Patriots free agent needs: Here's who they should be shopping for
The NFL’s free agent doors swing open officially Wednesday.
The Patriots rarely get caught up in in the initial stampede, preferring to let the desperate, drunk and delirious claw at each other in an effort to find that missing piece that will get them labeled “one of the league’s big free agent winners” by St. Patrick’s Day.
The player acquisition period “starts” when the league year begins. It doesn’t end until Halloween. Nick Caserio, who runs point during free agency, wouldn’t be caught dead with his face figuratively plastered against the front door of Free Agent World at 11:59 p.m. Tuesday night.
There are needs though. And the Patriots have room to maneuver and a projected $24 million-plus to maneuver with (more if they start tweaking some contracts).
These are the spots where they most need to shop:
The Skinny: With Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett hitting free agency and Josh Gordon still on the reserve/suspended list, the Patriots need bodies. And even if those guys came back, they’d still need bodies since Julian Edelman is the only wideout they have that makes a defense quake.
Players Under Contract: Julian Edelman, Matt Slater, Braxton Berrios, Darren Andrews, Damoun Patterson
Money Committed: $8.95M (Edelman, $4.451M)
Top Players Available: Golden Tate, Tavon Austin, Randall Cobb, Michael Crabtree, Eli Rogers, Tyrell Williams, Donte Moncrief.
The Play: Tate (pictured) is the best player on the list and somebody’s going to give him a deal that blows away Edelman’s which would be repellent but it is what it is.
The Skinny: With Rob Gronkowski dawdling in deciding whether to return for the final year of his contract, the Patriots are left wondering whether they need a starter-level tight end or support. Dwayne Allen is still in the AFC East, but he bolted for Miami.
Players Under Contract: Rob Gronkowski, Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo.
Money Committed: $13.66M (Gronkowski, $11.86M)
Top Players Available: Jared Cook, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tyler Eifert, Luke Stocker.
The Play: There ain’t no Coupe de Ville hiding at the bottom of this Cracker Jack box of tight ends. Cook (pictured) is coming off career-highs of 68 catches, 896 yards, and six touchdowns, but will the soon-to-be 32-year-old want to come east to perhaps play second fiddle to Gronkowski?
The Skinny: With Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton about to become free agents, the Patriots are going to need to restock their interior defensive line. Lawrence Guy has been an excellent player for them for reasonable dough for two seasons. Adam Butler also plays well when he’s inside but he’s more of a third-down interior player.
Players Under Contract: Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Ufomba Kamala, Trent Harris, Frank Herron.
Money Committed: $6.4M (Guy, $4.26M)
Top Players Available: Ndamukong Suh, Timmy Jernigan, Muhammad Wilkerson, Christian Covington, Darius Philon, Haloti Ngata.
The Play: Jernigan (pictured) is only 26, but the Eagles declined to pick up his option. Ngata, who’s now 35, could be an interesting add if he still has a desire. He was a force in his heyday.
The Skinny: Even with Trey Flowers headed to Detroit, the Pats bolstered their DE depth by trading for Michael Bennett. Meanwhile, Adrian Clayborn is coming off an underwhelming first season while Deatrich Wise shows flashes and Derek Rivers remains a bit of an enigma. John Simon, who played key snaps after being signed in late September is also a free agent.
Players Under Contract: Bennett (pictured), Clayborn, Wise, Keionta Davis, Rivers.
Money Committed: $14.8M (Bennett: $6.2M, Clayborn: $5.93M)
Top Players Available: Ziggy Ansah, Markus Golden.
The Play: The easiest play was to re-sign Flowers to a fat, three-year deal that lets him get on the market again at age 29. The Patriots have already gotten contributions from him far exceeding what his salary was, but it'll be tough for the Lions to get the same outcome, since his AAV of $18M is the fifth-largest number in the league.
The Skinny: The position is a strong point for the Patriots with Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon. But McCourty – while he’s coming back this season – is clearly close to wrapping it up, Chung is 31 and Harmon is 29. Brandon King and Nate Ebner are primarily special teamers. The group could use some depth and there’s a fleet of good safeties on the free agent market this season.
Players Under Contract: Devin McCourty, Chung, Harmon, Obi Melifonwu, Brandon King, Nate Ebner.
Money Committed: $27M (McCourty, 13.43M; Harmon, $4.75M, Chung $3.575M; Ebner $2.787M)
Top Players Available: Earl Thomas (pictured), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
The Play: The Patriots have $44.2M committed to their secondary players (Gilmore and McCourty leading the way). That’s fourth-highest in the NFL. It’s going to be hard to add a top-tier safety unless cap numbers are tweaked. The Patriots need to get younger and deeper at the position and if they don’t find a name here, they should prioritize it in the draft.