Finishing the 2022 season with an 8-9 record and out of the playoffs, the New England Patriots have plenty of work to do to return to postseason contention. One big part of this process will be taking care of their own class of free agents.
Quite a few players are headed for the open market, with a total of 19 players left that were with New England last year in need of a new contract. Among them is linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who is an unrestricted free agent and set to hit the open market on Mar. 15.
Name: Raekwon McMillan
Position: Off-the-ball linebacker
Jersey number: 50
Opening day age: 27
Size: 6-foot-2, 240 pounds
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
What is his experience? A former five-star recruit, McMillan spent three years at Ohio State before deciding to take his talents to the NFL. One of the better off-the-ball linebacker prospects in the 2017 draft, he came off the board 54th overall in the second round. However, McMillan ended up spending his entire rookie season with the Miami Dolphins on the sidelines after he tore his ACL in the preseason opener. He returned the following year, though, and immediately made an impact on the team’s defense.
McMillan showed promise as a sophomore, but he failed to reach those levels of play again: he received limited playing time the following season after Miami changed head coaches, and in August 2020 was eventually traded to the Las Vegas Raiders. He played 16 games for his new team — mostly on special teams — before joining the Patriots in 2021; he missed all of his first year with a torn ACL before appearing in 16 contests in 2022. Between his stints in Miami, Las Vegas and New England, McMillan appeared in 61 total games.
What did his 2022 season look like? Even though he was coming off the aforementioned ACL tear suffered early in his first training camp with the Patriots, McMillan entered Year 2 in a position to compete for a starting spot on defense. In training camp, he appeared destined to carve out such a role: he saw extensive opportunities serving as a top-level off-ball linebacker alongside Ja’Whaun Bentley over the summer. Him ultimately being a part of New England’s starting lineup in the season opener in Miami was no surprise.
However, the former second-round draft pick struggled with this heavy workload in his first ever regular season game as a Patriot. This forced the coaching staff to adjust his responsibilities after Week 1, and to turn him into more of a role player on defense and special teams presence. As such, he ended up seeing action in all 16 games while serving mostly in a rotational capacity: McMillan ended up playing 250 of a possible 1,130 snaps on defense (22.1%), while also taking the field for 277 of 457 special teams snaps (60.6%).
Defensively, McMillan had his ups and downs both from a playing-time perspective and when it comes to his performance. After peaking at a 70 percent play-time share on opening day, he never reached more than 35 down the stretch — a reflection of his consistent inconsistency as both a run defender and pass rusher, and the team’s changing opinion of his potential in the system. Overall, McMillan registered 20 tackles in the running game and 12 more against the pass. He also had a sack and two quarterback pressures.
His biggest play of the season happened in Week 14 against the Arizona Cardinals. Safety Kyle Dugger forced a fumble against wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins; McMillan picked up the loose football and returned it 23 yards for his first career touchdown. It was not his only positive contribution to the Patriots defense in 2022 — he also had a fourth-down stop against the Detroit Lions in Week 5 — but all in all, he failed to live up to expectations. McMillan entered the season as a starter, but was demoted rather quickly.
While he was used unevenly on defense, McMillan did see regular opportunities in the kicking game as a five-unit special teamer: he was used on the punt return and coverage team, the kickoff return and coverage team, and the field goal/extra point blocking unit. He finished with three tackles on the coverage squads, but was also on the field for one of the three kick return touchdowns the Patriots surrendered on the year (Week 18 in Buffalo). On the whole, though, his year as a special teamer was better than his year as a defender.
Free agency preview
What is his contract history? When McMillan joined the league as a second-round draft pick in 2017, he signed a standard four-year contract worth $4.7 million. The deal covered his stints in Miami and Las Vegas, after which he signed two separate contracts with the Patriots: a one-year, $1.15 million pact in 2021 that was renegotiated into a two-year $2.17 million deal not long after he tore his ACL. Per Over the Cap, McMillan has earned $6.5 million over the course of his career.
Which teams might be in the running? McMillan likely will not generate an overly active market given his career so far and inconsistent 2022 campaign, but his status as a former Day 2 draft pick might still prompt some teams to make a move. The Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Houston Texans and Minnesota Vikings might be among them.
Why should he be expected back? Despite his 2022 season being an uneven one, McMillan might still have value to the Patriots due to his experience as an off-the-ball linebacker and five-unit special teamer. He may never develop into the starting-caliber player he was envisioned to be last summer, but he can still have value as a rotational depth piece — one that might look better a whole season removed from a significant injury.
Why should he be expected to leave? Six years into his career, McMillan has not shown that the can live up to his draft label on a consistent basis. The Patriots saw just that in 2022, and in turn might turn to higher-upside options in hopes of upgrading their linebacker depth chart behind projected starters Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai.
What is his projected free agency outcome? McMillan returning on a cost-effective deal is obviously an option, but the subjective projection is that he will not return. His position on the depth chart as a rotational linebacker and special teamer can be filled differently.
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