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Patriots 2024 Free Agent Tracker: Kyle Dugger to Remain in NE on Four-Year Deal

The Patriots have a lot of work to do this offseason as they enter the Jerod Mayo era.

Between having several leaders and key role players on expiring deals, plans to weaponize the league’s lowest-scoring offense, reshaping the quarterback room, and wanting to add an elite player to their stout defense, it should be a busy couple of weeks in New England.

De facto general manager Eliot Wolf has said the team will adopt ‘the Packer way’ regarding roster building, which entails drafting, developing, and extending core players from within. The team has been true to its message, retaining cornerstones Mike Onwenu and Kyle Dugger and productive leaders like Hunter Henry and Kendrick Bourne.

The Patriots’ reported plan to reshape the quarterback room has also begun to take form. New England traded Mac Jones to his hometown Jaguars for a sixth-round pick just before the NFL’s legal tampering period began. One day later, the team reunited with former third-rounder Jacoby Brissett on a one-year deal.

This list will track the Patriots’ reported free-agent signings, re-signings, and free-agent departures. Hyperlinks on players’ names will direct readers to my instant reaction videos.

RE-SIGNINGS/EXTENSIONS

SAF Kyle Dugger

According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, safety Kyle Dugger and the Patriots have agreed to terms a four-year deal as the team continues living up to its word of rewarding homegrown talent. Ian Rapoport adds that the deal is worth $58 million with a maximum value of $66 million and $32.5 million guaranteed. He becomes the first top Patriots draft pick to receive a second contract since Nate Solder.

The deal makes Dugger the league’s sixth-highest-paid safety by average annual value, behind 27-year-old Jessie Bates ($16,005,000) but ahead of 28-year-old Budda Baker ($14,100,000) and 28-year-old Marcus Williams ($14,000,000). The hard-hitting safety is New England’s only free agent to receive a four-year deal, as other long-term signings maxed out at three. He will likely be paid handsomely through the first two years of the deal, with less security in the final two years when he is in his 30s.

Last week, The Boston Herald‘s Andrew Callahan reported Dugger was dissatisfied with receiving the one-year,  $13.2 million transition tag. This tag allowed the 28-year-old to negotiate with other teams, but it paid him the average salary of the top 10 players at the position rather than the top five players, as we see with the exclusive and non-exclusive tags. The idea of a trade was even floated.

The former second-round pick has been one of the Patriots’ most impactful players since being drafted but had a relatively down year last season after spending more time at free safety following Devin McCourty’s retirement. While his on-field play wasn’t up to the standard most have grown used to seeing, head coach Jerod Mayo noted that Dugger stepped up as a communicator in the defense.

If Dugger can play to his strengths and spend more time near to the line of scrimmage, he should regain form and return to his status as one of the best at his position.

ED Anfernee Jennings

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings is re-signing with the Patriots on a three-year, $12 million deal with a maximum value of $24 million.

Jennings took on a larger role in the defense last season when Matthew Judon suffered a season-ending biceps injury, and he turned the opportunity into a breakout campaign. Despite only playing on run-downs, he tied for second among edge defenders in tackles for loss or no gain behind Maxx Crosby.

New England’s depth on the edges looked shallow entering free agency, as Matthew Judon, Keion White, and Deatrich Wise were the only regular contributors under contract. Now, the team has bolstered the spot by re-signing both of its free-agent outside linebackers as de facto general manager Eliot Wolf continues living up to his philosophy of drafting, developing, and extending core performers from within.

ST/LB Christian Ellis

According to the Patriots’ Twitter account, the team has re-signed special teamer and exclusive rights free agent Christian Elliss.

This move comes one day after New England released linebacker and special teamer Chris Board, likely signaling Elliss will take his roster spot.

Elliss was claimed on waivers in early December. He appeared on every special teams unit except the field goal teams and registered a pair of tackles, but he did not record a defensive snap.

ED Josh Uche

According to NFL Network‘s Mike Garafolo, outside linebacker Josh Uche will return to the Patriots on a one-year deal despite more lucrative offers elsewhere. Sports Illustrated‘s Albert Breer reported the deal is worth $3 million with a maximum value of $8 million. This doesn’t come as a huge surprise, as MassLive‘s Mark Daniels last season that he wanted to play for Jerod Mayo and was one of the players who attended the new head coach’s introductory press conference.

This move comes one day after New England lost Mack Wilson Sr. in a bidding war with the Cardinals, who gave the linebacker a three-year deal worth $12.75 million, bolstering the Patriots’ outside linebacker depth with Anfernee Jennings still unsigned.

Uche had a breakout season in 2022, leading the NFL in pressure rate (20.7%) and ranking 5th in pass rush win rate (19.2%) among defenders with at least 200 pass rushes. But in 2023, his pressure rate dipped by 5% while his pass rush win rate fell by over 8%. While there were still impressive flashes, Uche was inconsistent and didn’t produce as many high-quality reps as he had the year prior.

His decline could have been partly tied to a mid-season foot injury that caused him to miss Weeks 7 and 8. He was also often asked to contain quarterbacks instead of playing to his strengths and attacking offensive linemen. Matthew Judon’s season-ending biceps injury in Week 4 could’ve played a factor, as well, since offenses typically prioritized taking away the Pro Bowler when the two were on the field.

The hope is that new defensive coordinator DeMarcus Covington, defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, and outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins will maximize Uche’s skill set in 2024 and help him regain his 2022 form. Uche also made some improvements as a run defender but will need to be more consistent if he wants to become an every-down player.

WR Jalen Reagor

According to Bleacher Report‘s Jordan Schultz, the Patriots are re-signing wide receiver and returner Jalen Reagor to a one-year deal. The former Eagle and Viking signed to the team’s practice squad before the start of the regular season before being elevated to the active roster in mid-October.

Reagor was inconsistent when called upon as a pass-catcher in New England’s depleted receiver corps but built some momentum late in the season. He registered a deep reception in each of the last three games and turned an endaround into a big gain during the finale against the Jets. His biggest play of the season came in Buffalo when he scored a touchdown on the opening kickoff after taking over the returner role from Ty Montgomery, who was cut after a poor showing in Week 14.

Reagor may never become a consistent contributor on offense, but he brings the big-play ability the new Patriots regime covets, and he deserves an expanded look on kick returns after flashing in limited opportunities.

OL Mike Onwenu

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Patriots are re-signing offensive lineman Mike Onwenu to a three-year deal worth $57 million, including a guaranteed $38 million and a $22.5 million signing bonus.

Head coach Jerod Mayo and de facto general manager Eliot Wolf have each called Onwenu a cornerstone who they viewed as a priority this offseason. Wolf has also emphasized his desire to draft, develop, and retain key players from within, and rewarding a homegrown player who’s done everything right adds credibility to that sentiment.

Onwenu solidified a right tackle spot last season that was a carousel of subpar play before he made the transition from guard. He did struggle at times, particularly against refined rushers like T.J. Watt and Khalil Mack, but overall, he was solid in pass protection and continued to be an outstanding run blocker.

The Patriots have yet to confirm where Onwenu will play in Alex Van Pelt’s scheme, but the lineman did tell MassLive’s Mark Daniels that he wants to stay at tackle and will prepare to be on the edge this offseason. Cole Strange and Sidy Sow also seem like potential long-term fits at guard, assuming Strange bounces back from his season-ending knee injury.

Onwenu is easily New England’s most talented offensive lineman, and retaining is massive for an offense expected to undergo significant change this offseason. He also took on a larger leadership role in 2023 after injuries struck the trenches and former line coach Adrian Klemm had to leave the team for health reasons.

If Onwenu continues to play right tackle, left tackle would be the one glaring hole remaining on the line. The free-agent options aren’t great, but Jonah Williams is a name to watch. If New England can find a bridge option for the next season or two, the draft has several developmental options. Chukwuma Okorafor, who struggles as a run blocker but excels in pass protection, could also compete for the job.

WR Kendrick Bourne

According to The Boston Herald‘s Andrew Callahan, the Patriots are re-signing wide receiver Kendrick Bourne to a three-year deal worth $19.5 million with a maximum value of $33 million and a $4.2 million signing bonus.

Previous reports indicated Bourne would test the market coming off of a torn ACL, but he was vocal about his desire to return to New England. Now the veteran gets his wish after attacking rehab and telling NFL Network that he expects to be back by minicamp and should be a full go in training camp.

The incentive-heavy deal seems fair for both sides, as Bourne has flashed big-play ability throughout his Patriots career. He was on pace for a career season as the offense’s top pass-catcher in 2023 before his season-ending injury. And while he had a down 2022 season after landing in Matt Patricia’s dog house, he was responsible for some of the offense’s most impressive highlights in 2021 despite trailing Jakobi Meyers and Hunter Henry in targets.

The 29-year-old may not be as explosive in 2024 as he’s been in years past, which is common for any athlete following a significant knee injury. But his smooth route-running, exceptional hands, and toughness through contact should allow him to remain a fixture in the passing game. He’s also a willing blocker and an electric personality who provides a spark both on and off the field.

The Patriots’ offense is expected to go through a significant overhaul this offseason, and the dominoes have already begun to fall with Mac Jones being traded this morning. But retaining Bourne ensures one of the unit’s few bright spots will be around for the foreseeable future.

TE Hunter Henry

According to NFL Network‘s Ian Rapoport and Mike Garofolo, the Patriots and tight end Hunter Henry have agreed to terms on a three-year deal worth $27 million with a maximum value of $30 million.

New England was slated to enter free agency with zero tight ends under contract, but that will no longer be the case with the team retaining the reliable pass-catcher and team leader.

Henry, who was voted a team captain last season for the first time since joining the team, is tied with Dawson Knox for the 5th-most touchdowns at their position since signing with the Patriots in 2021. He also ranks top-10 in contested catches and is tied with Mike Gesicki for the 9th-lowest drop rate among tight ends with at least 50 targets over that span. Henry is no longer an explosive receiving threat, and he’s just okay as a blocker, but he’s a dominant Red Zone presence and consistent chain-mover.

There is reason for cautious optimism, as Henry is 29 years old and has been banged up throughout the past few seasons. After playing every game from 2021-2022, he missed Weeks 16-17 with an ACL injury before landing on injured reserve ahead of the season finale.

PFF’s Brad Spielberger projected Henry would receive a two-year deal averaging $6.13 million, but Dalton Schultz signing an extension with the Texans thrust Henry to the top of the tight end market. The Patriots also may have paid a premium to keep Henry from testing free agency.

Overall, this seems like a fair deal for both sides. Henry makes a bit more than most expected, and New England keeps a respected contributor in the fold amidst a franchise rebuild and offensive overhaul.

OT Tyrone Wheatley Jr.

According to Mass Live‘s Mark Daniels, the Patriots plan to pick up the option for offensive tackle and exclusive rights free agent Tyrone Wheatley Jr.

New England acquired Wheatley from the Browns in exchange for running back Pierre Strong. The move was made in response to injuries decimating the team’s tackle depth just before last season’s opener.

Wheatley recorded five snaps on the extra point unit in the first two weeks of the season. He was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury in mid-October and had his 21-day return window opened in mid-December, but was never activated.

Retaining Wheatley makes sense given his experience with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and offensive line coach Scott Peters, who worked with the tackle in Cleveland from 2022 through the 2023 offseason. He should compete for a backup spot.

CB Alex Austin

Cornerback Alex Austin announced on Twitter that he will be returning to the Patriots in 2024, meaning the team has picked up the exclusive rights free agent’s option.

The Bills drafted Austin in the seventh round of last year’s draft, but he was waived before the season opener and claimed by the Texans. He was waived in mid-October and re-signed to the practice squad but was released on the first day of November and signed by New England one day later.

Austin quickly made an impression during his Week 14 debut in Pittsburgh. He nearly intercepted Mitch Trubisky for what could’ve been a pick-six on his only target in six coverage snaps. Austin allowed scores on tough coverage assignments against the Chiefs and Broncos but proved to be a competitive, sticky cover guy and willing run defender who brought some swagger to the secondary. He also showed flashes of hidden gem potential after baiting and intercepting Josh Allen on a deep throw in Week 17.

Austin’s settled a cornerback position that was highly unstable for New England, and it will be interesting to see where he stands on the depth chart with so many players returning from injury. At the very least, he’s an intriguing developmental depth piece who could prove to be a legitimate starter with a strong offseason.

QB Nathan Rourke

According to NFL Network‘s Tom Pellisero, the Patriots have made quarterback and exclusive rights free agent Nathan Rourke their first re-signing of the Jerod Mayo era.

Rourke entered the NFL in 2023 after a two-year stint in the CFL, where he won Most Outstanding Canadian in 2022. The Jaguars signed him to a three-year deal the following year, but was ultimately released in mid-December and claimed by the Patriots two days later.

Rourke primarily served as an emergency third quarterback but served as Bailey Zappe’s backup over Mac Jones in the finale against the Jets.

I wouldn’t expect Rourke to be much more than a camp arm this season, as New England will likely draft a quarterback early and sign a veteran to serve as a primary backup and mentor. Bailey Zappe is also under contract and proved to be a solid spot starter despite having little to work with.

SIGNINGS

SAF Jaylinn Hawkins

According to NFL Network‘s Mike Garofolo, the Patriots are signing former Falcons and Chargers safety Jaylinn Hawkins to a one-year deal.

Marte Mapu is projected to be the team’s third safety behind Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers. Still, New England needed safety and special teams depth after releasing Adrian Phillips and losing Jalen Mills to the Giants.

The 2020 fourth-round pick was waived by Atlanta last October before being claimed by Las Angeles. He was a core special teamer last season, spending time on every unit but the extra-point team. Defensively, he’s primarily been used as a free safety. His best season came as a starter for the Falcons in 2022 when he recorded 56 tackles, six pressures, four pass breakups, picked off two passes, and both forced and recovered a fumble.

WR K.J. Obsorn

According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the Patriots are signing former Vikings wide receiver K.J. Osborn. Sports Illustrated‘s Albert Breer reports it is a one-year deal, $4 million deal.

The former fifth-rounder adds a much-needed veteran presence to a Patriots wide receiver room that recently cut DeVante Parker and will likely part ways with JuJu Smith-Schuster later this offseason. He will likely compete for a starting job unless the team adds an experienced boundary receiver later in the coming days or weeks.

Once Calvin Ridley signed with the Titans, despite a strong push from the Patriots to acquire the former All-Pro, it became clear New England would “weaponize” through the draft. Osborn gives the offense a pass-catcher with starting ability who has experience in a West Coast offense similar to what Alex Van Pelt will run this season. With a clearer picture at the top of the depth chart, whichever young receiver or receivers the Patriots take draft in April won’t be forced into a larger role than they can handle.

Last season, Osborn ranked fourth on the Vikings in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns, though his seven drops led the team. Osborn’s missed just one game in the past three seasons, registering at least 550 receiving yards in each. With Kendrick Bourne, DeMario Douglas, Hunter Henry, and Antonio Gibson slated for big roles in the passing game, in addition to whomever New England selects in April, Osborne can serve as a similar complementary piece and a great locker room presence.

IOL Nick Leverett

According to ESPN‘s Jeremy Fowler, the Patriots are signing former Buccaneers interior offensive lineman Nick Leverett.

The 2020 undrafted free agent started 10 games for Tampa Bay in 2022, spending 728 snaps at left guard and 61 snaps at center. He allowed zero sacks and just four hits on 483 pass-blocking snaps, thanks in large part to Tom Brady’s quick release and help from his fellow linemen. He struggled statistically as a run blocker, with only Donovan Smith receiving a lower PFF run grade than Leverett among Buccaneers linemen with at least 200 such snaps. But he has a knack for stacking pancakes and gets to the second level effectively on combo blocks.

Despite having a solid season, Tampa selecting Cody Mauch in the 2nd round of last year’s draft led to Leverett being inactive in every game.

Due to injuries and a lack of quality veteran depth on the interior offensive line last season, the Patriots were forced to play developmental rookies Atonio Mafi and Jake Andrews prematurely. The new regime has attempted to correct that mistake by signing Leverett and Michael Jordan, who spent a season with Alex Van Pelt as a Bengal in 2019.

Their additions will be crucial, as Cole Strange could miss time after landing on injured reserve late last season with an undisclosed knee injury. An additional knee injury suffered in training camp delayed Strange’s progress in a crucial second season, and he was rushed back onto the field before he was back to full strength. But he came on strong late in the season before his second injury, and the hope is he won’t have to rush back with more experienced backup options.

DL Armon Watts

According to NFL Network‘s Tom Pellisero, the Patriots are signing former Steelers interior defensive lineman Armon Watts to a one-year deal. MassLive’s Mark Daniels reports that the deal is worth $3 million.

The Patriots released Lawrence Guy in late February to give the veteran a head start on finding a new team. New England had been searching for a replacement on the free agent market and reached an agreement with Watts shortly after the start of the new league year.

The five-year veteran was an effective rotational player for Pittsburgh, lining up at both defensive tackle and nose tackle. He made an impact as both a pass rusher and run defender, ranking 6th on the Steelers’ defense in total pressures and 5th in run defense grade among defenders with at least 100 such snaps.

Expect Watts to contribute on early downs alongside Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore as a run stopper who can also add some juice to the pass rush.

TE Austin Hooper

According to NFL Network‘s Ian Rapoport, the Patriots are signing former Raiders tight end Austin Hooper to a one-year deal worth up to $4.25 million. The move comes on the same day that Mike Gesicki signed with the Bengals on a one-year deal worth up to $3.25 million.

Hooper will reunite with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, whom he worked with from 2020-2021. The eight-year veteran had a down season with Las Vegas last season, setting a career low with 234 receiving yards and zero touchdowns, but his familiarity with Van Pelt’s offense should allow him to catch on quickly in New England.

The Patriots needed more tight end depth behind Hunter Henry, as former USFL player La’Michael Pettway was the only other tight end on the roster. Exceptional blocker Pharaoh Brown, another former Brown who spent last season in New England, is still on the market and could be re-signed as added depth.

Look for the Patriots to add a developmental tight end on day two or three of the upcoming draft, where there are several prospects who could serve as rotational players early on and develop into key contributors down the road.

LB Sione Takitaki

According to MassLive‘s Mark Daniels, the Patriots are signing former Browns linebacker Sione Takitaki to a two-year, $6.5 million deal worth a maximum of $10.3 million. The move comes hours after Mack Wilson Sr. signed a three-year, $12.75 million deal with the Cardinals worth up to $15 million.

The Browns selected Takitaki in the third round of the 2019 draft, while Patriots de facto general manager Eliot Wolf was Cleveland’s assistant general manager, and senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith was vice president of player personnel. The linebacker tore his ACL in Week 13 of the 2022 season but bounced back to rank fourth on the Browns’ top-ranked defense in tackles while adding a pair of sacks, an interception, and breaking up three passes.

Takitaki is a disciplined run defender and sound tackler with positional versatility, having played all three linebacker roles for Cleveland. He also adds value as a special teamer after serving as a blocker on the Browns’ return teams, a coverage player on punts, and a rusher on the field goal block unit.

Takitaki adds depth to a linebacker room with two players in the final year of their deals, Jahlani Tavai and Raekwon McMillan. Having started half of his 72 career games, Takitaki projects should compete to be a backup behind Bentley and Tavai on early downs, with the possibility of competing with Marte Mapu for Wilson’s passing-down role.

QB Jacoby Brissett

According to Sports Illustrated‘s Albert Breer, the Patriots plan to sign Jacoby Brissett to a one-year deal worth $8 million, returning to the organization that took 91st overall back in 2016. The move comes one day after the team traded former starter Mac Jones to the Jaguars for a sixth-round pick, sparking the team’s plan to reset the quarterback position.

Brissett felt like a no-brainer signing for the Patriots. Not only did the signal-caller begin his career in New England, but he also played for offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt in 2022 as a member of the Browns. With the Patriots likely drafting a quarterback with their top pick next month, the team needed a bridge option and mentor, and few, if any, fit the bill better.

Brissett only appeared in two games for the Commanders last season, but he went 18-23 for 224 yards and three touchdowns before being sidelined by a hamstring injury. 

It’s currently unclear whether New England will keep Bailey Zappe in 2024. If Zappe does stick around, he and Brissett will likely compete for a spot starter and top backup role, with Brissett bringing an experienced, unifying presence to the quarterback room. 

RB Antonio Gibson

According to NFL Network‘s Ian Rapoport, the Patriots are signing former Commanders running back Antonio Gibson in their first out-of-house signing since the start of the legal tampering window. According to ESPN‘s Mike Reiss, the deal has a base value of $11.25 million and a maximum value of $17.25 million.

While top back Rhamondre Stevenson has been a productive pass-catcher for New England, leading the offense in receptions during the 2022 season, the team has needed a true receiving back who can run routes, bring an explosive element out of the backfield, and create mismatches against linebackers and safeties.

Gibson checks those boxes as a converted receiver who can line up all over the formation. His career-high 389 receiving yards last season were 10th-most among running backs, and his four receptions of 10+ air yards were tied with James Cook and Saquon Barkley for the most at the position. He’s also a solid pass protector.

Gibson ran for over 1,000 yards in 2021 and averaged a solid 4.1 yards per carry as a rusher last season, but that likely won’t be his primary role in New England. He also has experience as a kick returner.

The Patriots are still early in the process of weaponizing their offense, but adding an explosive player like Gibson, who ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the combine, is a solid start.

OT Chukwuma Okorafor

According to ESPN‘s Field Yates, the Patriots have signed former Steelers right tackle Chukwuma “Chuks” Okorafor to a one-year, $4 million deal and a maximum value of $8.25 million, hinting that the lineman could see significant snaps in 2024.

Pittsburgh cut Okorafor in a cap-saving move last February. He was benched after Week 8 after criticizing then-offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s play-calling, but reports indicate the incident was not a reflection of his character. Rookie Broderick Jones replaced Okorafor, but Pittsburgh still used him as an extra offensive lineman in heavy packages. Despite his Steelers career ending on a sour note, Okorafor is known as a good person and teammate.

While I don’t think he’s ideal as a top tackle option for New England, the former Steeler does have 59 games of starting experience at just 26 years old. He’s also played both tackle spots as well as guard. Okorafor is at his best in pass protection, where his massive frame, long arms, athleticism, and savvy hands make him tough to beat. He also plays with a mean streak at times and can be caught antagonizing defenders late into plays.

Okorafor can be an effective run blocker, but it isn’t a strength of his game. He also gets called for too many penalties, often due to grabbiness.

At worst, I see Okorafor serving as a swing tackle and occasional sixth offensive lineman, which Alex Van Pelt used more than any other team last season. At best, he competes for the top left tackle job, where he spent his final two seasons in college, or potentially even right tackle if Mike Onwenu isn’t re-signed.

FREE AGENT DEPARTURES

ST Cody Davis

Special teams ace Cody Davis announced via social media that he is retiring after an 11-season career, making him the second

Davis joined the Patriots in 2020 and was involved in two touchdowns during his tenure. During his first season with New England, he blocked a field goal in Week 13 against the Chargers that Devin McCourty returned for a score. Last season, Davis recovered a Marte Mapu forced fumble on kickoff and strolled into the end zone untouched.

Davis becomes the Patriots’ second veteran special teamer to retire this offseason, joining future Hall of Famer Matthew Slater. David and Slater tied for 4th in special teams tackles last season, trailing Brenden Schooler, Chris Board, and Ty Montgomery. With just one of the aforementioned players still on New England’s roster, as well as the losses of Mack Wilson Sr. and Adrian Phillips, it will be interesting to see how the team replaces that production, specifically after the kickoff changes announced earlier this week.

CB Myles Bryant

According to KPRC2‘s Aaron Wilson, cornerback Myles Bryant is signing with the Texans. Bryant was part of Houston general manager Nick Caserio’s final rookie class as the Patriots’ director of player personnel.

Bryant became the defense’s primary slot corner in 2021, thriving as a zone defender and run defender. He proved to be a smart, tough, and versatile member of the secondary, lining up at several spots last season to account for injuries. Bryant did struggle in man coverage due to average athleticism and length, which also led to some issues as a tackler.

It seems New England is embracing speed and explosiveness, which could have made Bryant a lower-priority free agent. This could also hint at a larger role for Marcus Jones, who has mostly been an outside corner while rotating in the slot behind Bryant. Jonathan Jones could also reclaim his job as top slot corner if Alex Austin, Isaiah Bolden, or another cornerback can establish himself opposite Christian Gonzalez.

Bryant’s reliability will be missed in a cornerback group ravaged by injury last season. With former Patriot Stephon Gilmore still on the market and multiple intriguing mid-round corners in this year’s draft, it would make sense for New England to address the position with an additional move.

OT Trent Brown

According to NFL Network‘s Ian Rapoport, offensive tackle intends to sign a one-year deal with the Bengals, officially ending his time in New England.

Brown’s first stint with the Patriots in 2018 ended with a Super Bowl championship, but his second wasn’t as decorated. In 2021, Brown served as the team’s primary right tackle when New England made the Wild Card Round before being blown out by the Bills. He switched to the left side in 2022, appearing in every game and serving as one of the few positives on a patchwork offensive line. A strong start to the 2023 season was derailed when Brown was rolled up in Week 7 against the Bills, beginning a downward spiral fueled by inconsistent play and effort, behind-the-scenes drama, and poor health.

Brown now gets a fresh start with a playoff contender, leaving the Patriots with former Steeler Chukwuma Okorafor as the projected starting left tackle. Given Okorafor’s one-year deal and inexperience on the left side at the NFL level, New England will likely address the position during next month’s draft.

LB Terez Hall

According to MassLive’s Mark Daniels, the Patriots did not extend offers to linebacker and restricted free agent Terez Hall, officially making him a free agent.

Hall was originally signed by New England as an undrafted free agent in 2019. He spent all of that season on the practice squad but, due to injuries, was active for the final nine games in 2020. He recorded 39 tackles, including 17 stops, and forced a pair of incompletions.

The linebacker spent all of 2021 on the reserve/physically unable to perform list and was released in the summer of 2022 due to a failed physical. He was re-signed to the practice squad in late December and signed a reserve/futures contract to return in 2023, but was released again on an injury waiver in August.

WR Tre Nixon

According to MassLive’s Mark Daniels, the Patriots did not extend offers to wide receiver and restricted free agent Tre Nixon, officially making him a free agent. He

Nixon, a seventh-round pick in 2021, was the final draft selection football research director Ernie Adams made for New England. He never appeared in a regular-season game for the team but caught 18 passes in eight preseason games.

Nixon was valued by the team behind the scenes for his attitude and work ethic, but was never able to become the deep threat many envisioned he would become out of UCF.

TE Pharaoh Brown

According to ESPN‘s Jeremy Fowler, tight end Pharaoh Brown has signed a one-year deal with the Seahawks. The signing came shortly after New England signed a one-year deal worth up to $4.25 million.

Brown, who played with former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien when the two were with the Texans, signed to the team’s practice squad in late August. He was promoted to the active roster ahead of Week 1 and went on to become the team’s primary blocking tight end.

Brown brought a meanness to the ground game, consistently finishing blocks and playing to the whistle. He also had a surprising number of big plays as a receiver, making catches down the seam and proving to be a tough runner after the catch.

The Patriots were attempting to re-sign the tight end, and a reunion seemed likely, as Brown played for offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt in Cleveland. However, it appears the team might not have been willing to match the contract Brown was aiming for.

With an already shallow tight-end market looking thin, New England will likely have to find a third tight end in the draft, where several intriguing developmental options are available in the middle-late rounds.

SAF Jalen Mills

According to ESPN‘s Adam Schefter, safety Jalen Mills has agreed to a one-year deal with the Giants. ESPN’s Jordan Raanan reports it is a one-year, $1.21 million deal. He is expected to compete for a starting role following the departure of Xavier McKinney.

Mills spent three seasons with New England. The team released him in March 2023, but he was re-signed five days later and moved from cornerback to safety.

The defensive back played some of his best football with the Patriots, showing more discipline and consistency than he had during his time with the Eagles. He was solid in a rotational role last season, serving as a tight-end eraser, free safety, and slot cornerback, but expressed unhappiness with his lack of playing time after playing just 10 snaps in a loss to the Saints.

New England now has Jabrill Peppers, Marte Mapu, and Joshuah Bledsoe as the only players under contract, with Kyle Dugger having yet to sign his transition tag. Mapu should take a step forward in his sophomore season, but Bledsoe is still unproven and may exclusively be a backup-caliber player.

With the Patriots using three-plus-safety packages at one of the highest rates in the NFL, the defense would benefit from another body at the position.

Kamren Curl, Julian Blackmon, and Jordan Fuller are the top safeties remaining on the free-agent market, while Kamren Kinchens, Javon Bullard, and Dadrion Taylor-Demerson are potential options on day two or three of the draft. Re-signing Myles Bryant, a versatile defensive back with experience playing every role in the secondary, could also add depth to the position.

TE Mike Gesicki

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, tight end Mike Gesicki is signing with the Bengals on a one-year deal worth up to $3.25 million.

Gesicki is coming off a second consecutive down year where circumstances impacted his production. After falling out of favor with the Dolphins in 2022 due to a scheme change, he was projected to be more productive in Bill O’Brien’s more pass-heavy attack last season. But the Patriots’ disastrous quarterback situation and injuries forcing him into a larger role that didn’t fit his skill set continued to hold him back.

The tight end was still reliable when targeted. He caught a touchdown in two of the team’s four wins, including a clincher against the Bills in Week 7, and he didn’t record a single drop on 43 targets.

With Hunter Henry and La’Michael Pettway being the only tight ends under contract for New England, there is still a significant need at the position. Pharaoh Brown re-signing with the team would make sense, considering he played with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and quarterback Jacoby Brissett in 2022. Former Browns Harrison Bryant and Austin Hooper could also be good fits.

The Patriots could also target a tight end in the middle-late rounds of the draft, where there should be multiple serviceable options who could develop into valuable contributors.

LB Mack Wilson Sr.

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, linebacker Mack Wilson and the Cardinals have agreed to a three-year deal worth $12.75 million with a maximum value of $15 million. MassLive‘s Mark Daniels reported that the Patriots made a competitive three-year offer, but Wilson decided to test the market and now lands in Arizona.

Wilson bounced back in a big way last season after struggling in 2022. New England’s coaching staff took responsibility for this, admitting they didn’t use the linebacker optimally in his first season with the team. This improved play was especially impressive, considering Wilson played through a labrum injury all season that required surgery in the offseason.

In addition to being used to his strengths as more of a coverage specialist and clearly being more comfortable in the defense, Wilson added muscle in the offseason that helped him take on and shed blocks, which had been an issue throughout his NFL career. The linebacker also surprised many by showing some pass-rush prowess mid-season when Josh Uche missed time with a foot injury and really came on as a playmaker as the year went on.

With Wilson off the board and the Patriots reportedly not offering pass rush specialist Josh Uche a contract ahead of the legal tampering period, the defense now has a pretty glaring need at the edge position. Re-signing Anfernee Jennings would reinforce the spot, but he’s an early-down presence who doesn’t typically play on passing downs.

Raekwon McMillan and Marte Mapu could also chip in as off-ball coverage linebackers.

Taylor Kyles

Taylor Kyles is the lead NFL Analyst for CLNS Media covering players, schemes, and tendencies through a New England Patriots-centric lens.

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