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2022 NFL free agency: Ranking the Patriots’ offseason needs heading into the legal tampering period

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

Jacksonville Jaguars v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

Even though they are coming off a solid 10-7 season that saw them return to the playoffs, the New England Patriots are headed towards free agency with a lot of questions. Sure, they were able to address the biggest of them all last year — Which quarterback will lead the team into the post-Tom Brady era? — but now they have to build a team around that QB, second-year man Mac Jones.

The offseason is the time to do that, with free agency and the draft presenting prime opportunities to bolster not just the starting levels across the board but the depth behind them as well. New England will have limited resources at its disposal — $10.2 million in cap space plus six draft choices — which means that Bill Belichick and company might have to get creative to improve the roster heading into the second year of Jones’ rookie contract.

With that said, let’s take a look at that roster and the positions that might be higher up than others on the Patriots’ list of priorities.

Below, you will therefore find a list of each position on the roster broken down into four tiers and ranked based on need. That list, just like the attached potential targets in free agency, is obviously subjective — so feel free to share your own views on the topic in the comment section below.

Tier 4: Virtually no need

15. Long snapper

  • Under contract: Joe Cardona
  • Free agents: N/A
  • Potential free agency targets: Aaron Brewer, Josh Harris, Patrick Scales Zach Triner

Joe Cardona has proven himself a reliable member of the Patriots’ special teams group ever since his arrival in 2015. Even though he will turn 30 in April, he is a candidate to receive a long-term extension to be kept in the fold beyond his 2022 contract year and help groom a new kicker once Nick Folk leaves the organization — maybe as early as this year.

14. Punter

  • Under contract: Jake Bailey
  • Free agents: N/A
  • Potential free agency targets: Corey Bojorquez, Lachlan Edwards, Riley Dixon, Pat O’Donnell

Even though New England’s punting team was among the league’s worst last season, Bailey will likely not be going anywhere this season. In fact, he is a realistic candidate to receive a contract extension at one point in the future: the Stanford product has proven himself a reliable punter, kickoff specialist and holder, and keeping him in the fold appears to be the best decision for the club.

Tier 3: Some questions about the future

13. Fullback

  • Under contract: N/A
  • Free agents: Jakob Johnson (RFA)
  • Potential free agency targets: Khari Blasingame, Michael Burton, Cullen Gillaspia, Patrick Ricard

With Jakob Johnson reportedly not expected to receive a restricted free agency tender, he will be headed for the open market on March 16. That said, there is a chance that the team re-signs him after all: the market for fullbacks is not necessarily hot, and Johnson staying put is a realistic outcome even with other teams possibly trying to add him as well.

12. Place kicker

  • Under contract: Quinn Nordin
  • Free agents: Nick Folk (UFA)
  • Potential free agency targets: Michael Badgley, Randy Bullock, Zane Gonzalez, Eddy Piniero, Greg Zuerlein

The Patriots do have a kicker under contract in second-year man Quinn Nordin, but unless they feel confident in his ability to take over re-signing Nick Folk still appears to be in their best interest. Folk has proven himself a reliable member of New England’s kicking operation, and none of the veteran free agents available would be an upgrade.

11. Quarterback

  • Under contract: Mac Jones, Brian Hoyer, Jarrett Stidham
  • Free agents: N/A
  • Potential free agency targets: Jacoby Brissett, Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chad Henne, Marcus Mariota, A.J. McCarron, Colt McCoy, Tyrod Taylor

The Patriots will obviously make no splashes at the quarterback position this offseason considering that they have Mac Jones under contract for at least three more seasons — and possibly a fourth if they exercise the fifth-year option in his rookie deal — and just re-signed Brian Hoyer. While Hoyer’s age might prompt some move, it will likely come late in the draft rather than in veteran free agency.

10. Tight end

  • Under contract: Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, Devin Asiasi, Dalton Keene
  • Free agents: Troy Fumagalli (UFA)
  • Potential free agency targets: Pharaoh Brown, Jared Cook, Ross Dwelley, Anthony Firkser, Jesse James, Tyler Kroft, Geoff Swaim, Maxx Williams

One year after making some major investments in Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, the Patriots have virtually no need to make any free agency investments at tight end. While one or two of the players listed above might come aboard on low-cost deals, whoever is added will play only a marginal role on the New England tight end depth chart — if they even make the roster over current backups Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene.

9. Safety

  • Under contract: Devin McCourty, Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger, Joshuah Bledsoe, Cody Davis
  • Free agents: N/A
  • Potential free agency targets: Deon Bush, Nate Ebner, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Jason McCourty, George Odum, Jabrill Peppers, M.J. Stewart

With Devin McCourty re-signed to a reported one-year contract, the Patriots do not have to make any moves at safety. If they decide to add more bodies to the equation to possibly improve the depth behind the starting trio of McCourty, Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger, they will likely be low-cost options like the ones listed above rather than any big-name players.

Tier 2: Some reinforcements necessary

8. Interior offensive line

  • Under contract: David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Michael Onwenu, William Sherman, James Ferentz, Arlington Hambright, Drew Desjarlais
  • Free agents: Ted Karras (UFA)
  • Potential free agency targets: Oday Aboushi, A.J. McCann, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Dan Feeney, Max Garcia, Chris Reed, Michael Schofield, Xavier Su’a-Filo

What the Patriots will do along their interior offensive line is anyone’s guess, mainly because of Michael Onwenu. New England could use him at both left guard and right tackle — two positions with starters currently headed for unrestricted free agency — which creates an unclear situation heading into free agency. Realistically, though, the team will not pay top dollar to add to its interior O-line even if Ted Karras leaves. The shallow depth behind the starter level, however, is another story.

7. Defensive edge

  • Under contract: Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins, Chase Winovich
  • Free agents: N/A
  • Potential free agency targets: Dorance Armstrong Jr., Derek Barnett, Lorenzo Carter, Dante Fowler Jr., Charles Harris, Melvin Ingram III, Arden Key, Tyquan Lewis, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Uchenna Nwosu, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Haason Reddick, Jordan Willis

After releasing Kyle Van Noy last week, the Patriots are faced with some questions on their defensive edge: Matthew Judon is the only proven presence, with the others all having seen either minor roles in 2021 (Josh Uche, Chase Winovich) or no action at all (Ronnie Perkins). Luckily, this year’s free agency features some intriguing talent on the edge. Whether it’s former first-round picks not yet having lived up to their talent, or serviceable depth options there are some candidates to be brought aboard even without paying top dollar.

6. Running back

  • Under contract: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, J.J. Taylor, Devine Ozigbo
  • Free agents: James White (UFA), Brandon Bolden (UFA)
  • Potential free agency targets: Devontae Booker, Matt Breida, James Conner, David Johnson, Duke Johnson, J.D. McKissic, Ty Montgomery, Jalen Richard, Boston Scott, Damien Williams, Darrell Williams

New England making some investments in its backfield is necessary, even with the top of the depth chart set. Whether those come through re-signings, outside additions or the draft remains to be seen, but it seems likely that at least one of James White or Brandon Bolden is retained to join Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, J.J. Taylor and Devine Ozigbo on the offseason roster.

5. Interior defensive line

  • Under contract: Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Deatrich Wise Jr., Daniel Ekuale, Byron Cowart, Bill Murray
  • Free agents: Carl Davis (UFA)
  • Potential free agency targets: Vernon Butler, Maliek Collins, Calais Campbell, Akiem Hicks, Austin Johnson, DaQuan Jones, Linval Joseph, Corey Peters, Tyler Lancaster, Larry Ogunjobi, Tim Settle

Christian Barmore is the long-term future at the defensive tackle position, but the group as a whole might benefit from some reinforcements: the Patriots had some issues up front in 2021 and failed to find a consistent nose tackle. Signing a low-cost option to bolster the group therefore makes sense. While players of the caliber of Calais Campbell or Akiem Hicks would be intriguing additions, it seems more likely that some perceived low-level free agents are more realistic targets to set up the team for the draft.

Tier 1: Priority positions to be addressed

4. Offensive tackle

  • Under contract: Isaiah Wynn, Justin Herron, Yodny Cajuste, Yasir Durant
  • Free agents: Trent Brown (UFA)
  • Potential free agency targets: Dennis Kelly, Cornelius Lucas, Bobby Massie, Morgan Moses, Riley Reiff, Sam Tevi

The Patriots’ offensive tackle position faces an uncertain future: left tackle Isaiah Wynn is entering the final year of his rookie contract off an up-and-down campaign, while Trent Brown is an unrestricted free agent. Bringing Brown back and adding another developmental player via the draft seems to be the way to go, but there are some veteran free agents available as well if New England needs a short-term depth boost.

3. Wide receiver

  • Under contract: Jakobi Meyers, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, N’Keal Harry, Kristian Wilkerson, Tre Nixon, Malcolm Perry
  • Free agents: Gunner Olszewski (RFA), Matthew Slater (UFA)
  • Potential free agency targets: Odell Beckham Jr., D.J. Chark, Jamison Crowder, Will Fuller V, Russell Gage, A.J. Green, Mack Hollins, Richie James, Zay Jones, Zach Pascal, Josh Reynolds, John Ross, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Equanimeous St. Brown, Marquez Valdes-Scantling

Using a second-round tender on restricted free agent Jakobi Meyers addresses some issues at the wide receiver position, but the group as a whole would benefit from improved playmaking especially on the outside. Will the Patriots turn to free agency to bring one of the options listed above on board to address this area of their offense? It is possible, but the draft also offers plenty of talent at a fraction of the cost. At the end of the day it would not be surprising to see New England add some depth in free agency, as well as an early-round wideout in April.

2. Cornerback

  • Under contract: Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Myles Bryant, Shaun Wade, Justin Bethel
  • Free agents: J.C. Jackson (UFA)
  • Potential free agency targets: Bryce Callahan, Carlton Davis, Rasul Douglas, Tre Flowers, Kyle Fuller, Stephon Gilmore, Antonio Hamilton, Casey Hayward Jr., Mike Hughes, Kevin King, Patrick Peterson, Jason Verrett, Levi Wallace, Charvarius Ward

With Stephon Gilmore traded to Carolina last year, and with J.C. Jackson headed for unrestricted free agency, the Patriots are facing some major questions at the cornerback positions. One thing is obvious: a top three consisting of Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones and Joejuan Williams is not going to cut it. There are some intriguing options available to serve as matchup-specific pieces capable of performing well with the right supporting cast, but every cornerback New England will be able to get is a downgrade from the Gilmore-Jackson one-two punch.

1. Linebacker

  • Under contract: Raekwon McMillan, Anfernee Jennings, Cameron McGrone, Harvey Langi, Terez Hall, Jahlani Tavai
  • Free agents: Dont’a Hightower (UFA), Ja’Whaun Bentley (UFA), Jamie Collins Sr. (UFA), Brandon King (UFA)
  • Potential free agency targets: Anthony Barr, Vince Biegel, De’Vondre Campbell, Rashaan Evans, Zaire Franklin, Jordan Hicks, Josey Jewell, Alexander Johnson, Cory Littleton, Nicholas Morrow, Elandon Roberts, Leighton Vander Esch, Bobby Wagner, Anthony Walker Jr., Kyzir White

New England’s off-the-ball linebacker corps might be in the middle of a major transformation process. The team’s top three from last year — Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jamie Collins Sr. — are all headed for unrestricted free agency with no proven replacements anywhere to be found on the current roster. Raekwon McMillan, Anfernee Jennings and Cameron McGrone might turn out to be serviceable players, but until they show it the linebacker position as is projects as a major weakness. The Patriots need to address it, one way or another.