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2021 NFL free agency: Resetting the Patriots’ roster after one week of free agency moves

Related: Updating the Patriots’ offseason needs after the latest free agency signings

Las Vegas Raiders v New England Patriots Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

The New England Patriots were quite busy during the first week of free agency. Entering it among the league leaders in salary cap space, the team went on to sign some of the highest-profile players available to bolster positions of need and generally raise the talent floor of the entire roster.

The Patriots are entering Week Two of the signing period with 80 players on their roster as of Monday morning (including safety Patrick Chung, whose retirement has been announced but not yet made official by the club). Given that they currently own 10 selections in this year’s draft, and are usually quite active during rookie free agency as well, something will have to give over the coming days and weeks.

At the moment, however, the Patriots’ roster looks as follows; the majority of the players listed will compete for spots on the 53-man squad come training camp.

Quarterback (3)

Cam Newton, Jarrett Stidham, Jake Dolegala

The quarterback position is still the biggest need on the team with no clear long-term starter currently under contract. Re-signing Cam Newton to a one-year contract two weeks ago at the very least gives the Patriots an experienced option to either serve as a bridge passer or a mentor for a younger quarterback that might be brought aboard via the draft.

Running back (4)

Damien Harris, Sony Michel, Brandon Bolden, J.J. Taylor

With James White and Rex Burkhead still on the open market, the Patriots might have to add some additional running backs to fill the third down/change-of-pace role — unless they feel supremely confident in second-year man J.J. Taylor and primary special teamer Brandon Bolden. The early-down group of Damien Harris and Sony Michel is a solid one, meanwhile.

Fullback (2)

Jakob Johnson, Danny Vitale

With Jakob Johnson receiving an exclusive-rights free agency tender, and with Danny Vitale expected to return from the Covid-19 opt-out list, the Patriots are well-set at fullback. The two are expected to battle for a spot on the roster over the course of the summer, with Johnson’s experience in the system and solid 2020 season making him the favorite to emerge victoriously.

Wide receiver (10)

Julian Edelman, Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, Matthew Slater, Gunner Olszewski, Isaiah Zuber, Kristian Wilkerson, Devin Smith

The Patriots added two wide receivers to the group in free agency — Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne — but are still facing plenty of questions at wide receiver. Julian Edelman will turn 35 over the summer and is recovering from a prolonged stint on injured reserve, while N’Keal Harry has not lived up to his first-round draft status just yet. Jakobi Meyers therefore appears to be the group’s only safe bet heading into 2021.

Tight end (5)

Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene, Matt LaCosse

No position on the Patriots’ roster was upgraded as drastically last week as tight end. The Patriots signed the two best players available in Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, giving them a viable one-two punch. Former third-round draft selections Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene offer developmental depth behind the two veterans.

Offensive tackle (5)

Isaiah Wynn, Trent Brown, Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, Korey Cunningham

The offensive tackle position saw some turnover recently. The Patriots acquired Trent Brown via trade from the Las Vegas Raiders, and later sent Marcus Cannon to the Houston Texans. Brown and Isaiah Wynn are the projected starters at right and left tackle, respectively, but the depth behind them might benefit from additional upgrades: Justin Herron looked good at times as a rookie in 2020, but Yodny Cajuste and Korey Cunningham are unproven.

Interior offensive line (7)

David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, Shaq Mason, Ted Karras, Marcus Martin, Ross Reynolds, Najee Toran

Even though long-time starting left guard Joe Thuney departed to join the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency, the Patriots are in a good spot along their interior offensive line. David Andrews’ return via a four-year extension locks down the center spot, with Michael Onwenu and Shaq Mason projected to bookend him on the guard positions. Ted Karras offers experienced and versatile depth behind the starting trio.

Interior defensive line (10)

Davon Godchaux, Deatrich Wise Jr, Henry Anderson, Byron Cowart, Montravius Adams, Carl Davis, Akeem Spence, Nick Thurman, Bill Murray, Michael Barnett

While the Patriots’ most consistent defensive tackle of the last few years — Lawrence Guy — remains unsigned, the team did address the group last week. Not only were Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson and Montravius Adams added in free agency, the team also re-signed Deatrich Wise Jr. and Carl Davis. Adding Guy back to the mix would still be a nice addition, though.

Defensive edge (6)

Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, Tashawn Bower, Rashod Berry

After an inconsistent season from the edge group, the Patriots invested in Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy last week. Judon was signed to a four-year deal, while Van Noy returned on a two-year pact after spending the 2020 season in Miami. The two veterans are projected as the starters, with Chase Winovich and Josh Uche offering high-upside depth — especially in pass rushing situations — alongside them.

Move linebacker (2)

Dont’a Hightower, Anfernee Jennings

Dont’a Hightower’s expected return from the Coronavirus opt-out list bolsters the entire front seven, and gives New England a versatile linebacker capable of playing off the ball and on the edge. Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings are expected to be moved around the formation as well in 2020, with the latter in particular being a candidate to fill the move role.

Off-the-ball linebacker (6)

Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, Terez Hall, Brandon King, Cassh Maluia, Michael Pinckney

The Patriots did add Raekwon McMillan last week and could also employ Dont’a Hightower and Anfernee Jennings off the ball as well, but they might still need more talent at the position — especially with Hightower in the final year of his contract. Ja’Whaun Bentley and Terez Hall are nice role players to have, but do not appear to be long-term options.

Cornerback (10)

Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jonathan Jones, Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant, Justin Bethel, Michael Jackson Jr, D’Angelo Ross, Dee Virgin

With J.C. Jackson returning via the second-round free agency tender, and with Jalen Mills signing a four-year deal, the Patriots’ cornerback position projects to be a strength for the team yet again. Keeping Stephon Gilmore appears to be the best-case scenario for the group, but his contract negotiations will decide whether or not New England will indeed make the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year available for trade.

Safety (5)*

Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Cody Davis, Patrick Chung*

Patrick Chung announced his retirement last week, but it has not yet been processed by the league. Accordingly, he is still counting versus the roster and salary cap as if active. Once he is gone, Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger form a very solid core. Jalen Mills, who played every spot in the Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary last year, also offers additional depth alongside those three.

Specialists (5)

Nick Folk, Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona, Justin Rohrwasser, Roberto Aguayo

With Nick Folk being brought back on a one-year deal, the Patriots’ kicking game operation will remain unchanged in 2021 — unless Justin Rohrwasser or, even less likely, Roberto Aguayo are able to unseat the steady veteran in training camp. Punter Jake Bailey and long snapper Joe Cardona are among the very best players in the league at their respective positions.