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MORSE: Thoughts on the Start of Patriots Free Agency

Mark Morse
Mark Morse on Twitter
March 15, 2024 at 10:00 am ET

MORSE:  Thoughts on the Start of Patriots Free Agency(PHOTO: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)

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Start of Patriots Free Agency

The Patriots up to this point of Free Agency are acting more like the “Packer Way” that is embraced by defacto GM Eliot Wolf.  The Packers never signed anyone in the first few days of Free Agency but did spend money on the players they drafted and developed.  The Patriots have re-signed everyone from their 2020 draft class.   Wolf was accused by agents of being a hard negotiator and basically being cheap.  I don’t think they should be overpaying mediocre talent so that they will come and play here.  Re-signing their draft class from 2020 was a big deal for the Patriots.  They earned the reputation that if you wanted your money in a second contract, you had to leave the team to get it.  If the Patriots sign OT Tyron Smith, then I would change my tune about Free Agency.

Josh Uche, a player I did not want to see the Patriots re-sign, took a one-year cheap contract to return to the Patriots. It was reported that he left more money and contract term on the table to accept the Patriots one-year $3M offer.  Uche is the 1st third round pick or higher to re-sign with the Patriots since Duron Harmon in 2013.

A big factor in Free Agency is the relatively weak class of players.  Secondly the Salary Cap rising by $30M per team infused new money into each team.  All the Top Free Agents were franchise tagged because these teams got a sudden boost which took them out of Cap jail.  That’s $980M of new money.  You saw Runningbacks getting paid and that was the new money talking.  Those Free Agents available this year are getting paid much more than they are worth.  This makes the re-signing of Michael Onwenu more impressive.

The Patriots were outbid by Tennessee for Calvin Ridley’s services.  The 4 year, $92M, with $50M guaranteed contract signed by Calvin Ridley is absolutely ridiculous.  The Patriots’ reported offer was $20M a year.  Ridley is a dog, and he has $50M guaranteed.  What is his incentive to perform up to that contract?  I have to believe the last two years are non-guaranteed and were added to spread the signing bonus hit over 4 years.   Nobody thinks of Calvin Ridley as a Number 1 wide receiver, but he is getting paid like one.

We have not seen the “weaponizing” of the Offense as stated by Eliot Wolf.  Jacoby Brissett at QB doesn’t move the needle, but it does give the Patriots a legitimate starting QB to play while a rookie QB is groomed to be an NFL signal caller.  Brissett is a placeholder and a player I wanted the Patriots to bring in.  He knows the offense that new Offensive Coordinator Kyle Van Pelt wants to run.  A former 2016 Patriots’ third round draft pick, Brissett was well liked and regarded as a good locker room guy.  He is the perfect mentor to a young QB.

I liked the signing of Antonio Gibson as a third down back and a player they could split out wide for a favorable mismatch.  He has speed as evident by his 4.39 40-yard dash at the combine.  However, he is not a big splash player that I would call weaponizing.

The team has made some good depth signings in LB Sione Takitaki and DT Armon Watts.  Takitaki is faster than Mack Wilson and Watts is a vastly underrated run stopping DT.  Christian Barmore was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the #8 overall DT in the league.  Watts was ranked #18 out of 64 stating DTs.  When looking at run defense, Watt was #10 and Barmore #22.  This was a sneaky good signing if only for one year at $3M.  Watt will be 28 when the season begins.

The signings of TE Austin Hooper and LG Nick Leverett are just depth pieces and don’t move the needle at all on improving the Offense.  The Leverett signing is insurance against Cole Strange not being ready to play at the start of camp.  In 2022, Leverett did start 10 games at LG for Tampa Bay.  The 27-year-old was signed for 1 year at $3M.  That’s good insurance.  His signing is also an indictment against Atonio Mafi and Jake Andrews from last year’s draft, for their failure to impress.

Tying up Barmore and Stevenson to long term contracts would be good use of the Salary Cap money.

The Patriots will have enough cap space to make another splash move.  Could that be a sign and trade deal for a top Wide Receiver like Justin Jefferson or Tee Higgins?

What remains in Free Agency

I would love to see the Patriots sign Tyron Smith at Left Tackle.  I expect that the 33-year-old Smith, who turns 34 in December, would have an extra year built into his contract to spread the signing bonus.  The Patriots must overpay Smith.  At this point in his career, he is probably looking at contending teams rather than one that is rebuilding.  However, money talk in the NFL and you know what walks!    I don’t care if the number is $20M AAV per year to secure his services.   Spotrac had predicted it would take a $7.5M one year contract. Last year with the Cowboys the 5 time All-Pro and 8-time Pro Bowl selection missed 4 games.  This signing would completely change my draft strategy for the Patriots.  The Patriots can select an LT later in the draft and groom him to eventually replace Smith.  The Draft is very deep at the Tackle position.

They need a Free Safety which Kyle Dugger is not.  The 30-year-old Justin Simmons (Spotrac Projection 2 years $22M) or Terrell Edmunds (27) would fill that bill.  Throw money at them and have them sign short-term deals.

Does Michael Thomas have anything left in the tank?  He is 31, but at one time he was the best possession receiver in the league.  Injuries have slowed him down.  A one-year $8M contract should do.

Spit balling here, but what do you think of WR DJ Chark?  He has speed (4.34 at the Combine) and he is only 27.  The 6’3”, 200 lb. wideout might be worth the risk.  He certainly isn’t a number one receiver.

The bottom line is that the Patriots are not a favored destination for Free Agents.  They must overpay to attract Free Agents, and according to the Packer Way, they just won’t do it.  The Patriots also must face the reality that the Massachisetts Millionaires Tax is hurting them when negotiating.  Their offers must be higher than other states that don’t have a state income tax.  The Patriots don’t have a quarterback.  Nobody wants to play with a rookie QB.  The Head Coach is a defensive coach and has never been a Hed Coach.  The Offensive Coordinator has never called plays.  All these combined don’t make New England Patriots attractive to Free Agents.   You better get used to it the team is in the infancy of a long and slow rebuilding process.  This is the right thing to do but it just doesn’t satisfy those that want instant gratification (yeah that’s you Felger)!

Friday Patriots Notebook 3/15: News and Notes

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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    Steve B
    Steve B
    13 days ago

    Pretty much agree with you, Mark. What they’ve done so far is boring, but necessary – and actually exceeded expectations. Top 3 needs – QB, left OT, WR – is a different story. At QB, Brissett and best available in the draft is the best plan. Not risk-free, but still the best approach. Left OT vs. WR is kind of a “which came first – the chicken or the egg?” question. I’ll go with John Madden on this and say OT. The Patriots had limited options, and some of those were right tackles. They absolutely need to get a good,… Read more »

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