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#PostPulpit Mailbag: Is it time to panic about New England’s free agency approach?

You asked, Brian Hines answered.

New England Patriots v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The NFL new year has begun and free agency is in full swing. As for the New England Patriots, they've gotten off to a relatively quiet start to the new year, but it may be for the best.

Let’s dive into what’s happened and what may be on the radar in this week’s #PostPulpit mailbag.

@Swirtzy Tf going on? Or maybe the question should be why is NOTHING going on?

OK, let’s get this out of the way before we dive into some of New England’s moves. I get a slow start to free agency can be frustrating, especially as some division rivals make splash moves. But as soon-to-be-Patriots rival Aaron Rodgers once said, everyone R-E-L-A-X.

It’s March 17 (Happy St. Paddy’s day), nobody is playing any games anytime soon. You don't win the Super Bowl in March or in free agency. While dishing out records amount of cash was exciting back in the ‘21 offseason, look how that turned out.

New England’s approach has been wise to start the new league year. They are adding important depth and veteran value across the roster which is the best way to attack free agency. As the draft rolls around, New England won't be backed into needing one position at 14 (like a guard last year) and can pick the best player on the board.

At wide receiver, I get we all want the splash move on top of JuJu Smith-Schuster, which again should happen. They are having those conversations about acquiring one down at Gillette. But, the market is slowly moving at the position. DeAndre Hopkins is still in Arizona. Jerry Jeudy is still in Denver. Odell Beckham Jr. is still a free agent. No need to freak out yet.

If things look the same after the draft, that is when we can all start to worry and question their path. But, we are just a handful of days into this things. Let’s give them some time to try and execute their plan.

@xboxusage How do you feel about Juju?

@J_bird7620 Wyd we pay juju and not myers

I am a big fan of the JuJu signing for New England. I don't really care about his TikToks or anything off the field or the fact that we lost Jakobi Meyers who was a ‘great locker room presence’ (which he was) or Mac Jones’ ‘binky’. We’ve been clamoring for years that the Patriots need to get more dynamic/explosive at the position and that’s what this move does.

JuJu projects to fill the void left by Meyers as a big slot option that can work the middle of the field in Bill O’Brien’s offense. He has many of the same traits as Jakobi, but what will help the offense is what happens once he gets the ball.

Last season, JSS averaged 5.9 yards per reception after the catch and forced nine missed tackles as a ball carrier last season. As for Meyers, he averaged just 3.6 yards after the catch and forced two missed tackles (stats via PFF). The extra YAC ability will be a big boost for Mac Jones and this offense, which is likely why they preferred him over Jakobi.

@jasonbr17919299 do we know the cap hit from juju this year? and an updated overall cap for pats after all moves?

Another thing to love about signing Smith-Schuster is the actual contract. While it was originally reported as a three-year, $33 million deal, it only includes $16 million in guarantees which is less than what Meyers received from Las Vegas ($21M).

As for a cap hit, he will count for roughly $4.67 million on New England’s books this season.

It’s a surprisingly reasonable deal for one of the top available free agents and is team-friendly for New England as he must perform to get more cash.

@SinatraLi You think we still get another wr ?

@LennoxProd_ Do you think we are getting another WR(A top tier one)

@VanDerLine1287 Do you think we are done adding WR through free agency?

The question everyone wants to know.

The way New England paid Smith-Schuster suggests they view him as a WR2. I believe their ‘Plan A’ is to add another top weapon to the mix, which unless it’s Odell Beckham Jr., would likely come through a trade due to the barren free agent market.

As for some trade options...

@ahssnowtracker Is there still a possibility for D hop?

@PatsFanBen Who should the Patriots trade for, Jerry Jeudy or Jerry Jeudy?

The top two reported names on the trade block as of now are DeAndre Hopkins and Jerry Jeudy. While DHop’s talent makes him an obvious upgrade, I now question Jeudy’s fit in New England with JuJu in the fold. They could certainly make the duo work and create some mismatches, but it’s worth wondering if New England is less likely to give up premium assets and a new contract with the partial overlap in their skillsets.

As JuJu projects in the slot, New England might benefit more from adding a vertical receiver outside who has speed to clear out/open up the middle of the field. While Tyquan Thornton could be that player in an ideal world, they may not want to consistently count on him in a premiere role in year two.

Looking at players who would fit that role, an old friend came to mind. Texans’ Brandin Cooks has the speed and boundary experience to fit that role and is available for trade. He also would be a cheaper option than potentially dealing a top-50 pick for Jeudy or Hopkins.

The biggest hold up here is New England’s history suggests they would rather not have to use draft capital AND salary cap space to acquire such player, which is way they may lean on just paying OBJ or perhaps drafting someone like Zay Flowers to fill such role.

@ObieZach DJ Chark?

Pass. They need to aim higher (and I believe they are).

@IAmDjole Think there’s a chance we sign Dalton Schultz?

Another interesting option to acquire a top pass catcher is getting one of the top tight ends available. Schultz and Mike Gesicki top that list. Despite some social media rumblings regarding Gesicki, Shultz would be my preferred target if they go this route. He’d be that true Y who can block and make plays through the air that they have not had recently.

It’s an interesting option, but I would prefer going younger and cheaper at the position and dipping into this year’s tight end draft class — which is considered one of the best in years — and adding a cheaper, reliable veteran to be an immediate backup to Hunter Henry.

@kirb410 Chances Harris is back? Day 2 no signing has got to increase the odds.

I would say extremely slim. If a retweet of former Lions players bashing the “Patriot Way” from Harris didn't signal his time coming to an end, New England signing James Robinson to a two-year deal Wednesday night likely did.

As for Robinson, it’s a move that doesn’t really move the needle for me. Contracts are always risky for running backs coming off a recent Achilles tear. Maybe he is able to rekindle some of his rookie year magic (where he ran for over 1,000 yards), but I would prefer New England giving Pierre Strong Jr. all the opportunities to backup Rhamondre Stevenson. Strong impressed as a runner in real limited work last year and has legit home run speed that this team desperately needs.

@Skywal1Thaddeus With it looking like the Pats are upgrading the offensive firepower in the free agency, what are the odds the Pats use their 1st round pick on a OT?

As we discussed above, the Patriots have filled out their roster so they do not need to target one specific position in the first round. They also paid Riley Reiff as a starting tackle.

But, they still do not have a long term answer at tackle as Trent Brown (who still could end up as a cap casualty) and Reiff are on one-year deals. It would still be a position I would target with one of their earlier picks, but they do not need to ‘sharpie’ OT into pick 14.

@thechris104 What will have to happen this season for the Pats to move on from Mac?

He needs to play better than he did his rookie season and hear me out: win at least one (preferably more) game where the opposition scores over 25 points

@ForbesSumner Let’s talk taxes! Do you think that MA’s new millionaire tax will make it hard(er) to lure some FAs? No Brady, bad weather, and some of the highest taxes could force the Pats to offer more than rivals. Yea or nay?

Players certainly take taxes into account when signing contracts. Buffalo’s Jordan Poyer made it clear he wanted to go somewhere that “doesn’t take half [his] money” but eventually returned to the Bills. So yes, I would say it has the potential to make a small impact.

@Murreth_ How long until Bill cuts Juju for the stupid shit he posts on social media?

Can we please stop talking about this? They obviously are aware of his social media presence and would not have signed him if they were uncomfortable with it. I look forward to JuJu’s play on the field but also the new attitude and energy he’ll bring to the locker room.

@BillDavid44 $500 on Red, Black, or 00?

Let’s go Patriots’ Red. I except a share of the winnings.

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!