Patriots

Patriots offseason preview: Key dates to know, pending free agents

Patriots

The New England Patriots have their work cut out for them.

After missing the playoffs for the first time in two decades, the Patriots enter the 2021 offseason with no starting quarterback and significant needs at wide receiver, tight end and defensive line, to name a few positions.

The quarterback trade rumors have already started flying, and New England can swing a deal at any point to improve its roster. But when does NFL free agency hit the ground running, and how far out is the 2021 NFL Draft?

Perry: Is Derek Carr a realistic and viable option for the Patriots?

Here are some key dates to know after the NFL offseason officially began following Tom Brady's seventh Super Bowl title Sunday night:

February 23 to March 9: The window for teams to apply franchise or transition tags.

March 15 to 17: Legal negotiating window before free agency.

March 17: Free agency and the 2021 NFL league year officially begin.

April 29 to May 1: The 2021 NFL Draft.

The Patriots used their franchise tag on offensive guard Joe Thuney last season but hadn't deployed the tag since 2015 prior to that, and there's no obvious candidate to receive the tag in 2021.

But any Patriots player set to hit unrestricted free agency this offseason is eligible for the franchise tag. Who are those players in 2021, you ask? Here's a rundown of New England's pending UFAs:

 
QB Cam Newton
QB Brian Hoyer
RB James White
RB Rex Burkhead
WR Damiere Byrd
WR Donte Moncrief
C David Andrews
LG Joe Thuney
LG Jermaine Eluemunor
LG James Ferentz
EDGE John Simon
EDGE Deatrich Wise
EDGE Shilique Calhoun
EDGE Brandon Copeland
EDGE Carl Davis
DT Lawrence Guy
DT Adam Butler
CB J.C. Jackson (RFA)
CB Jason McCourty
CB Justin Bethel
S Terrence Brooks
S Cody Davis
K Nick Folk

The good news is New England is projected to have more than $60 million in cap space, third-most in the NFL. But the team must decide whether to keep core veterans like James White, David Andrews, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler while exploring the free-agent to decide if it's worth spending big on a high-end offensive weapon.

Our Tom E. Curran has reported the Patriots will be "uncharacteristically aggressive" this offseason, so expect to hear New England mentioned in plenty of scuttlebutt over the next two months.