After two days of legal tampering, the New England Patriots have added zero free agents from outside Gillette Stadium. That did not stop them from making several notable roster moves on Tuesday however, which included dealing linebacker Chase Winovich and offensive guard Shaq Mason. The moves increased the Patriots available cap space to just over $13 million, according to Patriots salary cap guru Miguel Benzan.
Now, as the NFL’s new league year — and thus free agency — are set to officially begin at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, perhaps the Patriots finally dip their feet in the free agent waters. If that is the case, here are five potential free agent targets the Patriots could be after.
CB Ahkello Witherspoon
Cornerback has gone from a position of need for the Patriots to perhaps the position of need. With J.C. Jackson set to join the Los Angeles Chargers on a five-year, $82.5 million deal, the Patriots are left with just Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams, and Shaun Wade on the boundary cornerback depth chart.
Witherspoon could be a cheaper and intriguing name in a dwindling cornerback market, and could be moving on from Pittsburgh after the team signed cornerback Levi Wallace on Tuesday. The almost 27-year-old was acquired by Pittsburgh in September of last season and impressed. He ranked as PFF’s second-highest cornerback in man-to-man coverage last season (13th out of 116 qualified cornerbacks in total defense grade).
At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Witherspoon is a similar size as Jackson (6-foot-1, 198 pounds) and has successful experience playing in multiple defensive schemes.
LB Leighton Vander Esch
The Patriots kicked off the remodel of their linebacking crew Tuesday, dealing Chase Winovich to the Cleveland Browns for Mack Wilson. If they hope to continue their rebuild in free agency, former Cowboys’ first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch could be a name to watch.
After an extremely successful rookie season, Vander Esch battled injuries as his play went downhill. However, he still is only 26 years old and fits the Patriots linebacker mold at 6-foot-4, 256 pounds. Vander Esch has the ability to play the run and provides more athleticism at the position than a Ja’Whaun Bentley. The team reportedly met with him before the 2018 draft, and perhaps now is a good time for the two sides meet again.
EDGE Lorenzo Carter
Another prospect the Patriots spent time with before the 2018 draft. Carter has the athleticism to drop into coverage even standing at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, and has been successful against the run throughout his NFL career. Carter has only recorded 14.5 sacks, but would not need to be counted on as a primary pass rusher with Matthew Judon on the other side of the Patriots defensive line.
With a bevy of youth on the Patriots current EDGE depth (Josh Uche, Ronnie Perkins, Anfernee Jennings), adding a rotational veteran may be the way to go — especially after the Chase Winovich trade.
EDGE Trey Flowers
Staying with the veteran EDGE addition, there may not be a better fit than former Patriot Trey Flowers. Flowers’ ability to get after opposing quarterbacks and be a dominant force in the run game earned him a massive contract from Detroit three years ago. But, after being held to just 14 games over the last two years due to injuries, he will be back on the market as a cap casualty either before or soon after the new league year starts at 4 p.m. ET.
The Patriots should be all over a reunion with the 28-year-old, which will likely come down to the right price.
OG Oday Aboushi
After losing Ted Karras on Monday and Shaq Mason on Tuesday, the Patriots will be in the market for offensive guards. While Michael Onwenu will likely take over one starting role and the team has been extremely successful at drafting interior offensive lineman over the years, adding a veteran depth piece in free agency could be a valuable addition.
Aboushi tore his ACL in Week 5 last season, but should be ready to go for next season. The 31-year-old has played for seven teams throughout his career, showcasing starter ability at both left and right guard. Much like Ted Karras, he projects as a high-level backup who a team can rely on if they lose a starter. Aboushi will likely come extremely cheap, but could be quite the worthwhile signing.