The New England Patriots’ 2018 season came to the best possible end with the team’s 13-3 victory in Super Bowl 53. The team that stepped on the field against the Los Angeles Rams 10 days ago will ultimately look a lot different, however, from the one that may or may not kick off the NFL’s 2019 season. The list of upcoming free agents shows where there might be changes from this year to the next.
Unrestricted free agents
P Ryan Allen
DT Malcom Brown
OT Trent Brown
WR Phillip Dorsett
DE Trey Flowers
K Stephen Gostkowski
RB Jeremy Hill
WR Chris Hogan
LB Ramon Humber
OT Ulrick John
LB Albert McClellan
CB Jason McCourty
WR Cordarrelle Patterson
CB Eric Rowe
OG Brian Schwenke
DT Danny Shelton
DE John Simon
OT LaAdrian Waddle
Overall, 18 members of the 2018 Patriots are about to enter the open market once the new NFL league year begins on March 13. And the list of New England’s unrestricted free agents features some big names in all three phases of the game.
On offense, starting left tackle Trent Brown will hit the open market as will a substantial part of the team’s 2018 wide receiver group: Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson all will see their contracts expire soon. Furthermore, top backup tackle LaAdrian Waddle is set to hit free agency for the second year in a row, while week one’s starting running back Jeremy Hill will do the same coming off a torn ACL.
Defensively, the biggest name is undoubtably Trey Flowers: the star pass rusher is one of the top players to hit free agency this year and will be a highly coveted option if he will indeed enter the open market one month from today. Other than him, the Patriots will see starting cornerback Jason McCourty and rotational defensive linemen Malcom Brown, Danny Shelton and John Simon become free agents.
The special teams unit, meanwhile, will also have some of its core members up for new contracts: kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen are prime candidates to get re-signed, as are coverage players Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Patterson and Hogan are also core members of New England’s kicking game operation.
Needless to say that the Patriots’ front office headed by Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio will have plenty of work to do over the next month. Re-signing a healthy portion of players on the free agents list is a must — despite what projects to be some healthy competition, especially for players like Trent Brown and Trey Flowers.
Restricted free agents
CB Jonathan Jones
As a restricted free agent, Jonathan Jones can be tendered at one of three levels, each including the right of first refusal. The Patriots can either use the first round tender worth an estimated $4.4 million, the $3.1 million second round tender or the $2.0 million original round tender. In case another team signs Jones to an offer sheet, the Patriots would then have five days to match or receive the draft pick appropriate for the tender as compensation.
While the 25-year old had an up-and-down season in terms of playing time, it would not be a surprise to see the Patriots use the second round tender on him — especially considering that Jason McCourty is about to hit unrestricted free agency. This move would give New England compensation in case the former undrafted free agent left. However, the question will be whether or not the team values him at $3.1 million on a one-year contract.
A lot of this likely depends on the projected development of the three 2018 rookie cornerbacks: if the club believes that J.C. Jackson, Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen can take a significant step in 2019, tendering Jones at the original level and securing “only” the right of first refusal might be the best move. The decision will therefore tell as much about Jones himself as it does about the team’s confidence in its young defensive backs.
One player not mentioned on the list of restricted free agents is wide receiver Josh Gordon: with the 27-year old suspended, he will not hit the open market in a month and his rights remain with the Patriots for now.
Exclusive rights free agents
WR Cody Hollister
Originally brought on board as an undrafted rookie in 2017, Cody Hollister was released by the Patriots in July with an injury designation. After going unclaimed, the twin brother of New England tight end Jacob Hollister reverted to the team’s non-football injury list, sitting out the entirety of the season.
If the club believes that the 25-year old can contribute in 2019 and with three of the team’s wide receivers about to become unrestricted free agents, the team will extend a tender offer sheet. The Patriots, hence the “exclusive” tag, are the only team allowed to do so.