Coming off a disappointing 8-9 season in which they failed to reach the playoffs, the New England Patriots will have their first real chance to improve their roster as NFL free agency kicks off this week.
New England will enter the legal tampering period on Monday with plenty of resources — 10 draft picks and over $30 million in cap space — at their disposal. They need all of the assets they can get as many of their roster holes are at premium positions in the league.
With that said, let’s take a look at those holes and what positions New England should prioritize filling this offseason.
1. Offensive tackle
- Under contract: Trent Brown, Connor McDermott, Andrew Stueber
- Free agents: Isaiah Wynn, Yodny Cajuste (RFA), Marcus Cannon
- Potential free agency targets: Orlando Brown Jr., Mike McGlinchey, Jawaan Taylor, Kaleb McGary | Read more
The biggest need on New England’s roster currently resides at offensive tackle. A game of musical chairs at right tackle last season went hand-in-hand with a high blown block rate and plenty of penalties. With the pocket passer Mac Jones under center, New England needs better play from their tackles.
Lucky for the Patriots, there are plenty of talented tackles available to them in free agency and eventually the draft. If they plan to fill the position through free agency, they likely will target the right side as players like Mike McGlinchey, Jawaan Taylor, and Kaleb McGary are available.
New England could also completely overhaul the position by moving on from Trent Brown, who has one-year remaining on his contract. While Brown was serviceable last season, releasing the 29-year-old would free up $7.25 million. Signing and drafting a tackle would then certainly be on the table.
However they decided to upgrade the position, the Patriots should, and will have to, use high-end assists — whether it be money or a high draft selection — to do so.
2. Free safety
- Under contract: Brad Hawkins
- Free agents: N/A
- Potential free agency targets: Jessie Bates III, Jordan Poyer, Duron Harmon, Julian Love, Kareem Jackson, Juan Thornhill | Read more
Following Devin McCourty’s retirement, New England has a major hole to fill in the backend of their secondary. McCourty’s reliability and knowledge of the system is impossible to replace, but the Patriots have options on how to try and move forward.
One method would be to replace McCourty with a veteran in free agency. If the Patriots are looking to make a splash, Cincinnati’s Jessie Bates III is a name that should be on their radar. Bates has been one of the best safeties in football over the past few years and would be as good as a replacement as possible.
If they choose not to pay top of the market for Bates, Kansas City’s Juan Thornhill is another intriguing free agent target. Drafting a rookie and pairing them with former pal Duron Harmon could be another potential path.
3. Wide receiver
- Under contract: DeVante Parker, Tyquan Thornton, Kendrick Bourne, Tre Nixon, Lynn Bowden Jr.
- Free agents: Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor
- Potential free agency targets: Olamide Zaccheaus, Darius Slayton, Parris Campbell, Richie James, Allen Lazard | Read more
Jakobi Meyers’ time in New England could be coming to an end as the receiver is set to hit unrestricted free agency this week. In a relatively weak free agent class, Meyers could have plenty of suitors and ultimately price himself out of returning to Foxboro.
As for the Patriots, they continue to search for a true difference maker at the position. Unfortunately for them, that No. 1 option is not on the free agent market and the draft class is weaker than years past at the position. New England could look to retain Meyers on a modest deal, but exploring the trade market would be the best method to instantly upgrade the position.
- Under contract: Jalen Mills, Marcus Jones, Jack Jones, Quandre Mosely, Shaun Wade
- Free agents: Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant (RFA), Joejuan Williams
- Potential free agency targets: Jamel Dean, James Bradberry, Rock Ya-Sin, Cameron Sutton, Patrick Peterson | Read more
New England’s defense continued to uptick their usage of zone last season, partly because of their personnel in the secondary. With Jalen Mills missing significant time last year the Patriots were forced to rely on a combination of Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, and Myles Bryant along the boundary. Lacking size and premiere man coverage talent, opposing teams were able to pick on New England’s corners.
The Patriots should do their best to retain Jonathan Jones while also adding more size at the position. This would allow Jones to do what he does best — sticking with speedsters and better matchups. New England could add a veteran at along the boundary through free agency, but may be best waiting until the draft — which is loaded with big, athletic outside corners.
- Under contact: Nick Folk, Tucker Addington
- Free agents: Michael Palardy, Joe Cardona
- Potential free agency targets: Tommy Townsend, Riley Dixon, Thomas Morstead
The Patriots have work to do in the specialists department this offseason.
It was a bad 2022 for punters Jake Bailey and Michael Palardy, who ranked at the bottom of the league in multiple statistics. Palardy will likely not return while New England cut Bailey, who has a grievance filed against the team, on Friday. Kansas City’s Tommy Townsend is one of the top punters in the league and is the free agent market if New England wants to dish out another pricey contract at the position.
Long-time long snapper Joe Cardona is healthy after missing the end of last season, but is set to hit the free agent market. It’s tough to see them moving on, but New England gave Tucker Addington a multi-year deal last season when Cardona was placed on injured reserve — potentially signally a changing of the guard.
6. Running back
- Under contract: Rhamondre Stevenson, Pierre Strong Jr., Kevin Harris, Ty Montgomery, J.J. Taylor
- Free agents: Damien Harris
- Potential free agency targets: Devin Singletary, Jerick McKinnon, Samaje Perine, Leonard Fournette, D’Onta Foreman | Read more
New England’s offense clearly lacked a true third-down receiving back last season. While Rhamondre Stevenson took a step forward in the passing game, he’s not an extremely quick separator and often had timing issues with Mac Jones last season.
The hope is that the team believes in Ty Montgomery or Pierre Strong Jr. to fill that role in their second seasons with the team. But, New England could look to add a third-down back in free agency if they believe another veteran would give them better production.
7. Defensive edge
- Under contract: Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Ronnie Perkins
- Free agents: N/A
- Potential free agency targets: Anthony Nelson, Andrew Van Ginkel, Clelin Ferrell, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo | Read more
After ranking near the top of the league in sacks last season, EDGE does not seem like a major need on New England’s roster. However, Matthew Judon will be 31 next season and is entering the back half of his four-year deal while Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings are on the final year of their rookie contracts. As it’s a position the Patriots could start planning for the future at, they might opt to wait until the draft.
8. Tight End
- Under contract: Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Scotty Washington, Matt Sokol
- Free agents: N/A
- Potential free agency targets: Irv Smith Jr., Jordan Akins, Pharaoh Brown, Trevon Wesco | Read more
Double-dipping at the tight end position in 2021 free agency hasn't exactly been the best investment for the Patriots. With Hunter Henry entering the final year of his three-year contract and Jonnu Smith likely being an eventual cap casualty this offseason or next, New England may need to add at the position.
The tight end free agent market is rather weak, so it may be best to see if new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien can get more production out of the Smith/Henry duo. However, this year’s tight end draft class is considered one of the best in years. Adding a younger player in April — or perhaps a TE/FB hybrid — who the team can groom and count on for depth purposes is likely the best course of action.
- Under contract: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Raekwon McMillan, Terez Hall, Calvin Munson, Olakunle Fatukasi
- Free agents: Mack Wilson Sr.
- Potential free agency targets: Tremaine Edmunds, T.J. Edwards, Leighton Vander Esch, Germaine Pratt | Read more
One of New England’s latest offseason moves was re-upping athletic linebacker Raekwon McMillan to a new contract. But, adding even more athleticism at the position could be a worthwhile addition — especially if they continue to uptick their usage of zone defense.
While the team rightfully has reasons to like Bentley and Tavai, they do not possess elite sideline-to-sideline ability. In a relatively weak linebacker draft class, the Patriots may search for that athleticism in free agency. Tremaine Edmunds will be pricey, but fits that bill and is someone who seems like Belichick would be interested in.
10. Everything Else
- Other free agents: Jabrill Peppers, Carl Davis Jr., Daniel Ekuale
The Patriots should do their best to bring back Jabrill Peppers who continued to get better for them as the year went on. Same goes for Ekuale, who was strong in his role as a situational interior pass rusher.
After releasing veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer, New England will likely add a third quarterback to pair with Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe at some point this offseason. While they could look to add another experienced veteran in free agency, the belief here is drafting one to add to the pipeline would be the best course of action.