The New England Patriots entered the legal tampering period with plenty of resources available, and they did maneuver accordingly. The Patriots brought in seven external free agents and re-signed two in-house players on Monday, spending more than $200 million in reported contractual value and bolstering the depth at some key positions on the roster.
What do those moves mean for the players that wee already with the team, though? Let’s find out in an early look at those who may or may not have benefitted.
Winner: QB Cam Newton
While Newton’s play itself was a disappointment in 2020, it cannot be viewed in a vacuum: the Patriots’ pass catching talent was also not up to the task. Heading into the next season, it seems as if the team is actively trying to address this issue.
After making the signing of tight end Jonnu Smith the opening move of the legal tampering period, New England later also added Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne to improve its wide receiver position. Needless to say that the two positions are stronger now than they have been entering this week, which in turn also should give Newton — if he returns as the starting quarterback — a more favorable environment to work in.
Winners: G Michael Onwenu and OT Isaiah Wynn
The Patriots’ offensive line lost its most consistent player of the 2020 season to a record-breaking contract — Joe Thuney will join the Kansas City Chiefs on a five-year, $80 million pact — but two players can be seen as winners in the aftermath. For one, Thuney’s departure frees up Michael Onwenu to move back to his more natural guard position and possibly reach a ceiling that is higher than it would be at the right tackle spot he played for most of his rookie campaign last year.
Isaiah Wynn, on the other hand, is a benefactor of Thuney being gone in that is should increase his chances to be on the 2021 Patriots roster. There were rumors about the Patriots possibly bringing their long-time left guard back into the fold, which in turn might have created a scenario in which Wynn ended as the odd man out along the offensive line. That never materialized, though.
Losers: TE Dalton Keene, TE Ryan Izzo and TE Matt LaCosse
Whereas the roster spot of Devin Asiasi should still be safe despite the addition of new number one Jonnu Smith, the depth options at the tight end position appear to be on thin ice now and fighting for a maximum of one roster spot — if no additional moves are made over the coming days and weeks. That means that Dalton Keene, Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse’s chances of returning in 2021 have just taken a major hit.
While Izzo and LaCosse have shown little during their time in New England so far, and lack upside, Keene is coming off a challenging rookie year. While he was picked in the third round the Virginia Tech product struggled to stay healthy and to adapt to the Patriots’ system. He needs to make a massive jump and improve his availability to make the team.
Loser: CB Joejuan Williams
With veteran cornerback Jason McCourty headed for unrestricted free agency, the road appeared to be open for former second-round draft choice Joejuan Williams to take over and earn more prominent playing time on defense. The Patriots adding the slightly smaller but even more versatile Jalen Mills could put an end to those plans: Mills is expected to be used in a variety of ways, while Williams’ path to defensive opportunities is more unclear at this point.
Winner: DT Byron Cowart
New England did sign four interior defensive linemen on Day One of the legal tampering window — Davon Godchaux and Henry Anderson were added, Deatrich Wise Jr. and Carl Davis were re-signed — which creates some added competition up front. Nevertheless, Byron Cowart could be one of the big winners of that.
The former fifth-round draft selection, after all, was forced to play out of position at times during the 2020 season. With New England not having consistent play at the nose spot, they were forced to move the undersized Cowart there from time to time as well. Adding Godchaux to the mix and keeping Davis around should help him move back to his more natural end position in the team’s 3-4 fronts.
Loser: DT Beau Allen
While one defensive tackle might be a benefactor of the added bodies along the defensive line, another is not. Beau Allen was signed to be the big nose last spring after the departure of Danny Shelton, but he never took the field due to a mystery ailment. The addition of Godchaux and Davis returning as well could spell doom for the 29-year-old unless he can get back to the field soon and is able to live up to his $3.1 million salary cap number this season.
Winners: LB Josh Uche and LB Anfernee Jennings
The Patriots did add a prominent player to their defensive edge in the form of Matthew Judon, but their two young move linebackers could still be better off for it. Both Uche and Jennings were used on the edge on a regular basis during their 2020 rookie seasons, but that was mostly the result of necessity. With Judon projecting to fill the old Kyle Van Noy role as the number one edge on all three defensive downs, the two could be used in more favorable situations moving forward.
While Uche might turn into a pass rushing specialist alongside Judon and Chase Winovich, the team could hand Jennings more off-the-ball snaps on early downs. Either way, the addition of the long-time Baltimore Ravens defender gives New England some flexibility when it comes to them.