The first week of free agency action is in the books, and the New England Patriots did make quite a few moves. Handing out contracts with a total value of more than $300 million, the team was among the most active in the league and therefore able to bolster its roster in all three phases. Given that they are still projected to have plenty of cap space to work with, the Patriots may not be done either.
So, who could they target in the second wave of free agency? There will likely not be any big splashes left in the pipeline, but New England could try to target some cost-effective depth options to compete with the talent that is already on the roster. With that in mind, let’s take a look at one player at each primary position group the Patriots could still go after in the coming days and weeks.
Quarterback: Nick Mullens
It seems unlikely the Patriots will invest in another free agent quarterback before the draft after already re-signing Cam Newton to a one-year deal. If they opt to do so, however, Nick Mullens might be the best option available: he has started 16 games over the course of his three-year career with the San Francisco 49ers, and is a young player that could possibly challenge Jarrett Stidham and Jake Dolegala for the depth spots this summer.
While not really a starting-caliber quarterback — his 25-to-22 touchdown-to-interception ratio speaks for itself — Mullens would at the very least be a relatively cheap camp arm. In the best-case you are getting an experienced third-string backup.
Offensive backfield: Damien Williams
Even with James White and Rex Burkhead remaining on the market, the Patriots might be better off investing in another versatile running back in free agency: White is a likely candidate to depart, while Burkhead is coming off a season-ending knee injury. Damien Williams, meanwhile, projects as a nice natural fit for the New England offense.
Before opting out of the 2020 season, the soon-to-be 29-year-old was playing the best football of his career for the Kansas City Chiefs. Finishing with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage in 14 games, he played a pivotal role in the team’s Super Bowl run and could even have been voted the title game’s MVP. An all-around back capable of filling the change-of-pace/receiving role in New England, Williams is a player to watch.
Wide receiver: Isaiah McKenzie
While Sammy Watkins would be a top name as well, the Patriots might decide to go after a comparatively cheap option like Isaiah McKenzie instead. The 25-year-old is a complementary receiver more than anything else, but he was a reliable depth receiver for the Buffalo Bills last year and also offers experience as a returnman. McKenzie caught 33 passes for 296 yards and six touchdowns last season and would compete for a fourth/fifth receiver spot in New England.
Tight end: Marcedes Lewis
It seems unlikely that the Patriots bring another tight end aboard after already investing in the top-two available on the market this year (Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry). If they want to add an experienced option to the equation, though, they could go with Marcedes Lewis. While no longer a premier receiver, Lewis is still a solid blocker and could also serve as a mentor for youngsters Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene.
Offensive tackle: Jermaine Eluemunor
With Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown projected to fill the two starting spots at offensive tackle, the Patriots are well-set at the top of the position depth chart. The group behind them, however, could benefit from another experienced depth option.
Enter Jermaine Eluemunor, who spent the last two seasons in New England and started the 2020 season as the Patriots’ right tackle. While he was unable to hold onto the starting gig after suffering an ankle injury and seeing Michael Onwenu emerge, Eluemunor would bring experience and positional versatility to the table. There is value in having players like him on the roster, if only for depth purposes.
Interior offensive line: Spencer Pulley
Re-signing David Andrews and bringing Ted Karras back into the fold as a do-it-all backup option gives New England plenty of quality along its interior offensive line. If another free agent was to be added — an unlikely scenario — the Patriots could go after someone like Spencer Pulley.
While the New York Giants did not give him even a single snap in 2020, he could have some value as a player with starting experience — he has 26 career starts on his résumé — and versatility. He should not be considered a starting-caliber player at this point in his career, but could still fill a role as a do-it-all backup and cheap competition in training camp.
Interior defensive line: Lawrence Guy
Eleven members of the 2020 Patriots remain unsigned at the moment, and none of them might be a better fit to return than Lawrence Guy. The veteran defensive tackle, after all, was New England’s most consistent linemen the last few years and a team leader as well.
Despite the club already investing some considerable resources — Davon Godchaux, Henry Anderson and Montravius Adams were signed; Deatrich Wise Jr. and Carl Davis were re-signed — adding a player of Guy’s quality and experience seems like a good move. While other solid defensive tackles are still on the market as well, he is still the Patriots’ best option at the position.
Defensive edge: Tarell Basham
With Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy getting signed last week, the Patriots have only a limited need at adding more help on the defensive edge. An in-house free agent such as Shilique Calhoun could be an option, but if New England wants to look outside its own building Tarell Basham might be an option.
The 26-year-old is coming off a productive season on a bad Jets team, and has proven himself solid against the pass and even more so the run. Ideally, Basham would be an edge setter in the ground game with some added value as a pass rusher as well.
Off-the-ball linebacker: Eric Wilson
Even with Dont’a Hightower slated to return from his Covid-19 opt-out, the Patriots are in the need for some additional linebacker depth. The ultra-productive Eric Wilson might be an option: after being a role player for most of his first three years in Minnesota, Wilson was elevated to the starter level in 2020 and finished with 122 tackles, 11 quarterback pressures, a forced fumble, two recoveries, and three interceptions. He is a bit inconsistent versus the run, but could still find a role in New England’s front seven.
Cornerback: Gareon Conley
A former first-round selection by the Oakland Raiders, Gareon Conley never quite lived up to his potential before getting traded from the Raiders to the Houston Texans during the 2019 season. He had some positive moments in his first half-year as a Texan but missed the entire 2020 season following complications from offseason ankle surgery. If healthy, though, he appears to fit the man-based coverage schemes the Patriots are running.
Safety: Malik Hooker
Another former first-round draft pick who never quite lived up to his draft status, Malik Hooker is entering free agency after the Colts declined his fifth-year contract option and he tore his Achilles tendon in September. While his injury and uneven development in Indianapolis are red flags, Hooker has upside, youth and experience on his side.
If the Patriots feel confident they can mold him into a reliable player at the free safety position and potential heir to 33-year-old Devin McCourty, they could very well make a run at the 15th overall pick of the 2017 draft. At the very least, Hooker is a player who could pay some high dividends despite costing relatively little.
Special teams: Corey Bojorquez
The Patriots are in good shape in the kicking game after bringing back place kicker Nick Folk on a one-year deal. If they really want to sign another player, Corey Bojorquez might be a candidate if only to help incumbent punter Jake Bailey with his workload. Bailey is not going anywhere, and Bojorquez would only be a camp body, but reducing Bailey’s practice reps might help keep him fresh through the summer.