The Patriots may not have “won” free agency a week into the new league year, but they’ve done an excellent job preparing themselves for the draft by making strategic upgrades and adding much-needed depth. Fans may be frustrated with Bill Belichick for his lack of splash signings or big names acquisitions, but the future Hall of Fame coach and general manager has shown he’s still got, signing multiple proven veterans below their projected market value.
Replacing Matt Patricia with offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and offensive line coach Adrian Klemm also raised the floor and ceiling for New England’s offense immediately, bringing proven experience that was severely lacking in 2022.
So while Patriots Nation refreshes their feeds hoping Jerry Jeudy or DeAndre Hopkins will be dealt to New England via trade, here’s my breakdown of each offensive position and its outlook at this stage of the offseason.
Returning: Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe
Losses: Brian Hoyer (released)
Could Still Use: Camp body
There will likely be rumblings about whether Zappe will supplant Jones until pads come on in camp, but Jones is the clear starter and should take a significant step forward under new quarterbacks coach and OC Bill O’Brien. Hoyer’s release implies New England is comfortable with its two young passers, meaning the position just needs a body to take reps with bottom-of-the-roster players in camp and preseason.
- Returning: Rhamondre Stevenson, Ty Montgomery, Kevin Harris, Pierre Strong, J.J. Taylor
- Additions: James Robinson (Jaguars)
- Unsigned Free Agents: Damien Harris
- Could Still Use: Receiving back
Stevenson proved to be one of the league’s premier backs last season, but his performance waned down the stretch due to an unsustainably large workload. He also filled in admirably as the team’s go-to receiver from the backfield, but the big back struggled to create separation at the top of routes. Robinson’s effectiveness will depend on his recovery from a knee injury that hampered his 2022 campaign, but his resume as a downhill runner with exceptional contact balance projects well into Damien Harris’ RB2 role. Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong are unproven, but showed flashes last season and could make the Patriots’ backfield a top-tier unit with second-year jumps. Receiving back Ty Montgomery was limited to one game last season after undergoing shoulder surgery, so finding a proven player to fill this role would be ideal unless the team is confident in Strong’s potential.
- Returning: DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton, Tre Nixon, Lynn Bowden Jr
- Additions: JuJu Smith-Schuster (Chiefs)
- Losses/Unsigned Free Agents: Jakobi Meyers (Raiders), Nelson Agholor (unsigned)
- Could Still Use: Alpha playmaker
The Patriots lost their most consistent receiver in Meyers, but Smith-Schuster brings YAC ability the team hasn’t had consistently since Edelman’s final, injury-shortened season.
Jakobi Meyers and JuJu Smith-Schuster have similar games, but Smith-Schuster provides much more YAC ability
Meyers wasn't able to consistently turn schemed touches or underneath/wide-open receptions into bigger gains, which made him a less-than-ideal fit for NE's Z/slot role pic.twitter.com/iJTgE85Nk8
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) March 15, 2023
Tyquan Thornton’s 2nd-round draft status also indicates he’s in for a bigger role as the team’s primary “Z” receiver, where his speed and quickness should flourish. Parker predictably battled injuries last season but is a plus starter on the outside when healthy. Bourne found himself in the doghouse and struggled with inconsistency (fumbles, drops), but he continued to show rare playmaking ability and hopes remain high, even if expectations have been tempered. The hope is O’Brien can bring stability and maximize the roster’s current talent, but a veteran like Jerry Jeudy or an early draft pick like Zay Flowers would make life easier for everyone in the passing game.
- Returning: Hunter Henry, Matt Sokol, Scotty Washington
- Additions: Mike Gesicki (Dolphins)
- Losses: Jonnu Smith (traded to Falcons)
- Could Still Use: Dual-threat, in-line “Y”
Henry has battled injuries during his time in New England and may not wow with his blocking, but he hasn’t missed a game in the past two seasons and is an exceptional receiver whose value was suppressed due to poor use in 2022. Gesicki is more of a tight-end in name than role or skill set, but he and Henry give O’Brien two mismatches in the passing game with excellent hands and Red Zone ability. It’s unlikely a rookie would cut significantly into either of their reps, but the team still needs a proven blocker who can spell Henry as the”Y” tight end and potentially be another chess piece as a receiver.
Despite being miscast, franchise tagged, and not used to his strengths by the Dolphins (which McDaniel owned up to), Mike Gesicki showed he can still threaten the middle as a big slot with a huge catch radius
Great pairing with Hunter Henry on HOSS or verticals off play action pic.twitter.com/micixBBhTg
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) March 17, 2023
- Returning: Trent Brown, Conor McDermott (re-signed), Andrew Stueber
- Additions: Riley Reiff (Bears), Calvin Anderson (Broncos)
- Unsigned Free Agents: Isaiah Wynn, Yodny Cajuste* (tendered)
- Could Still Use: Young right tackle who can start sooner than later, developmental left tackle
Brown’s 2022 was plagued by mental lapses, inconsistency, and a mid-season sickness that led to significant weight loss. However, reports indicate the team is confident he’ll bounce back under Adrian Klemm. It would behoove the team to start developing his eventual replacement, but that could depend on how chips fall in the draft. Reiff is a tough, veteran leader who helps shore up the right tackle spot across from Brown, but he’s 34 years old and would need help against the league’s better speed rushers. Drafting a young tackle who can seize the role before mid-season would be ideal, and there are some excellent options between Tennessee’s Darnell Wright and Ohio State’s Dawand Jones. McDermott was a solid backup toward the end of 2022, while Anderson was signed as an undrafted free agent by the team in 2019 and offers athletic upside.
Interior Offensive Line
- Returning: David Andrews, Mike Onwenu, Cole Strange, James Ferentz (re-signed), Bill Murray, Chasen Hines, Kody Russey
- Could Still Use: Developmental guard with positional versatility
The Patriots enter 2023 with each interior lineman from last season still on the roster. Andrews brings consistency and leadership as one of the team’s only holdovers from New England’s second dynasty. Onwenu was a Pro Bowl snub last season and could be even better in a contract year. Strange was inconsistent as a rookie, even being benched mid-season, but finished strong and gave up a single sack in his final eight games. Last year’s top pick should build on that success with Klemm’s tutelage and a full offseason to bulk up. Ferentz projects to be the top interior backup given his experience in the Patriots’ system, but there is plenty of intriguing young talent behind him. Still, adding depth in the trenches never hurts, and Onwenu’s asking price next offseason could force the team to move on at right guard.