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2020 NFL free agency: Tom Brady, Devin McCourty lead long list of Patriots players scheduled to hit the open market

Related: Tom Brady won’t comment on future in New England, but says it is ‘pretty unlikely’ he retires

AFC Championship - New England Patriots v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ 2019 season came to a disappointing end in the wild card playoff round, and the club now heads into an offseason that could see some major turnover. After all, the team that stepped on the field during the 20-13 loss against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday could look drastically different from the one that will play for the Patriots when the 2020 season opens in eight months. The list of upcoming free agents shows where there might be some big changes on the way for New England.

Overall, 19 members of the 2019 Patriots are about to enter free agency once the new NFL league year begins on March 18: 16 of them will be unrestricted and head to the open market, two are restricted, and one carries the exclusive rights label. All in all, the list of New England’s free agents features some big names in all three phases of the game.

Offensive unrestricted free agents

QB Tom Brady

WR Phillip Dorsett II

OG James Ferentz

OC Ted Karras

OT Marshall Newhouse

OG Joe Thuney

TE Benjamin Watson

On offense, quarterback Tom Brady is by far the biggest name. The greatest quarterback of all time, who pointed out that retirement is “pretty unlikely” after his 20th season in the NFL came to premature end, will see his contract void when free agency begins and is currently on his way to hit free agency for the first time in his career. At this point, all options still appear to be on the table as Brady and the Patriots have two months to figure out where they stand in relation to their respective future.

Meanwhile, the team also will see center Ted Karras, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett and tight end Benjamin Watson enter free agency. Watson acknowledged that his time in New England and the NFL might come to an end after the season ended, while Dorsett finished the year as the team’s fourth wide receiver — one that might be a cheap option to return but will likely not be a priority to be brought back into the fold.

Karras has been the Patriots’ starting center in 2019, on the other hand, and played a big role for the offense even though he was a downgrade from David Andrews after the original starter was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs. Andrews’ status will likely dictate New England’s course of action with Karras: if he is able to come back, the center position might not be that big of a need. If not, however, Karras could become a priority for New England.

Then, there is Joe Thuney. A second-team All-Pro selection this year, Thuney has been the Patriots’ most consistent offensive lineman over the course of the 2019 season and has set himself up well for a major payday. New England will likely want to get him back, but the market will determine how realistic this outcome is for a player that has won two Super Bowls in his first four seasons in the league and could look to finally cash in.

Defensive unrestricted free agents

LB Shilique Calhoun

LB Jamie Collins Sr.

FS Devin McCourty

LB Elandon Roberts

DT Danny Shelton

LB Kyle Van Noy

Three starting-caliber players and three valuable rotational players are about to enter unrestricted free agency on the defensive side of the ball. Safety Devin McCourty is the biggest name on the list given his importance to the Patriots’ secondary, his status as a 10-year veteran, and his role as a team captain. McCourty’s case will be an interesting one: while he does turn 33 in August he is also coming off arguably the best season of his career.

Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, meanwhile, have played strong football as well in 2019 and served as key pieces along the team’s front seven: Van Noy played primarily on the line of scrimmage as an outside pass rusher, while Collins was used as a move linebacker who lined up all over the formation to take advantage of his athletic skill set. The two veterans project to be popular players if they hit the open market.

Elandon Roberts, Danny Shelton and Shilique Calhoun, on the other hand, have been used as rotational pieces this year who showed their value on a consistent basis. Roberts saw action as a run-stopping off-the-ball linebacker and even at fullback, while Shelton was part of the Patriots’ three-player defensive tackle rotation. Calhoun, meanwhile, saw up-and-down playing time as an outside linebacker. All three will probably be relatively cheap re-signings, with Roberts — a team captain in 2019 — as the most intriguing of the three.

Special teams unrestricted free agents

SS Nate Ebner

K Nick Folk

WR Matthew Slater

While Nick Folk’s future with the team will be tied to the status of veteran Stephen Gostkowski or a potential rookie being brought in to compete with him, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater should be expected back: Ebner has been with New England his entire career and will likely not break the bank in free agency, while Slater is a team captain and one of the most respected players in the locker room. The question with him, of course, is more related to his age than his possible willingness to return: Slater will turn 35 in September.

Restricted free agents

DT Adam Butler

OG Jermaine Eluemunor

As restricted free agents, defensive tackle Adam Butler and interior defensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor 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 $4.7 million, the $3.3 million second-round tender or the $2.1 million original round tender. In case another team then signs them to an offer sheet, the Patriots would have five days to match or receive the draft pick appropriate for the tender as compensation.

While Eluemunor is a candidate to not receive a tender offer to begin with — he was little more than emergency depth in 2019 — Butler is an interesting case: he has been a core member of the team’s defensive tackle rotation this season and as such has certainly proven his value to the defense. It would therefore not be a surprise to see New England use the second-round tender on the former undrafted free agent signing.

Exclusive rights free agents

DE Keionta Davis

Originally brought on board as an undrafted rookie in 2017, defensive lineman Keionta Davis was released by the Patriots with an injury designation in August. After going unclaimed, he reverted to the team’s injured reserve list and was forced to sit out the entirety of the season. If the club believes that the soon-to-be 26-year-old can contribute in 2020 and with players such as Shilique Calhoun and Derek Rivers question marks heading into the new year, then the team will extend a tender offer sheet. The Patriots, hence the “exclusive” tag, are the only team allowed to do so.