The New England Patriots are heading into one of the most intriguing offseasons in recent memory, in large part because of their free agent class: a total of 19 players will see their current contracts expire in mid-March, including quarterback Tom Brady. But while the future Hall of Famer is clearly the biggest name on the list, he is far from the only cornerstone player to hit the open market two months from now.
In fact, four members of the team have been identified by advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus among the top 50 non-quarterbacks headed for free agency:
15. FS Devin McCourty
A key member of the NFL’s best secondary in 2019, Devin McCourty has filled numerous roles for the Patriots in the past — from deep centerfielder in single-high schemes to cornerback and box safety — and will be one of the biggest names in free agency this year. The expectation, however, is that he eventually returns to New England after already spending his first 10 years in the league with the club.
PFF assessment: “The only thing keeping McCourty from being higher on the list is age, as he enters the 2020 season at 33 years old. McCourty exemplifies what you want in a ‘safe’ safety, as he’s rarely out of position in the passing game and is a sure tackler in space with just 71 career misses on 890 tackle attempts.”
16. OG Joe Thuney
In four years, Joe Thuney went from a rookie starter on a Super Bowl-winning team to the most reliable player along the Patriots’ line — and in all of football. As such, he is expected to generate considerable interest once the market opens in March and could very well become the highest paid interior offensive lineman in all of football. Right now, that honor belongs to the Philadelphia Eagles’ Brandon Brooks whose contract is worth an average of $14.1 million per year.
PFF assessment: “A converted college offensive tackle, Thuney struggled against more powerful players early in his career, but he’s developed nicely into one of the best all-around guards in the league.”
33. LB Kyle Van Noy
Acquiring Kyle Van Noy for what later turned out to be a drop of 24 spots on day three of the draft is one of the best trades of Bill Belichick’s tenure with the Patriots. Since the move in 2016, the 28-year-old has grown into one of the most versatile and disruptive linebackers not just in New England but the entire league and is now “looking to get paid” as he said after the team’s season came to an end.
PFF assessment: “Van Noy is a true hybrid linebacker with pass-rushing skills, a coveted skillset by the Patriots and one that has him hitting free agency with many potential suitors given the recent growth of the Bill Belichick coaching tree.”
43. LB Jamie Collins Sr.
When Jamie Collins returned to New England after his release by the Cleveland Browns, expectations were limited. However, over the course of the regular season he developed into a starting-caliber defender for the Patriots and a playmaker: Collins finished the season with seven sacks, three interceptions and a fumble recovery. It remains to be seen how his market develops, though, considering his age and past inconsistency.
PFF assessment: “Collins may represent one of the largest potential variances of any free agent available, but he remains an athletic and intriguing player who could tempt teams into trying to take advantage of a playmaker and game-changer on defense.”