Finishing the 2022 season with an 8-9 record and out of the playoffs, the New England Patriots have plenty of work to do to return to postseason contention. One big part of this process will be taking care of their own class of free agents.
Quite a few players are headed for the open market, with a total of 18 players left that were with New England last year in need of a new contract. Among them is interior offensive lineman James Ferentz, who is an unrestricted free agent and is scheduled to hit the open market on March 15.
Name: James Ferentz
Jersey number: 65
Opening day age: 34
Size: 6-foot-2, 300 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? After a five-year college career at the University of Iowa under his father, Kirk, Ferentz joined the NFL in 2014 as an undrafted free agent pickup by the Houston Texans. He spent his entire rookie campaign on the Texans’ practice squad before being claimed off waivers by the Denver Broncos ahead of the 2015 season opener. Over the next two years, Ferentz appeared in 22 games for his new club as a reserve interior offensive lineman — earning a Super Bowl ring along the way.
The Broncos decided to part ways with Ferentz following the 2017 draft, however, paving the way for him to join the Patriots. After spending his first year in New England on the practice squad, Ferentz saw increased action over the next five seasons as a backup option at the center and guard positions. As such, he appeared in a combined 40 regular season and playoff games for the Patriots and earned the first nine starts of his NFL career. He also won another championship, serving as a game-day inactive for Super Bowl LIII.
What did his 2022 season look like? Ferentz ended 2021 on New England’s practice squad, but he was not offered a reserve/futures deal after the season came to an end. Instead, he entered unrestricted free agency right away and remained on the open market for two months. Then, just ahead of the start of the new league year, the Patriots decided to bring the veteran lineman back on another one-year contract. The deal did not guarantee a spot on the roster, but it gave him another opportunity to prove his value to the organization.
And prove his value he did. While Ferentz was unable to make the initial 53-man roster and again started the year on the practice squad, he eventually was promoted ahead of the season opener in Miami. He went on to spend the entire regular season on the Patriots’ active team, and as the top backup along the interior offensive line saw action in 12 of 17 possible games. Along the way, Ferentz was on the field for 269 of a possible 1,052 offensive snaps (25.6%) as well as 39 on special teams (of 457; 8.5%).
Ferentz saw his most prominent action between Weeks 7 and 12 — 93.7 percent of his offensive snaps and all three of his starts came during that span. The reason he was used extensively in those games was starting center David Andrews first suffering a concussion against the Chicago Bears that cost him two games, followed by a thigh injury that kept him out on Thanksgiving against the Minnesota Vikings. As he had through most of his career in New England, Ferentz slid into the starting spot no questions asked.
He did have some encouraging moments, especially in pass protection, but Ferentz was a downgrade from Andrews — a fact that also might have negatively impacted rookie left guard Cole Strange. That said, as far as backup players are concerned he did what he was asked to do, on more occasions than those outlined above. Ferentz also saw some limited action at both guard spots and as a sixth lineman in three games. He also came close to starting at left tackle in Week 13, but Trent Brown was ultimately able to play through the flu.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? Ferentz has signed multiple contracts since arriving in the NFL in 2014 as a rookie free agent. Since arriving in New England alone, he has been part of 17 contractual transactions — either signings, cuts, promotions or renegotiations. Through it all, he was able to manage some solid income: according to Over the Cap, Ferentz has earned $5.05 million over the course of his career.
Which teams might be in the running? Despite his experience, teams will likely not break his doors down in free agency. That said, several clubs have a need along the interior offensive line — a list of teams that includes the Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants, New York Jets, and Seattle Seahawks. Additionally, the Las Vegas Raiders might also take a look at him due to Ferentz’s connection with head coach Josh McDaniels and offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo.
Why should he be expected back? With David Andrews at center and Cole Strange and Michael Onwenu at the two guard spots, the Patriots’ starter level along the interior offensive line is well-set. Behind those three, however, are question marks: Chasen Hines, Kody Russey, Bill Murray and Hayden Howerton are all unproven and therefore quite the opposite of what Ferentz would offer. Additionally, he has shown he can back up all three spots — all at a relatively minor cost.
Why should he be expected to leave? Entering his 10th season in the NFL, Ferentz is what he is: a backup player who will likely not be showing any serious growth at this stage in his career. While there is still value in what he can offer, the Patriots are consistently trying to get better across the board. If they think one or two of Hines, Russey, Murray and Howerton can surpass him on the depth chart in 2023, Ferentz might not be brought back.
What is his projected free agency outcome? The Patriots re-signing Ferentz to another one-year contract near the league minimum — one that might qualify for veteran salary benefit status yet again — would make sense and be mutually beneficial. The team would get an experienced and versatile depth player without giving up any serious assets, who can serve as an emergency blanket of sorts should the young options not develop as planned; the 33-year-old, meanwhile, would stay put for a seventh straight year. That said, Ferentz remaining on the open market through the first few waves of free agency and possibly until after the draft would not be a surprise either.
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