With the start of the NFL’s 2020 league year just five days away, the markets for players scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency are already starting to develop. While a lot can change between now and March 18 — especially considering that the so-called legal tampering window will open next Monday as well — it seems as if some potential New England Patriots targets are destined to price themselves out of the team’s range.
A reminder: while an official salary cap has yet to be set for the 2020 season, partially because the labor situation remains in limbo, the Patriots are expected to have only around $29.07 million available to work with. They could add more resources through roster cuts or trades, but the potential appears to be limited at the time being. It would therefore not be a surprise if the Patriots were unable to get a hold of the following players.
WR Robby Anderson
With Amari Cooper and A.J. Green likely to get franchise-tagged by the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Bengals, respectively, Anderson might become the top wide receiver available in free agency. Accordingly, his market projects be an active one given his productivity in an otherwise inconsistent New York Jets offense and his abilities to work as a deep-threat receiver. While a deep draft class at the position is expected to hurt Anderson and other pass catchers a bit in free agency, the 26-year-old might still get as much as $12-15 million per year in a new contract.
TE Austin Hooper
While the other top free agent tight end, the Los Angeles Chargers’ Hunter Henry, is a prime candidate to receive the franchise tag, Hooper is expected to test free agency next week. And if he does that, the expectation is that the former Atlanta Falcons second-round pick will be popular as the best available option at the position. As a result, Pelissero projects that the 25-year-old will reset the tight end market and sign a deal worth more than $10 million annually.
OG Greg Van Roten and OG Graham Glasgow
New England’s interior offensive line is facing some turnover with Joe Thuney and Ted Karras both headed for unrestricted free agency. The team could turn to the Carolina Panthers’ Greg Van Roten or the Detroit Lions’ Graham Glasgow as possible contingency plans. However, both are reportedly expected to “do well” in free agency. Does this necessarily disqualify them from being on New England’s radar? Not at all, but the Patriots will likely try to shy away from bidding wars at the interior O-line positions — and that includes Thuney and Karras.
LB Nick Kwiatkoski
Kwiatkowski might not be the biggest name to enter free agency this year, but the Chicago Bears defender could still get a strong contract through free agency. After all, a series of contract extensions done in 2019 — from Deion Jones and Myles Jack both signing four-year, $57 million deals with the Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars respectively, to Bobby Wagner getting $54 million over three years from the Seattle Seahawks — might serve as a guideline for teams. The 26-year-old will not reach those numbers, but if demand is as high as those deals make believe, he could still price himself out of New England’s range.
LB Cory Littleton
While Kwiatkoski is not expected to receive a high-end linebacker deal, Cory Littleton very much appears to be a candidate for that. The Los Angeles Rams could opt to place the franchise tag on him, but if they decide to have him test the open market he is projected to join Jones, Jack and company as one of the highest paid players in the league at his position. Given his athletic profile as a prototypical linebacker for today’s pass-heavy NFL, this would not be all that surprising of a development.
LB Joe Schobert
Another linebacker who might generate an active market is the Cleveland Browns’ Joe Schobert. A former teammate of the Patriots’ Jamie Collins, the 28-year-old has the skillset to serve as an every-down linebacker and the production to back this up. As a result, Pelissero reported that he could command more than $10 million per year as well — a considerable number that is likely too rich for the Patriots.