With the start of the league year less than a week away it is time to get our early wishlist going and hopefully, the Patriots are already making some inquiries…wait, what???
“I know what you’re thinking…” as Thomas Magnum used to say every Thursday night. “The Patriots can’t be making overtures to free agents…that would break the rule for tampering!” And yet like every other year, we’ve already heard about Team A. is going to offer Tom Brady $60 million, yada, yada. If you don’t believe that has happened, is happening now and is going to happen this weekend, well I have this little bridge for sale you see.
So, with that said, let’s look at some of the potential targets that we feel the Patriots should look at in the 2020 free agency feeding frenzy. Everyone has been saying that they really need help at wide receiver and tight end. I won’t argue that, however, I believe the latter is a much bigger need than the former.
I’ve been saying ad nauseam that I think they just need some speed to go along with the talented possession guys that are already on the roster. I believe, that N’Keal Harry is going to have a very solid 2nd season after missing much of his rookie year hurt with a couple of injuries. Ditto for Jakobi Meyers. With Mohamad Sanu playing hurt, I expect that he’ll be much better in 2020. And Julian Edelman is still Julian Edelman. Give them a speedy guy outside that can run all of the routes and take the pressure off the guys underneath…and they’ll be fine.
Tight end is another story. The Patriots’ tight ends were…to put it politically correct “challenged” in 2019. Okay, they stunk up the joint. So this year they need to sign a quality free agent and then double dip and try to draft a good one in the middle rounds of the draft and get the middle of the field, down the seams a friendly target area again.
However, my first two names that I’d love to see the team chase are on defense. What, you say??? “Say what again, I double dare you,” (see who remembers that reference). Yes, defense. So, before anyone yells, “Gedoutta HEAH!” we shall explain.
Jordan Phillips, DT, Buffalo Bills:
The Bills scooped up Phillips when he was being let go by the Dolphins in 2018. The Patriots put in a claim for him, as did others, but he went to Buffalo due to their lesser record at the time. So, we already know that the coaching staff likes him and believes that he would be a fit in their defensive system.
Phillips is one of those big immovable objects in the interior of the line at 6’6, 340 pounds. But he’s much more than that, he’s a penetrator. Playing the 3-technique who aligns on the outside shoulder of an offensive guard in the B-gap between the guard and tackle. The player is responsible for controlling and/or penetrating that gap inside. He tallied 9.5 sacks for the Bills, a career-high in 2019 as an interior DL.
The Patriots’ Danny Shelton is a free agent this season, Shelton had a very good 2019 and could find a nice market for himself. But Phillips brings the added dimension of pressure inside. He won’t come cheaply, but they may be able to entice him to play for Bill Belichick rather than against him in the division. Paired with Lawrence Guy inside, Phillips could have a huge season on this defense.
Nick Kwiatkowski, LB, Chicago Bears:
I’ve always liked this player since he entered the league in the 2016 NFL Draft and was taken by the Bears in the 4th round from West Virginia. An interior or MLB, depending on the formation, he is an excellent run stuffer who has steadily improved in coverage and has good range to move sideline-to-sideline.
Listen to what Aaron Rodgers who has played against him twice a year had to say. “Well, 44, I’ve always thought he’s been a really solid player. I don’t want to butcher his last name. But he rocked me a couple of years ago and I know where 44’s at most times when he’s in the game. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Kwiatkoski wore the green dot for the Bears, who are cash-strapped (less than $25 million under the cap) and with Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, and Elandon Roberts all free agents this spring, bringing in a guy like Kwik (his nickname on the Bears), would make perfect sense.
Okay… now the offense.
Austin Hooper, TE, Atlanta Falcons:
I know most people are clamoring for Hunter Henry from the Chargers, but he’d be a distant second here given his injury history. I really like Hooper who was a dynamic target for Matt Ryan and the Falcons last year hauling in 75 passes for 787 yards and 6 TDs.
He’s still not a great blocker but the 6’4, 255-pound tight end has improved in that aspect but what the Patriots really need is a big, reliable target down the seams, Hooper can do that and would be a matchup nightmare for defenses in the middle of the field.
The issue with him will be money. He’ll probably command some big bucks on the open market. This is why re-signing a certain somebody at QB would be of paramount importance early in the process. Getting to play with “that certain somebody” could go a long way in enticing Hooper to New England.
Trade for O.J. Howard/Cameron Brate, TEs, Tampa Bay Bucs:
The Patriots reportedly made a move to get Howard last year at the trade deadline but Bruce Arians, who doesn’t use a tight end extensively in his offense balked. It came down to a ‘we’re not going to use him and neither will you’ type of deal.
Howard is another guy that I’ve always thought would thrive here in the Patriots offense. It might be a good time to kick the tires one more time with the Bucs to try to swing a deal. We read that Brate may be on the trading block as well. While not as talented as Howard, he’s a huge upgrade over what they have here…either one is a big plus.
Yesterday Adam Schefter wrote that the Packers were going to release Jimmy Graham…pass
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, 49ers:
Sanders was targeted by the Patriots a few years ago when a restricted free agent and reportedly they tried to get him at the deadline but didn’t have the cap space…thanks AB. Sanders made noise about wishing he had gone to NE all along. Will the third time be a charm?
Although he’s 33, he still has the speed to burn and is a tremendous route-runner. If everything falls into place under center, then it may just work out for the Patriots and Sanders. We’ve said all along, he’d be a tremendous fit here.
What will hold it up? Money. I know that Sanders said that the cash won’t be the driving force in his decision this time…but I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that. So, we’ll see.
Second choice: the Jets Robby Anderson. Anderson has a ton of speed and even had a dream of playing with Tom Brady. I’ve heard some people say that we don’t know if he’d be able to pick up NE’s passing offense. Isn’t that a legitimate question with every WR at this point?
The Vikings Stefon Diggs is becoming this decade’s Larry Fitzgerald, every year, we’re going to hear rumors he’s coming to New England. Would I like him? Who wouldn’t? But do I see him here…nope.
There’s our early wishlist…which usually means that Bill Belichick won’t be interested in any of them this spring. Stay tuned…
Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]