The NFL's free agency period started with the New England Patriots losing some of their core players from years past: Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler will all be playing elsewhere next season. While the Patriots will need to find a way to replace their past production either during free agency or the draft, they also need to add talent elsewhere – most prominently on defense.
New England already started over the weekend by trading for Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Danny Shelton. More moves will follow and maybe even involve one of the biggest names on the open market: former Arizona Cardinals strong safety Tyrann Mathieu. The veteran was released by the Cardinals today and would immediately help the Patriots.
The 25-year old was on Arizona's books with a cap hit of $14.1 million this year (and the next two years before a decrease to $9.5 million in 2021) and after an unsuccessful renegotiation has been cut by Arizona. He is still a tremendous player and, even though his cap number was simply unsustainable for a non-quarterback, is one of the prototypical safety/linebacker/cornerback hybrids – similar to New England's Patrick Chung.
Therefore, the “Honey Badger” would be a great addition to the Patriots' defense. While the team is deep at the safety position with Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and the above-mentioned Chung, it needs to upgrade its pass defense in the underneath zones – an area in which Mathieu does his best work. Adding him would help mitigate the Patriots' need for additional linebacker help versus the pass and would give the secondary more versatility and depth against opposing tight ends and running backs.
Of course, money will be the deciding factor: Given his age, talent and versatility, Mathieu is in line for another big payday. Considering his upside and how well he would fit into the Patriots' defense, though, the team should at least give his agent a call to get a feel for his asking price. Whether New England, which has roughly $20 million in salary cap space available, actually does is another story...
Mathieu is not the only big-name defender to recently enter free agency. However, ex-Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is reportedly looking to join the highest bidder – and it would be a huge surprise if New England were just that.