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2020 NFL free agency: Cleaning out the notebook from Day One of the legal tampering period

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NFL: AFC Championship-Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The first day of the NFL’s so-called legal tampering period is in the books, and it was a busy one for the entire league — from some big names getting the franchise tag, to trades being made, to players moving from one team to another. The New England Patriots remained comparatively silent on Monday, in the meantime, even though they retained two of their free agents and saw some other pieces falling into place.

With that being said, let’s clean out the notebook to recap the first day of action.

#BradyWatch is still on

The biggest player to ever hit free agency remains unaccounted for 19 hours into his first legal tampering experience: Tom Brady is still a free agent for the time being. While little information leaked out of Foxborough and Brady’s camp on Monday, the expectation for the time being is that two teams — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Chargers — will compete against the Patriots for the greatest quarterback in NFL history.

How long this process drags out remains to be seen, but the Patriots will likely want an answer sooner rather than later considering that Brady’s entire $13.5 million signing bonus proration will hit their books in case he remains unsigned once the new league year starts on Wednesday afternoon.

For more on Tom Brady’s free agency, please check out our additional coverage from Monday:

New England decides to put the franchise tag on Joe Thuney

With the Patriots’ facing a difficult salary cap situation, the expectation was that the team would forgo the franchise tag in 2020. As they often do, however, they zigged when they were supposed to zag and used the tag on starting left guard Joe Thuney. Given the cost associated with this move — offensive linemen are valued at $14.78 million under the non-exclusive tag — it came as a surprise and begs the question whether or not New England would try to trade the 27-year-old before the franchise tag comes into effect on Wednesday.

However, the team also released a statement shortly after the announcement that using the franchise tag would allow “both sides more time to try to reach the goal of a long-term agreement.” The situation remains very much in flux for the moment, as Thuney is just the first domino to fall.

For more on the Patriots’ decision to tag Joe Thuney, please check out our additional coverage from Monday:

The Patriots’ top free agent linebackers leave

New England entered the offseason with a long list of free agents, including three starting defenders: safety Devin McCourty as well as linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins. But while McCourty will return after agreeing to a new deal with the club over the weekend, both linebackers have moved on on Monday. While Van Noy agreed to join the Miami Dolphins on a four-year, $51 million contract, Collins will play for the Detroit Lions on a three-year, $30 million pact.

Both men, of course, will continue their career under a heavy Patriots influence: former New England defensive play caller Brian Flores is entering his second year as the Dolphins’ head coach, while long-time Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is in his third offseason as the Lions’ leading man. The familiarity between the two coaches and the players makes for an intriguing and not necessarily unsurprising combination.

For more on Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins leaving New England, please check out our additional coverage from Monday:

Adam Butler will be back...

While the Patriots lost two defenders to free agency on Monday, they prevented a third from hitting the open market in the first place: New England has placed the second-round tender on restricted free agent Adam Butler. The defensive tackle will therefore remain in New England for a fourth year, unless another team comes in and signs him to an offer sheet the Patriots will not match within a five-day window (in which case they would receive a second-round pick in return).

For more on New England tendering Adam Butler, please check out our additional coverage from early Tuesday morning:

...while Benjamin Watson calls it a career

After his first retirement lasted just five months before he returned to the league as a member of the Patriots last offseason, Benjamin Watson again has left the league. Given his age and injury history — he is 39 years old and played on a ruptured Achilles tendon in 2019 — it seems like a safe bet that he will not return to the field this time, ending a career that started as a first-round pick by New England back in 2004 and included one Super Bowl win.

For more on Benjamin Watson’s retirement, please check out our additional coverage from Monday:

News on the Patriots’ other free agents are scarce

While five of the Patriots’ free agents found new homes on Monday — whether it is New England, another club, or retirement — news on the team’s other non-Tom Brady free agents were scarce. In fact, only two players generated any headlines on the first day of the legal tampering period: offensive lineman Ted Karras is reportedly in contact with the Miami Dolphins, while at least five teams have expressed early interest in wide receiver Phillip Dorsett: the New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco 49ers and Las Vegas Raiders.

Three of New England’s conference rivals make some big trades

Some big moves were being made on Monday, but none were as consequential as a series of trades between AFC and NFC clubs:

The Houston Texans trade wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals: The most controversial of Monday’s trades involves an All-Pro wide receiver, who was part of a series of transactions between the Texans and Cardinals. At the end of the day, the team of former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien traded away Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round draft pick for Cardinals running back David Johnson as well as 2020 second-round and 2021 fourth-round selections.

The Minnesota Vikings trade wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills: New England was reportedly rumored to be in the running for the Vikings’ talented wideout, but the Bills secured his services. The price the team has to pay, however, is a steep one: Buffalo will send first-, fifth- and sixth-round picks in 2020 to Minnesota as well as a fourth-round selection in 2021. That being said, the team receives one of the NFL’s best pass catchers on a reasonable deal.

The San Francisco 49ers trade defensive lineman DeForest Buckner to the Indianapolis Colts: DeForest Buckner is now the second most expensive defensive tackle in all of football thanks to a new contract he received from the Colts after they sent the 13th overall selection in this year’s draft to San Francisco to acquire him. The new deal will reportedly pay him $21 million per year.

The tight end market is starting to take shape

The Patriots need to improve their offensive skill positions, with the tight end spot a priority after it disappointed in 2019. However, the first day of the league’s legal tampering period saw them not bring in any help at the position. Instead, New England watched an active market take shape:

  • Austin Hooper was signed by the Cleveland Browns to a four-year, $42 million free agency deal.
  • Blake Jarwin signed a four-year, $22 million deal with the Dallas Cowboys.
  • The Atlanta Falcons acquired the Baltimore RavensHayden Hurst and a 2020 fourth-round pick in exchange for 2020 second- and fifth-round selections.

New England, meanwhile, still has only two tight ends under contract in Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo.