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Perry: This aggressive five-point plan could make Patriots contenders

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Tee Higgins

Every so often there's a question we receive in our mailbag that leads us down a path that's worth pursuing more carefully at a later date.

That's what we got earlier this week when our pal Ben asked if how the Patriots handle the offseason will indicate how they feel about extending Mac Jones.

You can read my full answer here, but the gist of it was this: Whether or not they're leaning one way or another on extending Jones -- or even picking up his fifth-year option -- they have to be aggressive this offseason.

They've missed the postseason two of the last three years. They've gone without a playoff win over the last four years. Patience was wearing thin for owner Robert Kraft a year ago, and then his team put together a season as confounding as any under Bill Belichick

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This doesn't feel like the offseason to be bargain shopping. There are holes on the roster. There are options to fill them. Time to act.

But what might that look like?

Here's a detailed five-step plan -- including a whopper of a trade that would resemble the one that helped the Eagles get to the Super Bowl -- that would certainly qualify as aggressive. It would also help the Patriots immediately shoot up into the conversation as a team that can make some noise in January. 

 

1. Re-sign your reliable veterans

First things first. Keep Jakobi Meyers and Jonathan Jones, both set to become free agents, in Foxboro. 

In an offseason when the Patriots could be losing key leaders in Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty, Meyers and Jones have the ability to make up the next generation of leadership in New England. Both are considered captain-quality individuals by folks inside the Patriots locker room. 

What they bring on the field is just as critical. Jones could be the team's free safety, potentially, if McCourty moves on. He's played safety (briefly) before, which we discussed on the Next Pats Podcast. He understands every position in the secondary. He has the athleticism, tackling ability and ball skills to function there.

He has a toughness quotient that other corner-to-safety options on the roster may not possess. And if McCourty is back, Jones is a stable slot option with the flexibility to play along the boundary, as he did last season. There's value there. 

Next Pats Podcast: Jonathan Jones maintains love for Patriots ahead of free agency: 'I hope' future is in Foxboro | Listen & Follow | Watch on YouTube

In terms of a contract, would the Patriots be able to secure Jones' services by giving him the same average annual value they gave Jalen Mills before the 2021 season? If he comes in at about $ 6 million per year for two years, his cap hit could slot in around $ 4 million in 2023.

As for Meyers, his value would be based in the reliability he provides for Mac Jones in the middle of the field. There are dynamic threats at the slot receiver position in this year's draft, but Meyers has been so steady that as Jones goes to his third offensive coordinator in as many years, having the consistency Meyers provides would seem to be a significant benefit for the young quarterback.

What would it cost to keep Meyers? While his productivity has been very good the last three seasons, his lack of top-end speed may limit his market. Would the Russell Gage contract -- three years, $ 30 million -- get it done? If that's the model to follow, Meyers' cap hit could come in around $ 5.7 million in Year 1 of the deal.

2. Sign Mike McGlinchey

The Patriots clearly need an offensive tackle who can play. Immediately. The turnstile situation they had on the right side is something they can't run back. McGlinchey would go a long way in solving that problem immediately.

 

Are there tackle options the Patriots could pursue in the first round who'd be far cheaper? Undoubtedly. But if the Patriots want to hang onto their first-round pick for other purposes (more on that in a minute), then signing McGlinchey would guarantee them a capable player on the right side opposite left tackle Trent Brown. McGlinchey has been in a zone-heavy system under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, but he could operate in any scheme and be a reliable presence.

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The cost for the former Niners tackle could be an eye-opener. He's not expected to be as pricey as fellow free-agent tackle Orlando Brown of the Chiefs, but he could require something along the lines of the deal Terron Armstead got last offseason from Miami.

If it takes five years and $ 75 million, McGlinchey's cap hit could still sit somewhere under $ 5 million for next season -- as Armstead's did in Year 1 -- while heftier hits get pushed forward to future years.

3. Trade for Tee Higgins

This is the aforementioned whopper. Is it realistic? Apparently Cincinnati is letting folks know that they want to keep Joe Burrow surrounded by talent for the foreseeable future. And apparently Burrow may be open to constructing his deal in such a way that it makes paying both Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase more feasible. 

We'll believe it when we see it. There's a reason the Chiefs decided to move on from Tyreek Hill. There's a reason the Titans moved on from A.J. Brown. The receiver market has exploded, which makes keeping two top dogs in Cincinnati -- along with a highly-paid quarterback -- hard to envision.

That's where the Patriots would step in. It'd hurt, no question. Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was at the Super Bowl and yet still spoke openly about how the "value" of the trade he executed for Brown was hard to swallow. But it was worth it. They were a win away from a Lombardi Trophy.

So what would it take? The No. 14 overall pick actually represents about equal value to what Philly sent to Tennessee for Brown (No. 18 and No. 101 overall). But then there's the contract. Brown got a four-year extension worth $ 100 million, with $ 56 million fully guaranteed. His cap hit in Year 1 with the Eagles was $ 5.7 million. Higgins, one would think, would be looking for something similar.

Would the Patriots ever be willing to play that game?

If they took the steps to drastically improve their team in this fashion, they would be paying an exorbitant sum in guaranteed dollars just two years after doing the same in the 2021 offseason. They'd be pushing sizable cap hits out into the future. 

But unlike trying to draft the next game-changing receiver and starting tackle in the spring, adding McGlinchey and Higgins -- while retaining Meyers and Jones -- would be something approaching sure bets at positions of real need.

 

Plus, after the four moves listed above, the Patriots could still have more than $ 10 million to play with in cap space for rookies and roster filler.

4. Draft Emmanuel Forbes in Round 2

2023 NFL Draft Highlights: CB Emmanuel Forbes - Mississippi State

While the first night of the draft might be a tad anti-climactic, Belichick would still have the ability to add capable players with their remaining 10 picks. 

For instance, Mississippi State corner Emmanuel Forbes could be available in the second round. He stands about 6-feet but is slight (which is why he may last into the 40s). No matter. The Patriots just played Jack Jones as a starter despite his wiry frame. And Forbes looks like a similarly-talented ball hawk.

Forbes had six picks, three touchdowns and 10 pass-breakups last season. He has an FBS record six pick-sixes in his career. Add him to the mix with Marcus and Jack Jones as well as Jalen Mills and Jonathan Jones, and that corner group would be formidable.

5. Draft Tyjae Spears in Round 3

2023 NFL Draft Highlights: RB Tyjae Spears - Tulane University

In the third round, there's a chance the Patriots could nab their sub back of the future. Tulane's Tyjae Spears just posted one of the most impressive weeks at the Senior Bowl of any player down in Mobile, Ala. He's an electric athlete with great hands, and he's willing to stick his nose into the chests of opposing pass-rushers as a blocker. 

If Pierre Strong isn't viewed as the next Shane Vereen or James White, Spears looks like he could eventually handle that role with aplomb. That, in turn, would free up Rhamondre Stevenson to get the breathers he needs on third down to maintain his stamina throughout a 17-game schedule.

Next Pats Podcast: Here’s the skill the Patriots’ next third-down back HAS TO HAVE | Listen & Follow | Watch on YouTube

It's an aggressive plan. It may not be up Belichick's alley. 

But the pressure is on the Patriots to be good. Right now. They've already started the process by hiring O'Brien to run the offense and Adrian Klemm to assist him. But the points listed above would represent the kind of urgent approach that could quickly get them back into the conversation as a legitimate playoff contender.