Despite NFL free agency being just under two months away, teams will certainly be starting to identify potential roster fits sooner rather than later. So, what better place to look than the eight teams who will take the field this weekend for the Divisional Round?
Let’s explore a pending free agent from each remaining playoff team who could be on the New England Patriots’ radar come March.
Jaguars: OT Jawaan Taylor: Taylor had his issues in the run game this season but had a career-year protecting Trevor Lawerence in the passing attack. On the year, Jacksonville’s right tackle allowed a pressure on just 2.5 percent of drop backs - the third-lowest mark among all tackles. The 25-year old Taylor could be an affordable option for New England’s right tackle spot next season.
Chiefs RB Jerick McKinnon: While OT Orlando Brown Jr. was an enticing option here, it seems unlikely the Patriots will pay him the top of market deal he is looking for. So, we pivot to running back Jerick McKinnon who had a career-year as the Chiefs pass catching back hauling in nine touchdowns. New England’s offense desperately missed James White in their offense this season and McKinnon could be an option to fill that role if there is any doubt about Ty Montgomery.
Giants S Jordan Love: New England could be involved in the safety market this offseason if Devin McCourty calls it quits and Love could be a name that peaks their interest. Love had a career-year in his first season as a starter and played the majority of his snaps at free safety. He has a similar build to McCourty (5-foot-11, 195 lbs.) and recorded just a 5.3 percent missed tackle rate this season (same as McCourty). Love can be moved around the defense as well and provides special teams ability.
Eagles CB James Bradberry: The Patriots cornerback group was solid throughout 2022 but their lack of size was noticeable. Adding a boundary cornerback with length should be a priority this offseason and that’s exactly what the 6-foot-1 Bradberry brings to the table. After signing a one-year deal with Philly last offseason, the 29-year old will likely have a large market this go around. Bradberry earned second-team All-Pro honors after a season in which he allowed just a 46.0 percent completion percentage - the fourth-best rating among cornerbacks.
Bengals S Jessie Bates III: Speaking of needing a safety, there might not be a better option available than Bates. After a reported low-ball offer from Cincinnati last offseason, Bates played 2022 on the franchise tag and again proved to be one of the best safeties in football. The 6-foot-1 Bates aligns mostly at free safety and is also one of the best run defenders at the position. Signing Bates to a deal in the $10-12 million annual range instead of paying top-of-market value to a lesser cornerback has Patriots written all over it.
Bills LB Tremaine Edmunds: Ja’Whaun Bentley was excellent for New England this season, but if the Patriots continue to increase their zone usage next season they could use better athleticism at the middle linebacker position. Enter Edmunds, who is a freakish athlete that is still only 24 years old. Edmunds took huge strides in his game this season as his PFF 86.9 coverage grade was the third-best mark among off-ball linebackers. He’ll come with a price, but New England could be better off using their money on players like him instead of repeating their 2021 free agency strategy.
Cowboys LB Leighton Vander Esch: If New England chooses not to pony up for a player like Edmunds, Vander Esch could peak their interest on a cheaper contract. Vander Esch reportedly had interest from New England last offseason before returning to Dallas on a one-year contract. Playing on that deal this season, he set career highs in missed tackle rate (6.5 percent) and yards allowed per coverage snap (0.49). Pro Football Focus had the 25-year old as their 10th best coverage linebacker this season.
49ers OT Mike McGlinchey: Signing McGlinchey to handle right tackle duties and adding a young left tackle early in the draft could be the ideal way for the Patriots to remodel their offensive front. McGlinchey (6-foot-8, 310 lbs.) is a mauler who has performed well in Kyle Shanahan’s wide-zone rushing attack. He could be even better next to big Michael Onwenu in New England’s gap scheme. He will be within the Patriots’ price range and could be the perfect fit at right tackle for the foreseeable future.