With March nearing its end, so is the busy time of the NFL’s free agency period. From a New England Patriots perspective, it has been a quiet one so far: the team focused on re-signing its in-house talent rather than making any big splashes from the outside, and thus far ended up bringing in only four free agents.
Free agency is not quite over yet, however, and there is still a lot of talent available at what will likely be a reduced price. Players such as Tyrann Mathieu, Bobby Wagner or Jarvis Landry would likely be quality additions to most teams, while numerous other big names remain unsigned as well.
From a Patriots perspective, a lot of these players would only make partial sense: they likely will cost too much for the team’s liking, have an adverse effect on the compensatory draft picks formula, or both.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at three players who would still make sense for New England at this point in time.
DT Eddie Goldman
The Chicago Bears releasing Eddie Goldman earlier this offseason did not come as a surprise. Not only was he set to spend the 2022 season on a salary cap hit of $11.8 million — a number that essentially eliminated all chances of him getting traded before his release — he also was a questionable scheme fit for the team’s new-look 4-3 defense under recently hired head coach Matt Eberflus.
Those two factors were not the only ones at play, though; Goldman also was coming off a rather disappointing season. He no longer played on the same consistent level as before his 2020 opt-out, struggled to shed blocks as a run defender at times, was unable to generate consistent pressure when used versus the pass, and had his issues finishing tackles.
The question, however, is how much an early-season knee injury limited his productivity last year. Goldman was forced to miss the first three games of the year because of the ailment, and never looked quite right after his return.
Why would he make sense for the Patriots? The Patriots made some massive investments along their interior defensive line last offseason, but the unit as a whole still had its ups and downs. The lack of a true nose tackle in particular hurt the group versus the run: neither Davon Godchaux nor Lawrence Guy were able to properly fill that role, while Carl Davis had a tough time whenever aligned over the center.
Goldman, of course, has played some productive football from the 0-technique position before. He didn’t in 2021, at least in stretches, but his experience and past performance especially versus the run might make him a player worth giving a shot.
After all, he is still only 28 years old and might benefit from a change of scenery. That latter part cannot be underestimated: Goldman appeared to check out at times late during the season, with the writing of his departure already on the wall at that point. Neither he nor the team will publicly say so, but it looked as if he was playing at less than 100 percent both mentally and physically last year.
If the Patriots feel confident that they can get him back to his starter-level play, the former second-round draft pick would be a worthwhile addition.
As an added bonus, Goldman would not count against the compensatory draft picks formula in 2022. Because he was released, he would not factor into the equation that currently projects New England to earn a third- and a sixth-round selection.
DE Trey Flowers
After starting his career with the Patriots and developing into a stout player on the defensive edge, Trey Flowers left as a free agent in 2019 to join the Detroit Lions.
However, his tenure in Detroit was a struggle, particularly towards the end. Signing a five-year, $90 million deal, he ended both the 2020 and 2021 seasons on injured reserve and in total registered only 10.5 sacks in 29 games. For comparison, Flowers notched 26.5 quarterback takedowns in his 46 games as a member of the Patriots.
As a result of this and his $23.2 million salary cap hit for the upcoming season, the Lions decided to part ways with the 28-year-old. This, in turn, would give New England an opportunity to bring him back aboard.
Why would he make sense for the Patriots? We have already written about Flowers before, advocating for New England to bring him back into the fold. The argument why such a move would make sense from the team’s perspective was four-fold:
- Flowers is still a good player who showed that he is a tough end-of-the-line defender capable of setting a stout edge versus the run and being disruptive as a pass rusher.
- Flowers would address a need along the defensive edge, especially with the Patriots having moved on from Kyle Van Noy (release) and Chase Winovich (trade) recently.
- Flowers would be a “buy low” addition, who might be willing to take a discount for an opportunity to rebuild his career in what would be a familiar setting.
- Flowers would not count against the compensatory draft picks formula given that the Lions opted to release him.
Add it all up and New England bringing Flowers back on a short-term deal would make plenty of sense. The fact that he has not generated any obvious momentum in free agency only adds to this belief: he likely can be had at a fraction of what the Lions paid for him in 2019.
OL Daryl Williams
Just one year removed from a three-year, $28.2 million contract extension, the Buffalo Bills decided to release Daryl Williams ahead of the new league year. The move came as a minor surprise given that Williams had started all 19 games during the 2021 season and was playing at a high level no matter if lining up at tackle or guard.
So, why exactly was he released then? According to Dan Lavoie of Buffalo Rumblings there appear to be two main reasons for the move:
The first was the structure of his contract: After a $6.1 million cap hit in 2021, Williams would cost almost $10 million against the cap in 2022. Releasing him saves the team $6.3 million that they otherwise would have spent. The second reason was the emergence of rookie right tackle Spencer Brown, which pushed Williams to guard. A $9.9 million cap hit ranks 25th among NFL tackles, but sixth among guards. His contract didn’t accurately represent the value to the team after the position switch.
Long story short, Williams was a cap casualty more than anything else. The 29-year-old is an attractive free agent, though, given his positional flexibility and the fact that he has considerable experience having started 81 games since his arrival in the NFL in 2015.
Why would he make sense for the Patriots? New England’s offensive line has seen some significant changes this offseason, especially along the interior. On the first day of the legal tampering period, left guard Ted Karras was lost on a three-year contract offer by the Cincinnati Bengals. One day later, right guard Shaq Mason was traded to Tampa Bay for a fifth-round draft pick.
The expectation is that third-year man Michael Onwenu will fill one of the vacant spots, but the other remains unoccupied right now. No matter where Onwenu ends up playing, Williams would likely be a competent starter on the other side: the Bills, after all, moved him around based on need and not because they did not see him as an adequate blocker at either guard or tackle.
As a result, he played 1,343 snaps at guard over the last three seasons and 2,022 snaps at tackle. He also logged more than 170 snaps at either guard spot and both tackle positions.
For a team like the Patriots putting a lot of value in positional versatility, Williams would be a welcome addition. Add the fact that he too would not count negatively versus the compensatory formula, and the union would make even more sense.
At the very least, Williams would raise the floor for the entire offensive line and give the team better depth at four positions — something that might be especially important given the considerable injury histories of both starting tackles Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown.