A look at Patriots free agents-to-be
When the conversation about Patriots contracts arises, it’s generally focused on two guys who aren’t even up until after the 2019 season. That’s to be expected, since both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are A) very underpaid relative to their positional peers, B) clearing their throats about wanting more dough and C) very good players. But there’s a fleet of Patriots whose contracts expire in early March and some of them are really good, too.
Here are the Patriots most important free-agents-to-be as the team heads toward training camp at the end of this month:
Drafted: 4th Round 2015
Last deal: 4 years, $2.838 million
Comment: After missing all but one game as a rookie, Flowers has come back the past two seasons to become the best young player in the Patriots front-seven. Last year he had 6.5 sacks, 45 tackles and two forced fumbles in the regular season and added another sack and 10 tackles in the playoffs. He’s earned the nickname "Technique." He’s been a massive big-game contributor in his two seasons of availability. He holds down multiple roles and has added to his toolbox since being in New England. Conventional wisdom would say he gets paid what other young DEs are making, which could be in the neighborhood of $13 million per season. But the Patriots have pushed away from the table before when their accomplished homegrown guys get real expensive, so a Flowers extension is no sure thing.
Drafted: 4th Round, 2015
Last deal: 4 years, $2.723M
Comment: Mason’s missed two games in three seasons and has started 49 of the 54 games since he got here. He’s blossomed into one of the league’s better guards after coming to the NFL from a triple-option offense at Georgia Tech. He is not nearly as proficient in pass protection as he is run blocking (he’s one of the best at that) and the Super Bowl strip sack by Philly’s Brandon Graham came when Mason was beaten. Is Mason a top 10 guard? Probably not yet. But considering the fattest guard contract is $84 million (Dallas’ Zack Martin) and the 20th is $28.5 million (Detroit’s T.J. Lang), it’s going to cost the Patriots to keep him around.
Drafted: 4th Round, 2006
Last deal: 4 years, $17.2M
Comment: Only once in the past five seasons has Gostkowski been under 91.7 percent conversions on his field goals. He’s missed five PATs the past two years. Prior to this past playoff run, Gostkowski hadn’t missed a playoff field goal since 2009. He’s third all-time in field goal percentage (87.6 behind Justin Tucker and Dan Bailey) and he gets the nuance of the Patriots special teams demands when it comes to strategic kicking. He’ll make $3.2 million this season. With the Patriots enjoying 22 seasons of really good kicking, it’s been a long, long time since a field-goal attempt felt like a crapshoot around here. Perhaps because of that, patience runs low quickly with Gostkowski when he goes into a funk. But it shouldn’t be overlooked he’s been really good. And the devil you know . . . The biggest offseason deal for a kicker in 2018 was the one Tennessee gave 31-year-old Ryan Succop (5 years, $20 million). Food for thought.
Drafted: 1st round, 2015
Last deal: 4 years, $7.613M
Comment: The Patriots could have picked up the fifth-year option on Brown this offseason. They passed. Which means the team is willing to see whether Brown flourishes in the final year of his rookie contract or whether he remains pretty good, which is where he is currently. No shame in that. Being a pretty good defensive lineman in the NFL will keep the checks rolling in. But Brown is at a minor crossroads. In 2016, Bill Belichick said Brown lacked consistency. In 2017, it seemed his production – and quality of performance – were both up. He played 50.66 percent of the defensive snaps – highest among defensive tackles. But the team isn’t going to pay crazy dough in 2018 for an interior defensive lineman who is pretty good. So anticipate both Brown and newly acquired Danny Shelton fighting it out for playing time in 2018 and the team working to entice one or the other to stick around.
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2015
Last deal: 4 years, $4.879M
Comment: The Patriots have a fleet of corners currently. Stephon Gilmore has one starting spot. Rowe and Jason McCourty will compete this season on the other side. Jonathan Jones and Cyrus Jones will battle for the nickel corner spot. The team also added a few rookies in April. Rowe hasn’t proven to be very durable since coming to the Patriots in 2016. He’s played in 17 games, starting 10. His size and athleticism were most prominently on display in Super Bowl 51 when he checked Julio Jones but – because he can’t stay healthy – he remains a starting level corner that a team can’t rely on.
Drafted: Undrafted 2011
Last deal: 3 years, $12M
Comment: Since coming to the Patriots as a restricted free agent in 2016, Hogan’s performed about as well as one would expect. He’s not a game-breaker (despite his league-leading yards-per-catch in 2016 of 17.9). He’s not ridiculously productive (72 catches in 30 regular-season games). But he is reliable and a dangerous complementary receiver. In the six playoff games he’s played, he has 26 catches for 484 yards and four touchdowns. That’s attributable to the fact no defense is loading up to stop Chris Hogan so he gets loose and makes teams pay. Will the Patriots pay? For a player who’s soon to be 30 but doesn’t get much in the way of separation? Probably not very much.
Drafted: undrafted 2013
Last deal: 3 years, $6.1M
Comment: The Patriots place a lot of emphasis on hard-to-measure aspects of the punting game. Directional punting, plus-50 punting, hang time, catchability, etc. It all enters into the equation and there are no numbers for that. Allen does about the same every year. He had a 39.9 net every season from 2015-17. Because the Patriots are a prolific offense, Allen kicks more than most on a short field. Last year, he punted just 58 times and dropped 24 inside the 20. He put 23 inside the 20 in 2016 on 72 punts. He’s a lefty – Belichick likes that – and he’s pretty steady. But he’s got competition this camp and it wouldn't surprise me if Corey Bojoquez from New Mexico makes a run at the spot the next two months.
AND THE REST . . .
There’s a slew of others coming up in free agency as well. Special teamer Brandon Bolden is up, but his roster survival skills are almost unmatched. Jordan Richards, a resounding and robotic disappointment during his tenure here after coming in as a second-rounder is up as well. Then there’s all those wideouts – Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarelle Patterson – along with running back Mike Gillislee. Finally, Jason McCourty and Danny Shelton are both here on one-year deals. Some of these guys won’t even make the 53. But somebody in that crew is going to make a difference for the team in 2018 and make it hard for the team to part ways next March.