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2021 NFL free agency: Jakob Johnson becomes only exclusive-rights free agent to be retained by Patriots

Related: Patriots free agency tracker: News, rumors, signings, instant analysis

New England Patriots v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Heading into the new league year, the New England Patriots had to make decisions not just about their class of unrestricted free agents but also those falling under different categories based on their experience in the NFL: restricted free agent cornerback J.C. Jackson and two exclusive-rights free agents, fullback Jakob Johnson and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo.

The Patriots had to extend offer sheets before Wednesday’s 4 pm deadline in order to keep them from entering the open market and turn into unrestricted free agents as well. While Jackson was kept via the second-round RFA tender, the team decided to bring only one of its two exclusive-rights players back.

That player is Jakob Johnson. Quincy Adeboyejo, meanwhile, was not and is therefore now a free agent eligible to sign with any club.

The decision to retain Johnson on what will essentially be a one-year deal worth $850,000 does not come as a surprise. The German-born fullback took a sizable leap in his second year as a Patriot while taking over the job previously held by James Develin: he appeared in all 16 games and played a prominent role as a lead blocker in New England’s run-centric offensive attack. He also was a regular contributor in the kicking game.

The 26-year-old is not guaranteed a spot on New England’s roster this fall, but he will at the very least get a chance to defend his job against veteran fullback Danny Vitale — returning off his one-year Coronavirus opt-out — and H-back/tight end Dalton Keene. When it comes to experience in the system, Johnson should be seen as the favorite to emerge victoriously.

As for Adeboyejo, he leaves New England after not having played even a single game for the team after joining in 2019. With only so many roster spots available even during the offseason, a lower-tier player such as the 25-year-old simply had no realistic shot at competing for playing time regardless of how cheap his exclusive-rights tender would be.

After tendering Jackson and Johnson, the Patriots are left with around $29 million in salary cap space. That number does neither include the recently acquired Trent Brown and Ted Karras nor re-signed Justin Bethel, but it shows that the team still has plenty of wiggle room to make additional moves.