The NFL’s 2020 free agency is starting to slow down, with most big-name players already off the market and teams having made their initial moves. For the New England Patriots, it was a period of major turnover: led by quarterback Tom Brady, the team’s list of free agency departures includes fellow 2019 cornerstone players such as linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, center Ted Karras, safety Duron Harmon and kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
Given New England’s limited financial flexibility, the team was unable to replace all of its big-name departures by bringing in veteran players from the outside — either through free agency or trade. Instead, the Patriots will likely look to the draft to bolster the overall depth of their roster and fill remaining holes in all three phases of the game. With that said, let’s go through the team position-to-position to find where the current needs lie.
(Needs are assessed on a five-step scale from very high to very low)
Players under contract (3): Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, Cody Kessler
Even though the Patriots lost the greatest quarterback of all time in free agency, they appear to be comparatively well-equipped to move on without him. After all, second-year man Jarrett Stidham showed considerable promise during his first season with the team and currently is first in line to take over for Tom Brady in 2020. Veteran Brian Hoyer and 2019’s third-string passer Cody Kessler offer depth behind the projected starter, but New England could also look to the draft for another option. That said, it seems unlikely any realistic draft target will start over Stidham this year.
Players under contract (8): Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, James Develin, Brandon Bolden, Damien Harris, Danny Vitale, Jakob Johnson
Need: Very low
The Patriots’ offensive backfield is one of the strongest position groups on the roster, and could play a pivotal role in 2020 and with a new passer under center. The running back spot remained unchanged in free agency so far — Sony Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead offer a solid three-headed attack — while the team added fullback Danny Vitale to the equation. Vitale could serve as insurance in case veteran James Develin is unable to return from a neck injury that forced him to end the 2019 campaign on the sidelines. Add it all up, and you get a team that has virtually no need to address the position in the draft.
Players under contract (9): Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry, Mohamed Sanu, Matthew Slater, Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd, Gunner Olszewski, Quincy Adeboyejo, Devin Ross
Even though their wide receiver group struggled in 2019, the Patriots did not make any big-name additions: the only move was replacing Phillip Dorsett with Damiere Byrd. New England will therefore likely turn to a deep draft class at the position to bolster its current wideout depth chart behind roster locks Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry. Could the team therefore use a second straight first-round pick at the position after already selecting Harry 32nd overall last year? It would be a minor surprise, but the Patriots do need to find a way to get better at wide receiver.
Players under contract (2): Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo
Need: Very high
No position on the current roster is as devoid of quality depth than the tight end spot — one the Patriots did not address in free agency. It therefore seems likely that the team will invest in at least on tight end during the draft, either by selecting potential early-round targets such as Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet or Dayton’s Adam Trautman, or by acquiring a player via trade. Whatever New England will do, the team will likely not head into 2020 with Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo as the only tight ends under contract.
Players under contract (4): Isaiah Wynn, Marcus Cannon, Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham
While the Patriots’ third offensive tackle from a year ago, Marshall Newhouse, remains unsigned, the team’s position depth chart is in good shape. Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon are locked in as the starters at left and right tackle, respectively, with 2019 third-round draft pick Yodny Cajuste the front-runner to take over Newhouse’s old role after a year-long stint on the physically unable to perform-list. New England could opt to add more developmental depth with the long-term outlook in mind, but the positional need is still comparatively low at the moment.
Players under contract (6): Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Hjalte Froholdt, Jermaine Eluemunor, Najee Toran
New England’s interior offensive line remains somewhat in flux, even though the team used the franchise tag on starting left guard Joe Thuney. The 27-year-old’s long-term outlook and starting center David Andrews’ rehabilitation after missing all of 2019 due to blood clots in his lungs, however, will impact how big of a need the interior spots are heading into the draft. For now, the need remains moderate: Thuney is under contract in 2020, and Andrews’ outlook appears to be positive. If one of the two change, however, the Patriots might be willing to add additional pieces to the equation — especially with Hjalte Froholdt, Jermaine Eluemunor and Najee Toran all unproven commodities.
Players under contract (6): Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Beau Allen, Deatrich Wise Jr, Byron Cowart, Nick Thurman
The Patriots lost one third of their defensive tackle rotation in free agency — Danny Shelton signed a deal with the Detroit Lions — but invested in Beau Allen as a potential replacement option. The position should therefore be set for 2020, even though its long-term outlook remains somewhat unclear: both Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler are scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency next offseason. New England might therefore opt to add another body to the equation with the future in mind.
Players under contract (6): John Simon, Chase Winovich, Shilique Calhoun, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis, Tashawn Bower
New England’s number one edge defender from a year ago, Kyle Van Noy, will play in Miami for the foreseeable future. While John Simon and Chase Winovich are quality replacement options, adding another body to the equation — especially considering that the depth behind the two is unproven — seems to be a priority: Van Noy was the Patriots’ best pass rusher in 2019, after all, and a player capable of setting the edge in the running game as well. Simon and Winovich have shown they can do both, but a healthy rotation needs more than just two proven/high-upside members.
Need: Very high
The Patriots lost two members of their off-the-ball linebacker corps during free agency — Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts have joined the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, respectively — and will need to address the depth at the position in the next month. Signing free agent Brandon Copeland as a Collins-like move option alongside Dont’a Hightower helps, but the team still needs to replace Roberts’ former role and get more athletic overall. Don’t be surprised if the linebacker spot will be addressed early in the draft, no matter if the outside or move/inside variety.
Players under contract (8): Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Justin Bethel, D’Angelo Ross, Lenzy Pipkins
Need: Very low
With New England picking up Jason McCourty’s contract option for the 2020 season, the best cornerback depth chart in the NFL remains intact. Led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year, the group is as deep and talented as any in the league — both on the perimeter and the slot. While the Patriots could opt to add a low-risk/high-reward player in one of the later rounds or undrafted free agency, the team has no need to do so considering the current depth at the position.
Players under contract (8): Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Terrence Brooks, Adrian Phillips, Cody Davis, Obi Melifonwu, Malik Gant, Adarius Pickett
Even though the Patriots lost Duron Harmon and Nate Ebner last week, signing Adrian Phillips and Cody Davis should help with the losses. Together with Devin McCourty’s two-year contract extension, New England therefore has only minimal need to address the position in the draft even though he and Patrick Chung are turning 33 in August. Would it be surprising to see the team add another safety in late April? No. Would it address a direct need if doing so? Again, no.
Players under contract (2): Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona
Need: Very high
The punter and long snapper positions are in the safe hands of Jake Bailey and Joe Cardona, respectively, but the release of Stephen Gostkowski created a void at place kicker. While the Patriots could turn to the open market to fill it — Nick Folk, the third and final replacement for an injured Gostkowski last year, is still available — the draft seems like the best avenue: it would not take a high-round pick to add a kicker, but still address a need and ideally the long-term outlook as well.