The New England Patriots are in the midst of a pivotal offseason that could shape the course of the franchise for years to come. And yet, a month before the start of free agency and the 2021 league year, all remains quiet in New England.
In fact, the Patriots have made only a handful of moves since their disappointing 2020 season came to an end in early January. They signed parts of their practice squad to future contracts while letting other leave, and also added Matt Patricia, Evan Rothstein and Bo Hardegree to their coaching staff. They also saw director of player personnel Nick Caserio leave for the Houston Texans, but kept his assistant Dave Ziegler in the fold.
When it comes to bolstering a roster with holes on both offense and defense, or a free agents list filled with numerous cornerstone players, however, New England has not yet made any moves. There are no re-signings yet, while reports about possible contract negotiations or free agency targets have also not emerged.
It’s been a quiet six weeks since the end of the season.
Is this cause for concern, especially with other organizations already having made big moves? No, it certainly is not.
For one, New England has always been a club operating in the shadows since Bill Belichick’s arrival in 2000. Few leaks are coming out of One Patriot Place, and the team’s plans are oftentimes hard to decipher until much further down the line. This offseason will be no different: the team will have a plan in place, something that Belichick himself pointed out during his season-ending media conference call in January.
“We’ll have to prioritize what comes first and what comes second and what comes third,” he said about the Patriots’ offseason schedule. “There’s a list of things that we’ll accomplish before certainly the deadlines — the start of free agency, the start of the draft, the start of whatever OTAs are or aren’t. We’ll get things done well ahead of that schedule, but it will be a combination of working through all those things.”
New England’s coaching staff returned to work in early February, and the first item on its agenda will likely be assessing the roster and making decisions on the upcoming class of free agents. The team will likely follow its familiar playbook in regards to the players scheduled to enter the open market on March 17 at 4pm.
That list includes a total of 23 players, including some long-time starters or key reserves on both sides of the ball. Offensive linemen David Andrews and Joe Thuney are headed for free agency, as are running backs James White and Rex Burkhead, defensive tackles Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler, and cornerback Jason McCourty. Also part of that group is Cam Newton, New England’s starting quarterback of the 2020 season.
So what is that playbook mentioned above? Some players such as Andrews or Guy might be candidates to be brought back before the start of the legal tampering period on March 15. Others, meanwhile, will likely be allowed to test the market and make official visits while simultaneously keeping an open line of dialogue with the Patriots.
New England used this way of negotiating numerous times in the past, often with positive results including Devin McCourty’s stint as a free agent in 2015 or Dont’a Hightower’s in 2017.
The team’s virtual inactivity at this point in the process should therefore fall under the “business as usual”-category. The Patriots are following their established offseason timeline even with some core players in need of new contracts and the team actively looking for a long-term solution at the quarterback position. Consequently, the next few weeks will see Belichick and company try to get the club in good shape heading into free agency:
1.) The Patriots will try to get a feel for the upcoming market, even without the Scouting Combine — the unofficial start of free agency — taking place in Indianapolis.
2.) The Patriots will get some first deals — think: David Andrews — as well as potential extensions, cuts or trades done before March 17 to put themselves in an even more comfortable salary cap position.
3.) The Patriots will see some of their players test free agency — Joe Thuney, James White and Adam Butler are the most likely candidates — while keeping an open discourse with all of them.
At the end of the day, New England has followed a similar plan in the past and it has served the club well. While a player such as Thuney will likely be allowed to leave if he gets the projected top-of-the-line contract offer, others will be brought back to keep a solid core intact. Add the fact that the Patriots currently are projected to have $64 million in salary cap space available, and it is a certainty that they will be big players come mid-March.
Until then, however, don’t expect any major moves to take place. New England’s way of conducting business is to gather as much information as possible before making any moves. This approach will not change just because they are among the league leaders in cap space.