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Patriots 2023 offseason preview: New England faces questions at cornerback

Our position-by-position offseason analysis continues at cornerback.

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Cincinnati Bengals v New England Patriots Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images

Two teams are left standing in the NFL playoffs, but the New England Patriots are not among them. Finishing the regular season with an 8-9 record, they failed to qualify for the tournament and are already on to the offseason.

It projects to be an interesting one for the team. On the one hand, it is coming off a disappointing year that saw especially the offense fall short of its expectations — a fact that has already led to some changes on the coaching staff. On the other hand, however, the Patriots are among the league leaders in offseason resources and already have plenty of young building-block-type players under contract.

With all that in mind, let’s break down where the Patriots stand at this point in time by looking at each position individually. Today, we continue things at cornerback.

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Offensive tackle | Interior offensive line | Interior defensive line | Defensive edge | Off-the-ball linebacker | Cornerback | Safety | Special teams

Final 2022 depth chart

Jonathan Jones: After spending a majority of his first six years in the NFL as a slot cornerback, the Patriots moves Jones to the outside in 2022. He did have some ups and downs but generally handled himself well in a CB1-like role. Appearing in 16 games, he surrendered 47 catches on 87 targets for 547 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions (per Pro Football Focus). Jones also scored a pick-six and forced three fumbles.

Jalen Mills: Mills’ second season with the Patriots was a challenging one. While he did look good when on the field — opposing passers went 27-for-45 for 333 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions when targeting him — staying there was a problem. The Patriots’ nominal CB2 missed one game with a hamstring issue and the final six of the season with a nagging groin injury.

Jack Jones (IR/S): One of New England’s fourth-round picks in the 2022 draft, Jones had an encouraging rookie campaign before suffering a season-ending knee injury in December. The youngster allowed 20 catches on 39 targets for 306 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions — one of them returned for a touchdown. Jones also forced and recovered one fumble each. However, his year ended in controversy when he was suspended while on injured reserve.

Marcus Jones: A third-round pick by the Patriots in 2022, Jones proved himself one of the most unique weapons in the NFL today. Not only was he named an All-Pro punt returner, he also contributed on offense. His biggest role, at least as far as total snaps are concerned, came on defense: playing both outside and in the slot, Jones gave up 24 catches on 37 passes thrown his way for 365 yards, one touchdown, and two picks; he also recovered a fumble. One of his interceptions was returned for a score, giving him one TD in each of the game’s three phases.

Myles Bryant: With Jonathan Jones moving to the outside, Bryant served as New England’s top slot cornerback for much of the season. As such, he saw action in all 17 games and played some up-and-down football. He did notch an interception and fumble recovery, but he also gave up catches on 72.3 percent of his targets (47 of 65) as well as three touchdowns.

Tae Hayes: A career-journeyman, Hayes joined the Patriots practice squad in late December. He was promoted to the 53-man roster a short time later, ending the season with two in-game appearances and 32 total snaps. Hayes surrendered two catches for 15 yards on three targets.

Shaun Wade: Expectations were moderately high for the 2021 fifth-round pick after training camp, but he failed to meet them. Wade played just 18 defensive snaps all year, and by the end of the season was a healthy scratch with even recent pickup Tae Hayes playing over him.

Quandre Mosely (PS): A rookie free agent, Mosely arrived via the practice squad in early December. He ended up seeing action in one game, playing a solitary defensive snap and not registering any statistics.

Joejuan Williams (IR): Williams’ career with the Patriots has been mostly a disappointment, and 2022 was no exception. The former second-round draft pick was moved to season-ending injured reserve in August because of a shoulder issue.

Position assessment

The Patriots have to be pretty happy about the production they received out of their rookies, Jack and Marcus Jones. However, this is still a position that has a ton of questions heading into the offseason.

Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant are free agents, and they need to make decision on both; Jalen Mills has had trouble staying healthy, and they might question whether or not he’s a guy they want to move forward with; Shaun Wade has proven that he can’t be trusted out there. All the other guys under contract are unproven in the New England defense.

Offseason preview

The Patriots might need to address the cornerback position early and often this offseason. First, they need to make a decision on their free agents, primarily Jonathan Jones. Him coming back makes some sense, but if he wants to be paid like a true No. 1 outside corner — something he is not — the team would likely be willing to move on. For the right price, though, he is a good piece for them to have moving forward.

The free agent market as a whole is not great, even though they might be able to acquire a veteran cornerback via trade if the Patriots so choose.

As far as the draft, there is no certainty the Patriots are going to be able to get an elite prospect at No. 14. They should certainly try, or they could attempt to do what the Seattle Seahawks did with Tariq Woolen: take a chance on a freak athlete late and see what he has to offer.

Whatever route they go, they need to devote some assets to the position this offseason to ensure its long-term stability and quality.

With that said, here is what the Patriots’ cornerback group currently looks like:

  • Jalen Mills: $6.21 million salary cap hit | Signed through 2024
  • Jack Jones: $1.06 million salary cap hit | Signed through 2025
  • Marcus Jones: $1.18 million salary cap hit | Signed through 2025
  • Tae Hayes: $1.01 million salary cap hit | Signed through 2023
  • Shaun Wade: $940,000 salary cap hit | Signed through 2024
  • Quandre Mosely: $750,000 salary cap hit | Signed through 2023

Additionally, one outside player has been signed to a futures contract since the end of the season:

  • Rodney Randle: $750,000 salary cap hit | Signed through 2023

The group also has a few free agents:

  • Myles Bryant: Restricted free agent
  • Jonathan Jones: Unrestricted free agent
  • Joejuan Williams: Unrestricted free agent

Level of concern: High