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#PostPulpit Mailbag: Who will be New England’s biggest free agent addition?

You asked, Brian Hines answered.

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

The NFL offseason is officially ramping up as we quickly jump from the Combine to the start of free agency. With the legal tampering period set to begin Monday, we will soon start to see how New England plans to attack their roster rebuild this offseason.

Let’s get right into this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag with a free agency preview.

@elijahb6_ if McCourty retires who is your ideal replacement at free safety?

@TomeTrosanina Will resigning Jabrill Peppers be Devin McCourty’s “replacement” if he retires? Or will they still look to upgrade the position either in FA or the draft?

One of the next dominos that should fall (relatively soon) for the Patriots offseason is a retirement decision from Devin McCourty. New England should gladly welcome him back as their field general, but will have their work cut out for them if he decides to hang them up.

When looking at their current roster, Adrian Phillips and Kyle Dugger do not fit best in single-high safety roles. Neither does Jabrill Peppers if he is brought back. New England could look to play more two-high looks to better suit the players on their roster, or look elsewhere for their McCourty replacement.

When searching in free agency, Jessie Bates III is the immediate name that stands out. Bates has been one of the best safeties in the league in recent years and is the complete package along the back end. New England could also view paying a top safety, like Bates, as a better finical decision compared to a premiere position such as cornerback.

Another enticing option is Kansas City’s Juan Thornhill who is set to hit unrestricted free agency on Wednesday. The 27 year-old had a strong year for the Chiefs playing primarily in the free safety role, but has some position versatility as well. He has plus size (6-feet, 205 pounds) and instincts at the position that could interest New England.

The free safety role is an extremely position in Bill Belichick’s defense and Devin McCourty has held it down as well as anyone throughout his career. The position will catapult up New England’s needs list if he retires, but there are some talented players available to potentially fill such role.

@PatsFanKev Seems like a deep RB market is both free agency and the draft. How does this impact a potential Damien Harris return? Could it be a cheap contract?

New England has already taken care a trio of their own free agents (Slater, McDermott, Ferentz) but all has been quiet on Damien Harris’ front. As you pointed out, it is a deep running back market in free agency — despite several backs receiving the franchise tag — and the draft.

As for Harris, the 26-year old has become an energetic and growing voice inside New England’s locker room while proving to be an effective runner. But, he has battled injuries in two of the last three seasons and there are many arguments against giving second contracts to running backs.

For the Patriots, it likely comes down to how confident they are in second-year backs Pierre Strong Jr. and Kevin Harris. Both backs showed flashes last year in an extremely limited role, perhaps enough to allow New England to turn over the position to the younger, cheaper options.

In what is a deep all around market, Harris could certainly end up back in New England after testing such market. New England could use the productive runner back behind Rhamondre Stevenson, but have put themselves in a position where they do not have to overcompensate in order to do so.

@PatsSTH1969 Do the Pats spread their Free Agency money around for Value signings or concentrate Big Money on a few needs? My take, one big signing on offense and one on defense. Jawaan Taylor & Tremaine Edmunds.

I view this offseason similar to the one in which they signed Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million deal. They have the money to make a big splash if they choose to do so and would still have plenty of resources to adequately fill out the rest of their roster.

As for such splash, we touched on Jessie Bates III above, but, the offensive tackle position has my eye. There are plenty of talented tackles set to hit the open market and New England certainly needs one.

The Kansas City Chiefs are not expected to franchise tag Orlando Brown, who will immediately become the top left tackle (and tackle overall) on the market. However, I have my concerns about Brown and would be wary of paying him potentially $20+ million annually.

That brings us to the right side where players such as Mike McGlinchey, Kaleb McGary, and Jawaan Taylor are set to hit the open market. McGlinchey has long been a preferred target, but I’ve recently swung slightly away from the 28-year old and instead have been interested in the 25-year old Jawaan Taylor.

Taylor is coming off a career-year for the Jaguars and was one of the best pass blockers in the NFL last season. He has work to do in the ground game, but he allowed pressure on just 2.5 percent of dropbacks last season, the third-lowest mark among tackles in the league. He’ll likely come in slightly under McGlinchey’s AAV and is represented by Drew Rosenhaus — who has a strong relationship with Belichick.

Adding Taylor would allow New England to enter the draft with flexibility at the position. They could still target the position early in hopes of finding their future long-term left tackle. But with Trent Brown still in the mix they could then wait until Day Two and address another need with the 14th overall pick. Any rookie would not be forced to rush onto the scene either with Brown and Taylor (or another free agent decision) on the roster.

The sign-one-draft-one method has been the preferred tactic for awhile, and it still seems like the best way for New England to address the tackle position.

@MMckenzie73 This is one of the best linebacker free agency classes in a long time any chance Bill actually pats for a position that he has long neglected . There’s four stars out there in Okereke, Edmunds, Wagner, and Cunnigham will he go after one?

Another area where New England’s major free agency splash could come from is the linebacker position. While they have Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai set to return next year, they still are lacking new-era athleticism at the position they've been searching for in recent years.

Enter Tremaine Edmunds.

If you want to follow the Stephon Gilmore method, Edmunds is the answer. At just 25 years old, he should reach his peak throughout his next contract and he’s also a former 16th overall pick (Gilmore, 10th overall). Plus, you’d again steal a talented defensive player from the Buffalo Bills.

Plugging in Edmunds next to Bentley and Tavai would create a fantastic trio for New England along the second-level. With Bentley and Tavai plugging holes and coming downhill, Edmunds would be allowed to use his athleticism to attack the football. He was also one of the best off-ball coverage linebackers in the league last year.

Much like the safety position with Jessie Bates, linebacker has taken somewhat of a backseat in terms of premiere positions in the NFL. So, while Edmunds will still receive a hefty payday, perhaps it does not reach the $20 million annual range. If he slots in around the $15 AAV mark, it would make tons of sense for New England.

@TonyZtigr What’s the #1 position the Pats will target in FA, rather than waiting for the draft?

Tackle is still their biggest need, but they could take a backseat in free agency with plenty of talented tackles in the draft. If McCourty retires, I’d say safety is a position they may feel more comfortable filling through free agency rather than the draft. Sticking in the secondary, a veteran cornerback could be in the mix with Jonathan Jones’ future in question. Cornerback is another stacked positional group in this year’s draft, however.

@Skywal1Thaddeus What are your thoughts on Andre Dillard? I think that this would be a typical signing by Belichick. A cheap option who ends up being a steal.

Dillard was an under-the-radar name I was intrigued with when going over the tackles in free agency. Injuries have plagued his career but the former first-round pick is still 28 years old with positional versatility. According to reports, several other teams might be intrigued by him as well which could drive up his price.

If they miss out on the top of market right tackle, adding Dillard and a top-50 rookie would not be a horrible option. But Dillard cannot be their only addition as it would be risky relying on him and Trent Brown next season due to their inconsistent pasts.

@AWash013 The biggest name the Pats sign/trade for? What do you believe their biggest need is?

Tackle is their biggest need. As for biggest addition, I’ll guess it’s Tremaine Edmunds.

@DrewVARN Any interest in resigning Braxton Berrios now that the Jets are done with him?

I’d absolutely be interested in bringing Berrios back. He can provide relatively cheap depth in the slot and potential insurance for Jakobi Meyers, while also assisting in the special teams department. New England wanted to keep him back in 2019, so I would not be surprised if they're also interested in a reunion.

That’s all for this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag. If you have questions you’d liked to be answered next week, submit them on Twitter using #PostPulpit! Make sure to be following @iambrianhines and @PatsPulpit as well!