There are few weeks in the NFL busier than the start of free agency when signings, visits and trades all take place at the same time. The New England Patriots have had their fair share of each so far and the initial wave of free agency slowly winding down, we now have the chance to look back and assess what had happened – and what it means for the Patriots moving forward.
Even though New England was able to address some of its needs via free agency signings or more prominently trades, the team still faces some questions. Let's try to answer six of the biggest ones.
Who will be the starting left tackle?
For the majority of the past seven years, Nate Solder protected quarterback Tom Brady's blindside. The 29-year old grew into one of the better tackles in the NFL, which drove his price all the way up to the record-breaking four-year, $62 million contract he signed with the New York Giants. This leaves New England in dire need for a new starting left tackle – and so far there is not clear-cut answer. Antonio Garcia or Andrew Jelks could become just that, or maybe free agency acquisition Matt Tobin, or a player not yet on the roster.
When will the linebackers be addressed?
One of the biggest weaknesses on the 2017 Patriots was the team's linebacker depth – a group that lacked the athleticism and instincts to step up after both Dont'a Hightower and Shea McClellin saw their seasons end due to injury. So far during free agency, however, the team has yet to address the position. Of course, Marquis Flowers is still available but it would not be a surprise if the team turned to the draft and the players returning off injured reserve to provide the quality depth that was missing last season.
Is the defensive line already set?
New England added two defensive lineman over the last week: The team traded acquired Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Danny Shelton via trade and also signed free agent Adrian Clayborn. The two former first round draft picks will add considerable depth and talent to the Patriots' front-seven and likely become core members of the rotation at their respective roles. And while the team will likely still add more depth, it appears as if the top positions along the line are already set – at least until the draft.
Is the lack of tight end moves a good sign regarding Rob Gronkowski?
The retirement rumors surrounding Rob Gronkowski have been among the biggest offseason stories in New England. But despite the speculation, the team opted not add another tight end – which could be seen as a good sign regarding Gronkowski's intentions. The expectation, at least at this point in time, is that the 28-year old returns next year and the Patriots' free agency inactivity at the tight end position might be another indicator of that.
What happens to the rest of the team's free agents?
After the first week of legal tampering and open market, the Patriots still have six players unaccounted for. One of the six, defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, has already announced his intentions to move on which leaves five players remaining. Three of them – all but Marquis Flowers and James Harrison – have reportedly taken or will take visits elsewhere: special teams ace Matthew Slater and offensive tackles Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle. Of the group, Slater is the most likely player to return but it should be expected that at least one of the other four will also ultimately wind up back in New England.