Now that the Combine is over, it’s time for the offseason to continue on. The NFL’s “new league year” officially begins next Wednesday, March 14th – effectively ending expiring contracts and allowing free agents to hit the open market.
Two days prior, “legal tampering” begins. The oxymoron of all oxymorons – the legal tampering window allows teams, players, and agents a 52-hour period to discuss deals prior to Wednesday’s 4pm opening.
The Patriots have plenty of spots to fill heading into 2023, and they’ll look to do so (at least in part) through free agency. Here are ten players New England should focus in on next week:
10: Odell Beckham Jr. – WR, FA
Wait! Hear me out:
Though Odell Beckham Jr. spent the entire 2022 season rehabbing the torn ACL he suffered in Super Bowl LVI with the Rams, he will be fully healthy heading into 2023 after over a year of rehab.
Don’t get me wrong – the 2x All-Pro and 3x Pro Bowler has certainly had his ups and downs throughout his career, but he’s reportedly had the desire to play for Bill Belichick and the Patriots before.
The last time we saw Beckham Jr. in game action, he caught 27 passes for 305 yards and 5 TD over eight games while helping LA to a championship. He likely won’t command much money post-injury. New England should take a shot.
9: Byron Murphy – CB, Cardinals
The Patriots have a glaring need at cornerback, and Arizona’s Byron Murphy is a high-quality option to fill it.
The 2019 second-round pick out of Washington played just nine games for the Cardinals in 2022 due to a back injury – but was a perennial starter for them prior to. Murphy has tallied 229 tackles, nine TFLs, 34 pass breakups, and five interceptions through his four NFL seasons.
Pro Football Focus projects a 3-year, $26.25 million deal ($8.75AAV) for Murphy – a relative steal for a plug-and-play corner of his caliber.
8: JuJu Smith-Schuster – WR, Chiefs
Juju Smith-Schuster was the Chiefs’ number-two target behind tight end Travis Kelce this season. He tallied 79 catches for 933 yards and 3 TD during his one season in Kansas City, and is prone to taking a team-friendly contract. Smith Schuster’s last two contracts were both for just one-year deals with $8 million and $10.75 million respectively.
In his best season as a pro (2018), Juju caught 111 balls for 1,426 yards and 7 TDs. He likely wants to get close to that production again, and the Patriots could give him that opportunity.
7: Jordan Poyer – S, Bills
With Devin McCourty’s retirement decision very much still up in the air, the Patriots need to figure out what they’re going to do at the safety position for 2023. ESPN’s Matt Bowen wrote that Buffalo Safety Jordan Poyer could be a potential fit with the Patriots:
Poyer’s multidimensional traits fit with Bill Belichick’s scheme as a movable defensive player with deep-field range… A highly instinctual defensive back, Poyer could match in coverage, check tight ends or track the ball from post/deep-half alignments in New England. And he can play multiple roles in Belichick’s sub-packages. Last season, Poyer logged four interceptions and eight pass breakups for the Bills.
I agree with Bowen here as far as him being a scheme fit, but the Buffalo captain missed four games in 2022 due to injury – the first time he’s missed a game since 2017. Now 31, could the wheels be falling off? If you feel good about him physically, Poyer is worth it.
6: James Bradberry – CB, Eagles
Cornerback James Bradberry bet on himself last offseason after being cut by the Giants – and it paid off tremendously. He signed a one-year, $7.5 million contract with the Eagles last May, earned a second-team All-Pro nod, and helped lead Philly to a Super Bowl appearance. Now it’s time for him to get paid.
The only two cornerbacks on the Patriots roster that are over 6 feet tall are Joejuan Williams and Shaun Wade. They’re desperate for size, and Bradberry’s 6’1″ frame can bring them just that.
5: Jawaan Taylor – OT, Jaguars
Though the Patriots are set on their interior offensive line with Strange – Andrews – Onwenu, they need some serious help on the outside. Isaiah Wynn is a pending free agent, you can no longer rely on Trent Brown to be consistent for a full season, and Conor McDermott is a swing tackle at best.
Jacksonville decided to not put the franchise tag on tackle Jawaan Taylor prior to Tuesday’s deadline, so he’ll hit the open market along with several other solid right tackle options.
Taylor is 6’5″ 315 pounds, is just 25 years old, and he helped keep Trevor Lawrence upright last season to the tune of five straight wins to end the regular season. He could do the same thing for Mac Jones next season in New England.
4: Jessie Bates III – S, Bengals
Considered one of the top safeties in football, Jessie Bates has started every game for the Bengals since 2018. He had 4 INT, 71 tackles … in 2022, and has helped lead Cincinnati to two consecutive AFC Championship games appearances and a spot in Super Bowl LVI. He played on the franchise tag last season and is now ready to break the bank.
Here’s a look at Bates’ playmaking ability (via: @NFL):
If Devin McCourty does retire, Bates – who is just 26 years old, could slide right into his role as free safety alongside Kyle Dugger as the box.
3: Jamel Dean – CB, Buccaneers
Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean is basically James Bradberry – just three years younger. He also stands at 6’1″ and would help New England fill their need at boundary cornerback. Pro Football Focus predicted the Patriots as his 2023 landing spot:
New England let J.C. Jackson walk in free agency last offseason, and in this scenario they sign a younger player who can help them play more press-man coverage on the outside, something they deviated from in 2022 compared to prior seasons.
The Patriots ranked 18th in press coverage grade for their outside cornerbacks last season with a 63.0 mark, whereas Dean’s 79.7 grade ranked third among cornerbacks with at least 100 press coverage snaps
Whether it was Ty Law, Darrelle Revis, Stephon Gilmore, or JC Jackson, the Patriots have always had a long, top-tier, boundary cornerback to rely on on the outside. They missed having that in 2022.
Dean, who’s only 26, could become that guy in Foxboro in 2023.
2: Orlando Brown Jr. – LT, Chiefs
It was reported on Monday that the Chiefs will not be franchise-tagging left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Brown. Though they’ll try to agree on a long-term extension prior to Wednesday, it’s more likely than not that he’s going to hit the open market.
Brown Jr. is one of the better left tackles in the entire NFL, having registered a pass block win rate of 91.8% in 2022 (h/t ESPN). Patriots quarterback Mac Jones was sacked 34 times in 14 games.
Though Brown will be more on the expensive side and is likely to command a massive deal New England has 7th most cap space in the NFL. Protect your franchise and pay up.
1: Mike McGlinchey – RT, 49ers
Mike McGlinchey is the best right tackle on the market. He’s a monster in the run game, and although he’s had his issues in pass protection, allowed just one sack per 201.5 snaps and one hurry every 33.6 snaps in 2022. That’ll play!
The 49er tackle was the ninth overall pick in 2018, and his 6’8” 310-pound frame is something any offense or coordinator would love to work with.
Salary cap management-wise, the ideal scenario for New England would be drafting a left tackle and signing a right tackle through free agency – which is why I have McGlinchey over Brown here. Either way, they need to bring in a franchise bookend along the offensive line to protect Mac Jones and let him cook.
Make sure to follow Mike on Twitter @mikekadlick, and follow @PatriotsCLNS for the latest up-to-date Patriots news!