After two days worth of legal tampering, the NFL flipped the switch on Wednesday afternoon. The new league year was officially kicked off at 4 p.m. ET, and with it free agency.
And just a short time after, the New England Patriots already saw one of their player depart. Unrestricted free agent running back Brandon Bolden left to join the Las Vegas Raiders, now led by former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Bolden was not the only member of the backfield to leave for Las Vegas, though.
Fullback Jakob Johnson will also play with the Raiders after signing a reported one-year deal; the Patriots had previously declined to tender him as a restricted free agent. Speaking of which: wide receiver/return man Gunner Olszewski was also not tendered before Wednesday’s deadline, which also turned him from a restricted into an unrestricted free agent. As of Thursday morning, Olszewski remains unsigned.
The Patriots did not just see player depart on Wednesday, though. They also added cornerback Terrance Mitchell on a one-year deal with a reported value of $3 million.
With all that in mind, let’s find out who was impacted the most by those moves — for better or worse.
Winner: TE Dalton Keene
Entering the third season of his professional career, Keene is very much in a do-or-die situation. The 22-year-old, appeared in only six games thus far and has three touches for 16 yards on his résumé.
A third-round selection by the Patriots in the 2020 draft, Keene struggled with injuries right out of the gate. He missed time due to neck and knee issues as a rookie, and was unable to take the field at all last season because of another knee injury. His outlook for 2022 is therefore one of uncertainty.
That said, Jakob Johnson’s departure has the potential to become a development for him. Keene has experience playing the halfback position, after all, and the team might just see some value in him as a potential replacement for the fullback.
Losers: CB Joejuan Williams, CB Shaun Wade
Two days after losing their best outside cornerback, J.C. Jackson, to the Los Angeles Chargers, the Patriots made a move to bolster the position group. By signing the aforementioned Terrance Mitchell they are adding plenty of starting experience to the equation, which might be bad news for Joejuan Williams and Shaun Wade.
The two were projected as the second and third options at the position behind Jalen Mills following Jackson’s departure, and their standing on the roster was more firm than it had previously been. However, New England just added more competition to challenge the two youngsters.
Even with Mitchell no lock to make the roster himself, his signing puts more pressure on Williams and Wade to perform.
Winners: RB J.J. Taylor, RB Devine Ozigbo
Veteran Brandon Bolden taking his talents to Las Vegas rather than returning to New England for another season creates a theoretical opening for both J.J. Taylor and Devine Ozigbo. Bolden, after all, served as the number two receiving back behind James White last year and eventually took over once White was lost with a season-ending hip injury.
Now that the 32-year old is headed west, however, his previous spot on the running back depth chart is unoccupied. Both Taylor and Ozigbo have some experience playing the receiving back role, and therefore might just have an opportunity ahead of them.
That opportunity extends beyond filling in for Bolden, though. With the Patriots not tendering Gunner Olszewski, the two return spots are also open for competition. Taylor has some experience in this area, and therefore is now in a significantly better position than he was just a few days ago after James White was re-signed on a two-year pact.
Losers: RB Damien Harris, RB Rhamondre Stevenson
The Patriots’ top-two early-down backs saw two more members of New England’s running back operation depart. After Ted Karras and Shaq Mason already left the organization on Monday and Tuesday, respectively, both Jakob Johnson and Brandon Bolden joined them on the ride out of town.
Johnson had been serving as the lead blocker in the running game the last two years, playing an important role in clearing the path for both Harris and Stevenson. Bolden, meanwhile, served as a locker room leader and mentor for the two young backs.
Now, both of them will have to be replaced by the Patriots.