Even after investing more than $210 million in total contract value on the first day of the legal tampering period alone, the New England Patriots were far from done adding talent to their roster. Over the days that followed, they signed four more outside free agents and were able to bring back some key pieces on offense and special teams.
Eleven of the team’s players from last year remain unaccounted for as of Friday morning, but the Patriots’ roster is clearly a deeper and more talented one now than it was before free agency or even earlier this week. Of course, that does not mean there are no needs left to be addressed over the coming weeks and in the draft.
The latest moves did shake up the general list of positions that needed to be tackled this offseason quite a bit, though. Let’s take a look at the needs-based rankings we updated earlier this week and before moves that included signing tight end Hunter Henry or keeping center David Andrews (please click here for Version 3.0 from earlier this week; please click here for Version 2.0 from mid-March; please click here for Version 1.0 from mid-February):
1. Quarterback, 2. Wide receiver, 3. Linebacker, 4. Interior offensive line, 5. Defensive edge, 6. Interior defensive line, 7. Running back, 8. Tight end, 9. Offensive tackle, 10. Cornerback, 11. Safety, 12. Kicker, 13. Fullback, 14. Long snapper, 15. Punter
The Patriots’ moves since Monday addressed numerous positions on that list, and shook up the rankings once more. While the top-two spots, as will be seen, remain the same, the others have experienced quite a bit of movement.
With all of those transactions now factoring into the overall composition of the roster, we can now update the needs list for a fourth time this offseason.
15. Punter (-): With Jake Bailey still on his rookie contract and coming off an All-Pro season, the Patriots have no need whatsoever to add another punter to the equation in free agency or the draft. They are set for years to come.
14. Long snapper (-): Joe Cardona is one of the best long snappers in football and as such a cornerstone of New England’s kicking game operation. He is still only 28 years old and under contract through the 2022 season.
13. Kicker (-1): The Patriots re-signed veteran free agent Nick Folk on Thursday, giving them three kickers to compete for the job this summer. Folk is considered the favorite given his success in 2020 and the structure of his one-year deal (his entire $1.1 million salary is guaranteed), but Justin Rohrwasser and Roberto Aguayo offer some potential behind him as well.
12. Fullback (+1): With exclusive-rights free agent Jakob Johnson receiving a tender offer, and with Danny Vitale scheduled to return off the Coronavirus opt-out list, the Patriots are well-stocked at fullback. Johnson and Vitale are expected to compete for the role during the summer, if New England decides to keep both of them under contract until then.
11. Tight end (-3): After already signing one of the top-two tight ends available in free agency this year, the Patriots went out and added the other as well. Moving forward, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry will be the one-two punch at the position. With second-year men Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene offering upside behind them, the group suddenly looks like one of the deepest on the roster despite the trade that sent Ryan Izzo to Houston.
10. Safety (+1): Even though Patrick Chung announced his retirement this week, New England is in good shape at the safety position for this year. Devin McCourty remains the group’s leader even at age 33, while Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips offer versatility and starter-level depth alongside him. The same has to be said about free agency addition Jalen Mills, a positionless player with vast experience at cornerback as well. On top of it all, the Patriots also retained nominal safety Cody Davis this week to keep their special teams core intact.
9. Defensive edge (-4): After already adding Matthew Judon on Monday, the Patriots continued to bolster their defensive edge by re-signing Kyle Van Noy following his release in Miami. With the two veterans in the fold, and fellow outside linebackers Chase Winovich, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings offering depth behind them, the Patriots’ edge is now looking much better on paper than it did a year ago.
8. Interior offensive line (-4): Re-signing starting center David Andrews and adding Ted Karras as a versatile and experienced backup instantly solidifies the Patriots’ interior O-line. And while losing Joe Thuney earlier this week hurts, him leaving was expected given that the team seems well equipped to replace him: Michael Onwenu appears to be a prime candidate to move to the vacant left guard spot after spending most of his impressive rookie year at right tackle.
7. Cornerback (+3): The Patriots decided to tender restricted free agent cornerback J.C. Jackson at the second-round level, which could open the door for another team to swoop in and attempt to lure him away. It seems more likely that he will be back, however, at least for one year. The long-term future at the position remains a bit murky, though, with both Jackson and Stephon Gilmore — a popular trade candidate despite New England not actively shopping him at the time — unsigned beyond 2021.
6. Offensive tackle (+3): The Patriots’ offensive tackle position saw some movement over the weekend due to the trade that sent Marcus Cannon to Houston. New England is still well-set at the starter level with Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown, but the depth behind the two might need to be addressed at one point in free agency or the draft: despite its developmental upside, the group is inexperienced. Add the fact that Wynn and Brown are free agents after this season — although the fifth-year option is still in the cards for Wynn — and you get even more of a reason to invest.
5. Linebacker (-2): While Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy have the versatility to move to the off-the-ball linebacker spot if need be, they are projected to see most of their playing time on the edge. Likewise, youngsters Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings are unproven at the inside linebacker spot. Additional reinforcements might therefore be needed to challenge the current players on the roster — such as Ja’Whaun Bentley and Terez Hall — and give New England a potential replacement for Dont’a Hightower further down the line.
4. Running back (+3): The early-down role is in good hands with Damien Harris and Sony Michel both under contract through 2022 and 2021, respectively. The receiving and change-of-pace roles, however, are up in the air with both Rex Burkhead and James White headed for free agency. New England has been active in the running back market so far in free agency, but nothing has come of it. It seems likely that a move will be made, though.
3. Interior defensive line (+3): The Patriots were quite busy along their defensive line this week. After already signing outside free agents Davon Godchaux and Henry Anderson on Monday, and bringing back in-house options Deatrich Wise Jr. and Carl Davis, they also signed Montravius Adams to a one-year deal on Thursday. The group looks like a solid one already, but it will need some more starter-level upside, particularly in the pass rushing department. Bringing back team captain Lawrence Guy is still an option.
2. Wide receiver (-): Even though the wide receiver room saw the additions of Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne earlier this week, the Patriots have some work to do to improve one of the worst position groups on the team a year ago. Adding the two free agents is a start, and raises the group’s floor, but the rest of the wide receiver room has to get better as well to improve New England’s struggling passing game.
1. Quarterback (-): Even with Cam Newton returning via a one-year deal last week, quarterback remains the number one need on the Patriots’ current roster. Why? Newton has disappointed as New England’s starter in 2020 and is not a long-term solution. Keeping him around as a veteran leader and mentor for a potential draft pick is a good move, but it does not change the overall urgency that a new franchise quarterback needs to be added soon.
Even though only a handful of days have passed since our last update of the Patriots’ offseason needs list, there have been quite a few changes. The improved tight end and defensive edge positions moved down the board, as has the interior offensive line after retaining David Andrews and bringing back Ted Karras. However, the offensive side of the ball still will need to be addressed this offseason — especially at the most important of positions.