14 members of the New England Patriots entered unrestricted free agency last year, and not even half of them returned to the club: among the Patriots’ eight losses were four of the club’s 2017 starers in wide receiver Danny Amendola, running back Dion Lewis, offensive tackle Nate Solder, and cornerback Malcolm Butler. Ultimately, however, the team did not skip too big of a beat — something it might have to hope for again this year.
After all, the Patriots will see cornerstone players like Trey Flowers and Trent Brown hit free agency this week along with three wide receivers, a handful of core special teamers, and half the defensive tackle depth chart. Safe to say that the next few days will be quite busy for a New England team that currently has $16.52 million in salary cap space available, according to the Boston Sports Journal’s Miguel Benzan.
How that money will be spent remains to be seen, but if the world champions opt to go after talent outside of the organizations the following targets might be on their radar.
DT Henry Anderson
The New York Jets had a forgettable 2018 season, but still saw some encouraging performances by some of their players. One of them was interior defender Henry Anderson, who is scheduled to become a free agent after only one productive season in New York: the 27-year-old led the Jets with 7.0 sacks in 2018 and was tied for 12th best at his position with a combined 48 quarterback pressures. Anderson would be a tremendous fit in a New England defensive tackle group that currently consists only of Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler. The former third-round draft pick would help the club’s interior rotation stay intact while also adding quality in the pass rushing department — especially with the aforementioned Trey Flowers about to become a free agent in two days as well. The question, of course, will be the financial aspect of it: Anderson could very well command around $6 million annually.
DT Allen Bailey
While the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense struggled for most of the 2018 season, one area in which it excelled was the pass rush — and defensive tackle Allen Bailey was an integral part of it: playing 72.1% of the club’s defensive snaps, the veteran registered 6.0 sacks from the defensive tackle spot. Since New England’s interior line is facing plenty of turnover with both Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton about to hit free agency, Bailey might be an experienced and low-cost alternative. That being said, adding him would not entirely fill the Patriots’ need at defensive tackle given that the former third-round pick will turn 30 later this month.
LB Anthony Barr
Anthony Barr appears to be more of a pipe-dream than a realistic option, but the Patriots are always good for a surprise this time of the year. Bringing the soon-to-be 27-year-old in would certainly qualify as such. After all, he expects to generate a considerable market and could cost upwards of $12 million per year. However, Barr is undoubtably a talented player with upside against both the run and the pass — even though his numbers do not fully reflect it. That being said, he might become a viable option to replace Trey Flowers in case the Patriots’ best edge defender leaves via free agency.
DE Christian Covington
The New England-Houston pipeline is a well-established one and could lead the Patriots to take a look at Texans edge defender Christian Covington. The former sixth-round draft pick had an unspectacular four-year stint with Bill O’Brien’s team and finished 2018 with 13 games played and 3.5 sacks, but could benefit from a change of scenery. Covington is not expected to break the bank during free agency and could help the Patriots fill the void of a potential Trey Flowers departure. As is the case with Allen Bailey, though, he should not be expected to become the sole solution to address a potential need.
TE Darren Fells
The tight end market is a comparatively dry one this season, as evidenced by the interest Dwayne Allen — primarily a blocking tight end over his two years in New England — generated quickly after his release from the Patriots. However, some players are still worth pursuing and recently cut Darren Fells is one of them. While not a standout receiving tight end, the 32-year-old is one of the better blockers the position has to offer and still capable of hauling in passes every now and then: in 2018, the Cleveland Browns’ quarterbacks targeted Fells 12 times and completed 11 of their passes for 117 yards and three tight ends. He could adequately fill Allen’s former role in New England.
DE Eli Harold
The Detroit Lions acquired Eli Harold via trade last August, and he turned into a solid rotational pass rusher and special teamer for the club led by ex-Patriots Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia. Playing 23.1% of Detroit’s defensive snaps, the 79th selection of the 2015 draft finished the season with 4.0 sacks and 5 quarterback hits. While not bringing the same athletic upside to the table as fellow Loins free agent Ezekiel Ansah, Harold could be a low-cost rotational option for the Patriots in case they need additional bodies to replace Trey Flowers.
WR Adam Humphries
As mentioned above, the Patriots are in need of wide receiver help: Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman is the only proven option currently under contract with Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson all headed towards free agency. Enter Adam Humphries, who is coming off a highly productive four-year stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: the 5’11, 195 lbs wideout caught 219 passes for 2,329 yards and nine scores since joining the club as an undrafted rookie free agent, and is seen as one of the best wideout options on the market. While he might command up to $10 million annually, there is no denying that Humphries could be a tremendous addition to the Patriots’ offense giving his short-area quickness and excellent route running.
DT Mike Pennel
In mid-February, the Jets made a somewhat surprising move when they opted to decline the $1.0 million contract option in defensive tackle Mike Pennel’s deal. As a result of the decision, the veteran will become an unrestricted free agent — and one the Patriots might keep a close eye on: at 6’4, 330 lbs, he is a big-bodied presence at the heart of the defensive line, capable to taking on double teams and controlling the point of attack in the two-gap scheme New England runs. While not exactly the highest-upside pass rushing option, the 27-year-old could help the Patriots replace Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton.
DT Darius Philon
New England, more so than any other organization in football, is operating based on value. Darius Philon could present just that in 2019’s free agency: a former sixth-round draft pick, the 6’1, 300 lbs defensive tackle could help the Patriots fill the spots formerly held by the aforementioned Brown and Shelton — all while providing more upside as a pass rusher. The 25-year-old will get a considerable deal on the open market but the Patriots have been willing to pay for under-the-radar talent in the past; just think of Lawrence Guy and the four-year, $20 million contract he signed with the club in 2017. Philon could become a similar signing.
DE Cameron Wake
The Patriots invested in 33-year-old Michael Bennett on Friday, so why should they now invest in 37-year-old Cameron Wake this week? Because just like Bennett, he is still capable of playing at a high level in the NFL against both the pass and the run. In 2018, he was second on the Miami Dolphins with 6.0 sacks all while playing 47.8% of the club’s defensive snaps. An experienced player that might be willing to take a discount in order to chase a Super Bowl in the twilight of his career, Wake could help the Patriots fill the potential void of if Trey Flowers is lost in free agency. Can he replace the 25-year-old one-for-one? Certainly not, but he would add quality to New England’s edge rotation nevertheless.
WR Kevin White
As noted last week, former first-round draft pick Kevin White looks like a classic Patriots reclamation project: he struggled with injuries during his four-year tenure with the Chicago Bears and never found his footing in the NFL. The 26-year-old therefore hits free agency with his value at an all-time low — and the Patriots could opt to bring him in as a cheap but high-upside option. And while he should not be counted on to suddenly turn his career around in a new environment and become the number one wide receiver he was drafted to be, White would add size and much-needed youth and athletic abilities to New England’s receiving corps.