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NFL free agency 2023: What re-signing linebacker Mack Wilson means for the Patriots

Wilson will return on a new one-year contract.

Detroit Lions v New England Patriots Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

The New England Patriots have re-signed another member of their free agency class. Mack Wilson, who appeared in all 17 games last season as a linebacker and special teamer, will return to the team on a new one-year reportedly contract worth up to $2.2 million.

What exactly does the move mean from a Patriots perspective, though? Let’s find out.

The Patriots keep an experienced player on the cheap. Wilson originally entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2019. While he did not play out his rookie contract with the organization, and was traded to New England last offseason, he has seen a lot of football in both of his stops in the league.

While experience alone does not make a good football player, it should help Wilson entering his second season in New England: he now has one year in the system under his belt, better knowledge of the playbook and built a chemistry with his teammates. He will likely not make a massive leap in Year 5 as a pro, but improvement compared to what was ultimately an up-and-down 2022 campaign is certainly in the realm of possibility.

New England’s linebacker corps will stay intact. With Wilson locked up for another season, and with fellow off-the-ball linebacker Raekwon McMillan himself returning on a one-year deal, the Patriots have kept the entire 2022 position group in place. The two now-former free agents are being joined on the roster by projected starters Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai, as well as backups Terez Hall, Calvin Munson and Olakunle Fatukasi.

The only player out of the seven not with the team in some capacity last year is Fatukasi. He spent his 2022 rookie season in Tampa and Denver before arriving in New England via a reserve/futures pact in January.

Linebacker remains a position to watch. Despite the Patriots’ stability at the linebacker position, it is no stretch of the imagination to project the team making additional moves. The long-term future, after all, remains a question when looking at the current contract statuses of players signed:

  • Ja’Whaun Bentley: 26 | Signed through 2023
  • Jahlani Tavai: 26 | Signed through 2024
  • Raekwon McMillan: 27 | Signed through 2023
  • Mack Wilson Sr.: 25 | Signed through 2023
  • Calvin Munson: 28 | Signed through 2023
  • Terez Hall: 26 | Signed through 2023
  • Olakunle Fatukasi: 23 | Signed through 2023

As can be seen, only Tavai is under contract beyond 2023. While Bentley appears to be a candidate for another medium-term contract extension, possibly adding two more years to his current pact and bringing his $5.1 million salary cap number down a bit, it is clear the group would benefit from an infusion of young talent.

Free agency offers limited options at this point in time, which means that New England might look toward the draft. While there is no top-tier talent available, some of the better options include Clemson’s Trenton Simpson, Arkansas’ Drew Sanders, and Alabama’s Henry To’o To’o. All are projected to come off the board early on Day 2.

The top 14 special teamers are all under contract for 2022. Wilson ended the 2022 season with 284 special teams snaps (of 457; 62.1%), good enough for fifth on the team. In fact, with him staying put the Patriots are now returning their top 14 kicking game contributors in terms of snaps played. The first not in that category? Long snapper Joe Cardona, who ranked 15th and remains unsigned as of now.

As for Wilson, he appeared on the kickoff coverage and return team as well as the punt coverage and return team. He finished the season with 10 tackles — third most on the team — but was also credited with two missed tackle attempts (an issue for him on defense as well).

Wilson is the 10th free agent to stay put. The Patriots entered the offseason with 21 players either scheduled for unrestricted or restricted free agency. 12 of those 21, already know their fate for 2023: Wilson is one of 10 to either be re-signed directly or tendered, joining fellow linebacker Raekwon McMillan as well as offensive linemen Yodny Cajuste, James Ferentz and Conor McDermott, defensive tackle Carl Davis, defensive backs Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant and Jabrill Peppers, and special teamer Matthew Slater.

Meanwhile, wide receiver Jakobi Meyers signed a deal with the Las Vegas Raiders and safety Devin McCourty retired.