During the season, Monday is usually the day to look back and assess what happened in the NFL over the course of the weekend. And while the 2020 regular season will not open until early September, there are still plenty of opportunities to analyze what is going on around the league — especially now, that the first week of free agency is in the books. Let’s quickly recap it therefore to see what the New England Patriots did or did not do.
Free agents re-signed by the Patriots
New England entered the offseason with 16 players headed towards unrestricted free agency. So far during the process, the team was able to bring only three members of its 2019 roster back into the fold:
FS Devin McCourty: Re-signed (2-year, $23MM)
WR Matthew Slater: Re-signed (2-year, $5.3MM)
OG Joe Thuney: Franchise-tagged (1-year, $14.78MM)
Both Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater agreed to return to the Patriots before the NFL’s legal tampering period opened last Monday. Keeping the two veterans in the fold is a smart move from the organization’s perspective: not only are they among the very best players in football at their respective positions on defense and in the kicking game, they are also both team captains and leaders in a locker room that has seen some major changes in the last few days.
Joe Thuney, meanwhile, was kept on the franchise tag. The Patriots placed it on the 27-year-old shortly before last Monday’s deadline, and he has since agreed to sign the tender that is in its essence a one-year contract worth a fully guaranteed salary of $14.78 million. New England does have some options to bring that number down, however, whether through signing their starting left guard to a contract extension or trading him elsewhere.
Free agents signed by other teams
While New England re-signed only three players, seven have left the team via free agency — including the team’s long-time starting quarterback:
QB Tom Brady: Signed by Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-year, $50MM)
LB Jamie Collins Sr: Signed by Detroit Lions (3-year, $30MM)
SS Nate Ebner: Signed by New York Giants (1-year)
OC Ted Karras: Signed by Miami Dolphins (1-year, $4MM)
LB Elandon Roberts: Signed by Miami Dolphins (1-year)
DT Danny Shelton: Signed by Detroit Lions (2-year, $8MM)
LB Kyle Van Noy: Signed by Miami Dolphins (4-year, $51MM)
The biggest name on the list of players leaving the Patriots in free agency is undoubtably Tom Brady. The future Hall of Famer and consensus greatest quarterback to ever play the game will leave New England after 20 years and six Super Bowl wins. The 42-year-old made his announcement last Tuesday, and has since signed a two-year contract to become the next starting passer in Tampa Bay. His former team, meanwhile, appears ready to promote second-year man Jarrett Stidham to Brady’s old role.
While Brady dominated the headlines over the last week, he is far from the only major loss New England had to suffer last week. Starting linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins signed with the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, respectively, while valuable rotational/depth options Ted Karras, Danny Shelton, Elandon Roberts and Nate Ebner will also play elsewhere in 2020. What stands out is that all six of them left for clubs led by former Patriots assistant coaches.
Free agents headed for retirement
The Patriots suffered an additional eighth loss over the last week, albeit one that was expected:
TE Benjamin Watson: Retired
Watson first retired from the NFL last January, but returned to the game just a few months later to rejoin the club that originally drafted him back in 2004. The veteran had a tumultuous offseason and only actually returned to the field in mid-October, but went on to serve as the Patriots’ number one receiving tight end down the stretch. His impact was limited, however, and the 39-year-old hinted at retirement following New England’s season-ending loss in the wild card playoff round.
Free agents still on the open market
While the first week of free agency is in the books, the following five members of the 2019 Patriots are still left unaccounted for:
LB Shilique Calhoun
WR Phillip Dorsett II
OG James Ferentz
K Nick Folk
OT Marshall Newhouse
Only one player listed here has generated noticeable momentum on the open market: Phillip Dorsett has reportedly had talks with multiple teams — including the Patriots — but has yet to make a decision where to play in 2020. The other four men still unsigned, meanwhile, have had a comparatively slow week even though some (Shilique Calhoun, James Ferentz) appear to be realistic candidates to eventually return to New England on inexpensive contracts.
Outside free agents acquired by the Patriots
As usual, New England started free agency rather slowly when it comes to bringing players from outside the organization in. The team did pick up the pace towards the end of the week, though, and has added a total of six players so far:
WR Damiere Byrd: Signed to 1-year, $1.35MM free agency contract
DT Beau Allen: Signed to 2-year, $8MM free agency contract
SS Adrian Phillips: Signed to 2-year, $7.5MM free agency contract
FB Danny Vitale: Signed to free agency contract
QB Brian Hoyer: Signed to free agency contract
LB Brandon Copeland: Signed to free agency contract
The Patriots addressed all three phases of the game over the last week, even though not all of the additions are guaranteed to make the 53-man roster come September.
Damiere Byrd is expected to offer depth wide receiver — one that struggled with injury and performance last year — and as a returnman. Beau Allen and Adrian Phillips project to be rotational options on the Patriots’ defense to help replace the departed Danny Shelton and Duron Harmon, respectively. Danny Vitale offers emergency depth in case James Develin is not ready to return (yet) after suffering a season-ending neck injury last September, while Brian Hoyer does the same at a quarterback position that is now likely in the hands of an inexperienced second-year man. Brandon Copeland, meanwhile, offers versatility at the linebacker position not unlike what Jamie Collins and Kyle Van noy brought to the team.
Players traded away by the Patriots
While the Patriots were not as busy on the trade market as they were in the past, they still made one transaction:
FS Duron Harmon: to the Detroit Lions
New England moved its number three safety from the last seven seasons in an apparently cost-cutting move: the team generated $3.89 million in salary cap space when it sent Duron Harmon and a seventh-round draft pick to Detroit for a fifth-round selection. With Harmon gone, the expectation is that free agency acquisition Adrian Phillips and second-year Patriot Terrence Brooks will fill the depth roles behind starting safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung.
Restricted free agents tendered
Before the start of free agency, New England tendered both of its restricted free agents:
DT Adam Butler: 2nd-round level (1-year, $3.26MM)
OG Jermaine Eluemunor: Original-round level (1-year, $2.13MM)
Adam Butler was a core member of the Patriots’ three-man defensive tackle rotation in 2019, which makes the team using the second-round tender on him no surprise: the former undrafted rookie has proven himself a reliable defender, whose name may not be mentioned regularly but who is capable of holding his own against double teams and producing as an interior penetrator.
Jermaine Eluemunor, meanwhile, was acquired via trade last season and appeared in 10 games as a reserve interior offensive lineman and member of the team’s kicking game units. However, he was on the field for only 67 combined snaps.
Exclusive rights free agents tendered
Before the start of free agency, New England also tendered its lone exclusive rights free agent:
Keionta Davis: ERFA tender
Davis spent two of his first three seasons in the NFL on injured reserve but the Patriots apparently still have faith that he can turn his career around. That said, the exclusive rights tender extended to him does not guarantee the 26-year-old a spot on the roster come the regular season.
Contract options exercised
New England had one player on its roster who had an option clause in his deal heading into 2020, and it was picked up during the week before the start of free agency:
CB Jason McCourty: $500,000
McCourty played very well during the early portions of 2019, but a groin injury suffered in mid-November limited him to only eight more snaps over the rest of the season, while he was inactive for five of seven possible games. Still, the Patriots committed to the veteran for another year — the final of the two-year contract he signed last offseason — to make sure the NFL’s best cornerback group stays intact.