a limited number of players in the draft have Jone’s 4.3 speed.  Jon Jones had some issues with big receivers.  He stands only 5’9” and that hurt him at CB.   I don’t think it’s much of a difference at Free Safety.  Jones is also a good open-field tackle.  I have a big fear that the Patriots put Jalen Mills at Safety.  Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Joshua Bledsoe, and Jabrill Peppers are more the in-the-box safeties.  Moving Jonathan Jones to Free Safety will open the opportunity to draft one of the top CBs available at #14.

The Patriots have their replacement for Jakobi Meyers in JuJu Smith-Schuster.  JSS had a comeback year for KC last year with 78 catches for 983 yards.  He was excellent for the Chiefs in the playoffs.  The bonus is that he is only 26.  The 6’1” 215 receiver, Smith-Schuster ran a 4.58 40 but had a 3-cone of 6.93, more in line with what the Patriots like.  JSS is a true X wideout.  He can stretch the field and is a terror one-on-one.  The signing has not been confirmed yet but the term is reported to be 3 years and $33M.  That’s what Meyers got from the Raiders, but not what the Patriots would offer him.

In another surprise move the Patriots have signed RB James Robinson formerly of NYJ and Jacksonville Jaguars.  The deal is for 2 years and upward of $8M per report.  In 2020, Robinson’s rookie year, he led Jacksonville with 240 carries, 1,070 yards rushing, 4.5 average, and 7 TDs.  He also had 49 catches on 60 targets for 344 yards and another 3 TDs.  His 1,414 yards and 10 TDs were the most in league history by an UnDrafted Free Agent.

The Illinois St product did this in 14 games as he missed the last two games with a torn Achilles.  In 2021, in 14 games his carries dropped to 164, for 767 yards, and improved his yards per carry to 4.7 and 8 TDs.  Robinson added 31 catches on 46 targets for 222 yards but no TFs.  2nd-year player and 2029 1st-round pick Travis Etienne took over the #1 RB slot and Robinson was eventually traded to NYJ when they had a rash of injuries.

Combined he played 11 games with 110 carries, 425 yards, a 3.9 average, and 3 TDs.   Receiving he had 9 catches on 11 targets for 46 yards and a 5.1 average and 2 TDs.

In three seasons he has fumbled 4 times.  The 5’9″ 219 lb, Undrafted RB from Illinois State ran a 4.64 40, 7.03 3-cone drill, 40” Vertical, 10’ 5” Broad Jump, and put up 24 reps of 225#’s  (very strong for RB) at the combine.  I believe that the 25-year-old Robinson can take some of the load off Rhamondre Stevenson’s number of rushing attempts and reduce his receptions.

Robinson might just be that designated 3rd down back that can pick up the blitz and run the ball between the tackles on draw plays.  Although short at 5’9″, he is very strong and compact at 219 lbs.  He is very capable of picking up the blitz.

The veteran running back is a year younger than Damien Harris and this probably signals the end for Harris in NE.  Harris never got on the field in his rookie year in 2019.  This was essentially a red-shirt year but took one of his 4 years from his rookie deal.  He averaged 4.7 yards per carry for the 4 years and only fumbled 3 times.  As a receiver, he was adequate.

Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: 2023 Patriots Free Agency Calvin Anderson Carl Davis Damien Harris Devin McCourty Jabrill Peppers JAk Jakobi Meyers James Robinson Jonathan Jones JuJu Smith-Schuster Reilly Reiff Rhamondre Stevenson Yodny Cajuste

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