After a record-setting offseason a year ago, the Patriots are in a much different spot heading into this free agency period.
According to cap wizard Miguel Benzan, Bill Belichick currently has roughly $10 million in cap space to play with when free agency opens unofficially on March 14 and then officially on March 16 at 4 pm ET.
New England could create more cap space by extending players or borrowing from future seasons, but the league-wide expectation is that the Pats won’t be in on the top free-agents set to hit the market.
Instead, the Patriots will focus on retaining their own free agents and search for value signings or buy-low candidates in the lower financial brackets.
Along those lines, star corner J.C. Jackson has priced himself out of New England at this stage. According to a source close to Jackson, contract talks with the Patriots were “never close” heading into free agency.
Although the Patriots’ current financial state is dictating their plans, there’s one exception they might make to upgrade their roster.
Multiple league sources tell CLNS Media that the Patriots are seriously seeking upgrades at wide receiver via the veteran market in an effort to acquire a true number one weapon and could then look to move Nelson Agholor if the right opportunity presents itself. Sources also indicate the Patriots have made calls on wide receivers at lower levels of the market as well.
New England would create nearly $10 million in cap space by trading Agholor, who doesn’t have much trade value but could still be moved for a small return, opening his cap hold on their ledger for a fresh face.
Initially, the Patriots entered the sweepstakes for Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley before news came to light that Ridley would be suspended for the entire 2022 season, but were out-bid by the Philadelphia Eagles armed with three first-round picks before Atlanta pulled out of the deal due to the suspension.
New England could also make a run at Allen Robinson, who they were prepared to chase last offseason before the Bears franchise tagged him. The 28-year-old Robinson is projected to receive a three-year deal worth $15 million per season as an unrestricted free agent, which is doable for the Patriots who typically backload contracts (example: Hunter Henry had a cap hit of $6.8M in 2021 on a three-year, $37.5M deal).
According to a league source, the Patriots have also expressed interest in adding wide receiver and return specialist Jakeem Grant to the fold in an effort to add more speed offensively. Other names floated as potential options for New England were Carolina’s Robby Anderson (as first reported by BSJ’s Greg Bedard), Packers restricted free-agent Allen Lazard, D.J. Chark, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
The Patriots feel they’re not far away offensively, with nine of 11 starters projected to return and G/T Mike Onwenu taking a starting spot on the offensive line.
New England is hopeful that Kendrick Bourne will reach another level in year two with the team, while Jakobi Meyers is expected back on a one-year restricted free agent tender, and James White wants to return. Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and running back duo Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson round out a solid foundation.
Then, there’s an anticipated year-two leap for quarterback Mac Jones bringing it all together.
Truly, the last piece of the puzzle is a wide receiver at the top of the depth chart. By acquiring a veteran wideout, Belichick can then turn his attention to reloading defensively in a highly-touted 2022 draft class.
As always, the market will dictate if a move comes to fruition for the Patriots. But make no mistake about it; the goal this offseason is to find Mac Jones a true number one weapon.
Without further ado, let’s empty the mailbag filled with your free-agency related questions:
— Give us back the pick ☘️ 🥁🦑🐸🧲 🇺🇸🦅 🌐 🌹🇺🇦 (@RBostonfan) March 9, 2022
Cooper would be a great fit from a stylistic perspective, but he wasn’t included above for a reason. Dallas is getting trade offers for Cooper, who has a $20 million base salary in 2022. If he isn’t dealt and is released to free agency, then he becomes the top wide receiver on the free-agent market. Davante Adams (franchise tag), Chris Goodwin (franchise tag), and Mike Williams (extension) didn’t make it to free agency. Cooper will be the top dog. Do I think the Patriots will monitor his market? Yes. Ultimately, he’s going to price himself out of New England on a contract worth $18-plus million per season.
Would Leighton Vander Esch make sense for this defense?
— Kevin Adams (@smadak0328) March 9, 2022
The draft is filled with so many talented off-ball linebackers. However, per a league source, the Patriots have shown preliminary interest in Vander Esch. At 6-4, 256 pounds, Vander Esch was an athletic specimen in the 2018 draft, and we had him as a top Pats fit back then (as did they). He fits the Pats’ size thresholds, is a much better athlete than Hightower at this stage or Ja’Whaun Bentley, and fits the mold of a former first-round pick who didn’t exactly pan out at his first stop. Despite an iffy injury history, Belichick loves to buy low on players like Vander Esch. Vander Esch went 19th overall in the 2018 draft, and who knows what would’ve happened if he fell to the Pats’ first selection at 23, where they took Isaiah Wynn.
— Daniel Rotman (@daniel_rotman15) March 9, 2022
To everyone on the Chandler Jones reunion tour: you have the wrong former Patriot defensive end. After his release from the Lions, Flowers, who signed a five-year, $90 million deal to play for Matt Patricia in Detroit, could return to New England. The Pats need another playmaker on the line of scrimmage to play their brand of football, and Flowers does just that.
— Kyle (@HvacKF) March 9, 2022
On the one hand, Wagner can still play and would be good in any defense. But on the other hand, he’s 31 years old and played his entire career in the Seattle-3 system that doesn’t overlap much with New England’s scheme. Nobody would say no to adding a generational talent like Wagner, who truly changed how the NFL views the MIKE position from an athletic profile standpoint. Still, my sense is the Pats are going younger at linebacker. I would expect Wagner to end up in a similar system with the 49ers or Cowboys.
Tyler Lockett? Love the contract, still playing at a solid level. Does he fit that X receiver you think we need? What is his potential value if so?
— Jack Tweeddale (@jack_tweeddale) March 9, 2022
Lockett would certainly fit financially and in a speed/route-running mold if Seattle goes full fire sale. However, he’s not a true X. Lockett is a Z receiver who splits time on the inside and outside. He’s most effective working deeper crossing routes from slot alignments. Could he play the X at times? Sure. But it’s not his ideal usage because it inhibits his speed due to lacking size against press coverage. I like Lockett as a player, though, and it could come down to a talent grab where they figure out roles later. Initial projections suggest that Seattle would want a second-round pick for Lockett.
I know the 💰 will be substantial ($14-$15mil AAV) but a name no one seems to be discussing pertaining to the Pats is Tyrann Mathieu. Entering FA at age 29/30 could you see him as a potential target to replace D-Mac for the next 4-5 seasons?
— Pats Chatter 24/7 (@pats_chatter247) March 9, 2022
The Honey Badger is a great football player with a tremendous gift for taking away the football, but why? The allocation of resources to pay a safety at the top of the market with far more pressing needs doesn’t make sense. He’d be a luxury item, and the Pats aren’t in a position to make those moves.
— Ben Sousa (@BenSousa19) March 9, 2022
There’s mutual interest for Brown to return to New England. He loves playing here and has played well in a Patriots uniform. However, this could come down to where their money is best spent. If Belichick feels confident with Onwenu at right tackle, re-signing Ted Karras to play left guard is a much cheaper option than bringing back Brown on starting tackle money.
James Bradberry via trade
— Brandon DeFreitas (@FreighttrainFFL) March 9, 2022
I could see this trade happening for the Patriots. Bradberry is a solid outside corner who can play man or zone and has decent ball skills. He showed out during joint practices with the Pats last summer and played for Joe Judge in New York, so they have intel. He’s an underrated player. Plus, Bradberry is due $13.5 million in cash on an expiring contract. It’s a cheaper option than J.C. Jackson, while it buys the Pats a bridge year to develop a younger corner. With the Giants dumping salary, one league source believes the Pats could get Bradberry for a fourth-round pick. But I would categorize a move for a pricey veteran corner as less likely than a wide receiver addition.
Donte Jackson is getting a lot less attention than I thought he would, I feel like he would be a great band-aid at outside corner with plenty of upside
— Ƭíօ 🏄♂️ (@jad0t) March 9, 2022
I’m not a big Donte Jackson guy. There’s some upside there with above-average athletic traits. But he’s never had a good feel for man coverage and gambles a lot in zone. It’s not quite the failed first-rounder route with Jackson going 55th overall in the 2018 draft, but that might be the only angle that suggests the Pats could take a flier on the upside.
How about some vet CB that they could add. Even on 1 year deals?
Peterson, Harris, Fuller etc
— Steve Femia (@NFLDraftGuru315) March 9, 2022
I’ll give you a few cheaper options at corner and one’s I don’t see as scheme fits or worth it at this stage of their careers:
Good fits – Darious Williams (played in the Staley zone-heavy scheme with Rams, but think he could play in any defense), Steven Nelson (scrappy, physical corner), Ahkello Witherspoon (still young and had solid tape over the last two seasons).
Not so good fits – Kyle Fuller (not the same guy), Casey Hayward (one of the better CBs of this era, but will be 33 years old and is a zone corner), Patrick Peterson (lost a couple of steps at this stage), Bryce Callahan and Chris Harris (don’t need more slot corners).
Who would be a good true NT that’s out there?
— Dave (@ChefdDds89) March 9, 2022
Although the draft is loaded with defensive line talent, I had a tough time finding the sweet spot for the Patriots to select an impact IDL in the first two days. Most of them will be gone by the second round or early third, which means you need to bypass corner, linebacker, or wide receiver to make it happen. Knowing the Pats, they’ll probably ignore receiver. Anyways, there are actually some good options for a true nose tackle in free agency. B.J. Hill, Linval Joseph, Sebastian Joseph-Day, DaQuan Jones, D.J. Jones, and Folorunso Fatukasi are all players who could play either the shade (in the A Gap) or over the center. The upside is better in the draft, but they can’t leave all of their needs up to the draft with only six selections currently.
— joey sports (@BostonTakes34) March 9, 2022
My answer is always a resounding yes to a reunion with Akiem Hicks. The Pats didn’t want Hicks to walk in 2015 when Bill Belichick called him personally to convince him to stay. It didn’t work, but Hicks is a speed-to-power end who was a terrific fit in New England’s scheme. He still plays the five or three-technique at a very high level. I would love to see him back.
— L A R R R Y H O O V E R (@misstheman15) March 9, 2022
If the Patriots want to get a younger receiving back, Edmonds has a lot of James White in his game. He’s well-versed in catching passes out of the backfield, is a good lateral mover in space to elude tackles, and is a solid screen back as well. He might be a little pricey at a projected $6 million AAV, and James White wants to play next season in New England. But they need to start thinking about the next guy in the third-down back role.
Does Braxton Berrios make sense for the patriots? Could provide a player to require the defense to account for over the middle. Should be cheaper. Also young legs!
— Andrew Caraway (@Caraway6) March 9, 2022
Berrios is a trendy Pats free-agent target due to Belichick’s disappointment that they couldn’t find a roster spot for him and his fit in the offense. At the very least, he’s an upgrade over Gunner Olszewski. Berrios also runs the underneath option route tree better than Meyers and Bourne while still bringing return value. I don’t hate bringing Berrios back on a value contract ($6-7M APY), but it obviously can’t be their only move at wide receiver.
— CoachPaulKovacs (@CoachPaulKovacs) March 9, 2022
As we reported last week, Isabella is seeking a trade and has interest in joining the Patriots. Although their playing style is different, I’d put Isabella in a similar category as Berrios. Berrios has out-produced him, but Isabella’s fit in Arizona was odd when they drafted him. The former UMass start isn’t your typical shifty slot receiver in the Edelman/Welker mold. He’s more of a vertical slot who wins with his low-4.3 speed down the field. A better pro comp might be Bucs wideout Scotty Miller. I’d take a flier on Isabella’s upside. But, again, it’s a back end of the roster move. Isabella’s trade market should heat up on draft weekend.
Do you think there’s a chance the media is focusing too much on needs at 21 and discounting picking guys like Wyatt, Zion Johnson, or Kenyon green? To me this fit the pats MO for first rd picks (beefing up lines with rare athletes).
— LEM (@LEM0484) March 9, 2022
We’ve discussed Wyatt as a Patriots target. Although his fit next to Christian Barmore is a bit odd, talent is talent. If the Pats draft a guard in the first round, they will be appropriately buried for it. There’s very little positional value for IOLs in the first round, and it’s a position you draft early when your roster doesn’t have many holes. Logan Mankins is the only guard the Pats have ever taken in the first round under Belichick, and he was a college tackle. I don’t see it.