With training camp only two weeks away the New England Patriots currently have 90 players on their roster. That number will obviously be reduced to 53 come the regular season, while others will join the practice squad or injury-related reserve lists. At the moment, however, a significant portion of that roster will be playing for new contracts in 2021.
In fact, more than half of the players currently on New England’s payroll is headed for some form of free agency next spring. Not every player listed below will make it thus far as a member of the organization, but as will be seen some key members of the club will have to be accounted for one way or the other over the coming eight months.
With that said, let’s take a look at them.
Unrestricted free agents
The players listed here will enter the open market on March 16 next year unless either re-signed before or, in no more than one case, kept in the fold via the franchise tag.
DT Montravius Adams: Adams arrived in New England earlier this year and is expected to play a rotational role along the interior defensive line. If looking good compared to other DTs on the roster, he could be kept around beyond 2021.
LB Ja’Whaun Bentley: Bentley served as a team captain and New England’s lead off-the-ball linebacker last season, but he failed to properly replace Covid-19 opt-out Dont’a Hightower in the heart of the defense. A smaller role could be better suited for him in 2021, but Bentley getting re-signed next spring is still no guarantee.
RB Brandon Bolden: Bolden has been a valuable member of New England’s special teams operation and running back room going all the way back to 2012. He would likely be a cheap re-signing, but at age 32 could fall victim to the younger depth on the roster.
LB Tashawn Bower: Bower spent time on the active roster in 2021, but it would not be a surprise if he failed to make the cut this year given the competition he faces on the defensive edge. Even if he survives cutdown day, he is no lock to receive a new deal beyond this year. His best chance might therefore come via the practice squad and a futures contract.
OT Trent Brown: Brown restructured his contract to get traded to the Patriots earlier this offseason, but in turn will enter free agency next year. He has spoken highly about New England in the past, though, and might even be willing to take less than he would get on the open market to stay put.
S Adrian Colbert: A journeyman at what is currently a deep position on New England’s roster, Colbert faces an uphill climb to make the team let alone position himself for a new contract next spring.
OT Korey Cunningham: Cunningham has only seen occasional snaps during his two seasons as a Patriot, and it seems unlikely he will get more opportunities beyond 2021 — if he even makes it through roster cutdown day.
DT Carl Davis: Davis looked good when on the field, but injuries have been an issue for him last year. Still, he was re-signed on a one-year pact that could put him in a position to earn a new deal next spring. He will have to prove his value to the team over the next few months, though.
OL James Ferentz: Ferentz is an experienced emergency option who will likely be allowed to enter free agency next March. As in years past, however, he might eventually be brought back unless younger or higher-upside options emerge.
K Nick Folk: Folk has proven himself a reliable presence since his arrival in 2019, but he will turn 37 in November. If New England is looking to get younger, it might decide against re-signing him in free agency, at least immediately.
TE Troy Fumagalli: The Patriots are deep at the tight end position, and Fumagalli will likely not even make it through this year’s roster cuts. Him getting a new deal next spring would therefore be a surprise.
RB Tyler Gaffney: While his history is different, Gaffney is in a similar position as Fumagalli. He is neither guaranteed a spot on the 53, nor on next year’s resignee list.
CB Stephon Gilmore: While there is a chance that Gilmore will enter unrestricted free agency in March, he is looking for a new deal before then. Chances are the Patriots will give one to their star cornerback, but given their history with players in their 30s no outcome can categorically be ruled out — that includes Gilmore getting traded.
WR Marvin Hall: Playing on a one-year deal, Hall would have to stand out in training camp to make the roster and give himself a chance at a new deal. It could happen, but it will definitely not be easy for him.
LB Dont’a Hightower: The long-time captain was scheduled to hit free agency this year, but is now under contract through 2021 because of last year’s opt-out. Hightower has proven himself a hugely important member of New England’s defense, but will turn 32 next March and has had his fair share of injuries in the past. That said, he is still a realistic candidate to be re-signed.
QB Brian Hoyer: Hoyer is little more than an emergency option at this point in his career, and he will likely only generate minimal interest as a free agent. The Patriots would probably be able to bring him back if they so choose, but likely won’t do so before the market opens next March.
CB J.C. Jackson: Jackson will be one of the most intriguing players to watch both this season and next spring. One of the premier ballhawks in football, he is in line for a big payday. Will the Patriots give it to him? A lot will depend on the Stephon Gilmore situation and whether or not the club’s offers will be competitive if he is allowed to make it to the open market.
OL Ted Karras: Once again expected to serve as a backup, Karras is well-respected within the organization. That said, with David Andrews around for the foreseeable future he might decide to test free agency in hopes of finding a starting opportunity elsewhere.
LB Brandon King: King is a core special teamer for the Patriots, but he missed both 2019 and 2020 due to injury. Needless to say that his health will be a determining factor when it comes to getting a new contract beyond this season.
LB Harvey Langi: Langi returned to the Patriots earlier this year after spending the last two seasons with the Jets. If he leaves his mark on special teams and as a rotational linebacker in 2021, he might just get a new contract next year.
OL Marcus Martin: With New England having plenty of talent along its offensive line, Martin will have to stand out to earn a roster spot this summer. It will be tough, and the same can be said about him getting a new deal in 2022.
S Devin McCourty*: The long-time team captain is in a unique situation among New England’s free agents to be, hence the asterisk: while theoretically under contract through 2024, his deal will void at the start of the new league year next March. The Patriots could bring him back — he will always have a home in their secondary — but McCourty might have different plans. At age 34 and having won three (or four?) Super Bowls, he might be a candidate for retirement.
LB Raekwon McMillan: McMillan signed a “prove it”-type deal this offseason, and if he can indeed do just that New England might decide to bring him back. That is especially true if Dont’a Hightower and/or Ja’Whaun Bentley are not retained.
RB Sony Michel: The Patriots decided against using the fifth-year contract option on Michel earlier this year, meaning he will become a free agent next spring. While a good performance in 2021 could earn him a new deal in New England, the emergence of Damien Harris and current draft selection of Rhamondre Stevenson makes it unlikely he will be back. In fact, Michel might even be a trade candidate this year.
QB Cam Newton: Mac Jones is the Patriots’ quarterback of the future, which leaves Newton in an uncertain situation for 2021 and especially 2022. Even if he performs well and puts himself in a position to earn another opportunity as a starter in the league, it is clear that Jones will be handed the New England offense at one point whether Newton is on the team or not.
S Adrian Phillips: Phillips played some impressive football for the Patriots last year, and projects as a versatile starter-caliber defensive back yet again in 2021. With Devin McCourty’s future unclear, he appears to be a realistic candidate to be re-signed next spring.
OL Alex Redmond: Everything that applies to Marcus Martin above can also be said about Redmond. He will have to bring his A-game to make the roster this year and earn a new deal, and even that might not be enough.
WR Matthew Slater: Slater is a New England legend and has earned himself a spot in the team Hall of Fame due to his performances on the field and his demeanor off it over the last 13 seasons. The long-time captain could be brought back on a cost-effective short-term deal, but at soon-to-be 36 years of age might decide to call it a career after his 2021 campaign.
WR Devin Smith: Smith is a depth wide receiver at best, and unless he stands out in training camp will likely keep that status heading into the regular season. The odds of him getting a new deal in 2022 do not look particularly good.
DT Akeem Spence: He had his moments in 2020, but Spence will first have to make the 53-man roster this year before thinking about a new deal next spring. Could he get one? Sure, but it will depend on his performance this season.
CB Dee Virgin: Virgin is in the same basic boat as Spence. He has to make the roster first before any talk about a new contract in 2022 can realistically take place.
RB James White: White returning to New England as a free agent was a pleasant surprise this offseason, but the pandemic-related circumstances seem to have worked in the Patriots’ favor. Whether that will also be the case next year can be questioned; White therefore appears to be a realistic candidate to leave in 2022.
Restricted free agents
The players listed here will enter the open market on March 16 next year unless tendered at one of three levels: first round, second round or original round. The Patriots would get the appropriate compensation if another team signs them away.
CB Michael Jackson Sr: Jackson’s outlook for 2022 will be closely tied to Stephon Gilmore’s and J.C. Jackson’s. Obviously, though, he will have to make this year’s roster first before any talk about him being tendered next spring.
FB Jakob Johnson: Johnson proved himself a serviceable fullback in 2020, but the Patriots will have an interesting decision to make: Is he worth the second-round tender or is risking him leaving without compensation — he was signed as a de facto rookie free agent in 2019 — the better plan from a fiscal perspective?
WR Jakobi Meyers: Like Johnson, Meyers entered the league undrafted and would therefore not yield any compensation if leaving as an original-level tender. That said, he should be worth the second-round distinction if able to repeat his 2020 performance in 2021.
WR Gunner Olszewski: The NFL’s best punt returner last year, Olszewski is in the same situation as Johnson and Meyers. In terms of the Patriots’ decision whether or not to tender him at the original or second-round level, his potential development as a pass catcher in 2021 will be a key factor.
Exclusive rights free agents
The players listed here will enter the open market on March 16 next year unless offered an ERFA tender.
LB Rashod Berry: Berry had some moments as a situational pass rusher during his 2020 rookie season, but he will need to make the famous second-year jump to position himself for a tender sheet next year. Given the depth New England has on the defensive edge, it will not be easy.
LB Terez Hall: Hall saw considerable action down the stretch in 2020, but he too needs to show some development to warrant ERFA tender consideration. It is not impossible he does that, but he likely will have to make a massive jump to crack the regular rotation at the off-the-ball linebacker position.
DT Bill Murray: The Patriots are deep at defensive tackle and unless Murray somehow finds his way onto the active roster this year, it seems unlikely he will get tendered in 2022.
OL R.J. Price: The Patriots are deep along the offensive line and unless Price somehow finds his way onto the active roster this year, it seems unlikely he will get tendered in 2022.
CB D’Angelo Ross: The Patriots are deep... Well, you get the idea. Ross’ future might be tied not just to his ability to make the cut in 2021, but also to the Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson situations.
WR Devin Ross: Another depth wide receiver, Ross was re-signed after a successful minicamp tryout. His NFL résumé so far suggests that he will not be a priority to be tendered next spring.
DT Nick Thurman: Thurman saw some action in 2020, but he could very well get buried on a rebuilt defensive tackle depth chart this summer. Accordingly, getting an exclusive rights tender next spring will be difficult.
WR Kristian Wilkerson: Wilkerson spent his 2020 rookie campaign on the practice squad, and is a candidate to do so again this year. If that is the case, a futures contract might be his best chance of staying in New England beyond this season.
WR Isaiah Zuber: Zuber’s situation is similar to Wilkerson’s even though he looked better both in 2020 and during this year’s offseason workouts. If he can build on this momentum and find his way onto the roster, he could receive a tender next spring. If not, the practice squad/futures deal route might be the most realistic for him as well.