With the draft in the books and rookie free agency winding down, NFL teams are relatively set heading towards organized team activities. The core of the New England Patriots’ roster is in place as well, but the club still has four open spots on its 90-man offseason roster at the moment.
It seems highly unlikely that even one of them will remain open for too long, but the question is this: How will the team fill them? Looking at the current roster and the talent that is available on the open market, there appear to be quite a few candidates to be brought aboard.
LB Jamie Collins Sr.: New England are in no rush to bring Collins back after he served as a role player in 2021: talks between the two sides did not go anywhere at the start of free agency, and the 32-year-old remains unsigned. New England, of course, did not add any players at the position during the draft, which might work in Collins’ favor.
LB Dont’a Hightower: Hightower’s résumé speaks for itself, but one has to wonder whether or not the long-time captain still fits the description of what New England is looking for at the linebacker spot — especially with fellow early-down option Ja’Whaun Bentley already re-signed. That said, a reunion certainly remains a possibility if “Mr. February” decides to extend his career into what would be an 11th NFL season.
Veteran free agents
CB James Bradberry: The New York Giants parted ways with Bradberry last week, and he is the most intriguing name available on the cornerback market right now. His connection with current Patriots assistant Joe Judge is noteworthy — Judge served as head coach throughout Bradberry’s time in New York — but the price will ultimately dictate whether or not New England going after him is realistic.
DE Trey Flowers: Flowers was released by the Detroit Lions earlier this offseason and has yet to sign with a new team. New England reuniting with its former fourth-round draft pick would make plenty of sense: Flowers is still a good player, would be a “buy low” acquisition with plenty of upside, and would address a need along what is a light defensive edge at the moment.
CB Kyle Fuller: A former first-round selection and two-time Pro Bowler, Fuller is coming off a disappointing one-year stint in Denver. With the Patriots not having a clear CB1 on their roster and never having shied away from giving former high-round draft picks another chance, they might be willing to bring Fuller board on a low-cost, one-year pact.
DT Eddie Goldman: If the Patriots feel confident that they can get Goldman back to the starter-level performances he had pre-2021 in Chicago, the former second-round draft pick would be a worthwhile addition. After all, added only one player — sixth-rounder Sam Roberts — along its interior defensive line in the draft.
DT Akiem Hicks: Could “the one that got away” return to his old stomping grounds after remaining unsigned since the start of free agency? His age — 32 — and the fact that he struggled with injuries in 2021 are concerns, but he still looks like a potential target for New England after the team did not spend a high pick on its interior defensive line in the draft.
CB Kevin King: In what was one of the most challenging years of his career, King appeared in just 11 of 18 possible games last season and played some up-and-down football. He has good size at 6-foot-3, however, and might benefit from a change of scenery.
DT Corey Peters: Despite turning 34 in June, Peters and his 6-foot-3, 335-pound frame would help address one of the biggest needs New England still has even after the draft: he could serve as a big-bodied nose tackle. He also would likely come comparatively cheap due to his role as a one-dimensional space-eater rather than a gap-shooter.
DB Coby Tippett: Other undrafted rookies might be on New England’s radar as well, but Tippett was the only reported first-year player to have been invited to participate in the team’s rookie minicamp over the weekend. Tryouts have led to contracts in the past, so Tippett signing a deal is a possibility despite his UDFA status.
Realistically, the Patriots will not dig too deep into their pockets to fill the four open roster spots.
While that might eliminate players such as James Bradberry or Akiem Hicks, it keeps the door open for the most realistic candidates listed above: Dont’a Hightower and Trey Flowers. They are not the same players they were earlier in their careers — when they were key cogs on multiple Super Bowl-winning teams — but bringing them back aboard would raise the floor for the entire team at a relatively moderate cost.
As for the other spots that remain unoccupied as of now, the team might be looking at somebody like Coby Tippett or other rookie free agents. Chances are they will not turn into the next UDFA finds or even make the team, but they would at the very least offer some depth. That’s better than nothing at this time of the year.