The New England Patriots’ 2019 season came to a premature end when the team was eliminated in the wild card round of the playoffs. In order to return to the top of the NFL mountain, the organization will therefore have to turn the page and build a competitive roster to get back into a position again to compete for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. A big part of building that roster is successfully maneuvering through free agency.
If judged by the list of free agents to be, New England’s front office will be busy over the next few days before the new league year and free agency are officially kicked off on March 18. Also over the next few days, we will take a look at each individual position on the Patriots’ current roster to find out which players are headed for the open market, whether or not they should be expected back, and who might be brought in from the outside.
Today, the series continues with the cornerback position.
Current position group
Under contract: Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Justin Bethel, D’Angelo Ross, Lenzy Pipkins
Free agents: --
Outside free agents
Maurice Canady, New York Jets: A tall cornerback at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Canady started the 2019 season in Baltimore before getting released and claimed off waivers by the Jets. Mostly used as a rotational cornerback with both teams, he had a solid year as a perimeter defender and three-unit kick coverage player.
Darqueze Dennard, Cincinnati Bengals: Dennard spent the first six seasons of his career in Cincinnati and established himself as a solid presence in the slot that also has made a regular impact in the running game. His status as a former first-round draft pick may make the 28-year-old a popular target, but his price will likely still be manageable.
Javien Elliott, Carolina Panthers: In his first year with the Panthers, Elliott produced the best season of his career. Playing primarily in the slot, the former undrafted free agent did not surrender a single touchdown while in coverage and was generally a solid presence in Carolina’s secondary. Despite his encouraging development, however, he will likely not command top dollar on the open market.
Kevin Johnson, Buffalo Bills: A former first-round selection that failed to live up to his draft status both in Houston and last year in Buffalo, Johnson brings experience and versatility to the table but has likely does not offer much starter upside. That being said, a change of scenery might help the 27-year-old revive his career.
Jason Verrett, San Francisco 49ers: Verrett entered the league as a first-round draft pick by the then-San Diego Chargers in 2014, but injuries derailed what was a solid start to his career: he ended each of his last three seasons — including 2019, which he spent in San Francisco — on injured reserve. The 28-year-old can be an impact player on the perimeter when healthy, but that is a big “if” given his recent history.
The cornerback position is the least of the Patriots’ concerns heading into free agency. The top four at the position — Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones — are as good as any position group in football, while second-round draft pick Joejuan Williams offers considerable developmental upside and depth behind them. Unless New England decides to take advantage of this depth and use one of the players as a trade chip, there is no need for the team to add anything but additional and cost-effective low-level depth via free agency.