Five players the Patriots should pursue early in NFL Free Agency

By | March 11, 2024

Five players the Patriots should pursue early in NFL Free Agency originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Patriots didn’t wait for the NFL’s legal tampering period, which begins at noon ET, to lock up some of their own players.

First it was Hunter Henry. Then it was Kendrick Bourne. The team has also acquired rosterable offensive tackle in Chukwuma Okorafor.

But if the Patriots are willing to use their ample cap space — they had more than $100 million to spend at one point — for a big splash, we’re still waiting.

Offensive lineman Mike Onwenu remains unsigned as he represents himself in his first round of free agency. Safety Kyle Dugger has been labeled in transition and can still seek offers elsewhere, but must give the Patriots a chance to match before signing with another club.

What is the best way for New England to spend the money at its disposal? Glad you asked. Here’s one way the team could significantly improve its roster before heading into the draft next month.

Ffind a receiver

Even with a bunch of bodies on the roster — Bourne, DeMario Douglas, DeVante Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster — this team still needs help at receiver. Will they be inclined to add a big-ticket item here, knowing it’s a strong draft class at the position, and knowing there’s already a significant amount of money committed to the spot given the contracts signed last offseason were handed over to Parker and Smith-Schuster?

That remains to be seen. But if de facto general manager Eliot Wolf and head coach Jerod Mayo want an immediate upgrade without having to roll the dice in the draft, Calvin Ridley wouldn’t be a bad choice.

He’s 30 years old and is coming off a missed season due to a gambling suspension in 2022, but he racked up more than 1,000 yards in his return to the field last year. He still has plenty of power to go along with some real route-running chops, making him an enticing “Z” receiver who can be used anywhere in offensive formations.

If it’s pure speed the Patriots want, the Cardinals’ Marquise Brown would make sense. Even if he is a one-trick pony, his trick is valuable. Defenses would have to consider Brown’s downfield abilities at all times, which could divert safety attention from other pass catchers and provide Rhamondre Stevenson with lighter boxes to run.

A potentially cost-effective signing for the Patriots if they can’t land Ridley or Brown as the bigger fish? Noah Brown from Houston. He played just 10 games for the Texans last season, but was one of quarterback C.J. Stroud’s favorite targets during that span, catching 33 passes for 567 yards and two scores.

At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Brown has shown the ability to land contested throws, and he has the size to block in what could be a run-heavy scheme under the new offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt.

Fstrengthen the offensive line

Right now, the Patriots have a center in David Andrews. They have a guard in Sidy Sow, who impressed NFL evaluators who spoke with NBC Sports Boston this season in Year 1. That is it.

Cole Strange had two seasons as a pro and ended last year with an injury. Onwenu is a free agent, just like Trent Brown.

Wolf made it very clear that he considers Onwenu a ‘core player’ and would like to sign him to a long-term deal. If the Patriots were to accomplish this feat and force Onwenu into a deal that would pay him around $15 million per year, they would still have to find a different approach.

Instead of taking a tackle on Day 2 of the draft — although this year’s class could have talented tackles that last into the second round, which is atypical — the Patriots could sign another to play opposite Onwenu (or next Unwanted) to play. , if he prefers to play guard.)

🔊 Next Pats: Patriots core free agents could cost HOW MUCH?!? | Listen and subscribe | Check out YouTube

The Cowboys’ Tyron Smith, 33, is headed to free agency and would be a gifted short-term stopgap. Mekhi Becton is huge and hugely talented, but injuries make investing in him a challenge.

Former Patriots lineman Jermaine Eluemunor is, believe it or not, a name worth considering. He’s established himself as a starting-level right tackle for the Raiders, and if Onwenu prefers to play guard, then a reunion might be in order.

Then there’s Jonah Williams, who could play left tackle after switching to right tackle from Cincinnati in 2023.

For a position that is typically extremely difficult to fill, there are some playable pieces on both the left and right sides of the line for the Patriots. They just have to be willing to pay.

Gand a quarterback

Just one. It’s vital.

Even if the team was committed to taking a quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick, the Patriots would still need an experienced signal caller.

Bridge? Backstop? Or. Both. Buy one.

It won’t be Baker Mayfield returning to Tampa Bay. It won’t be Russell Wilson signing with the Steelers.

Jacoby Brissett feels best about this. He is familiar with Alex Van Pelt and the Cleveland offense making its way to New England. He is considered the ultimate locker room man. And he’s good enough to start at bridge quarterback if the Patriots feel like the rookie they get isn’t ready to go immediately.

Last year, in two spot appearances, Brissett completed 78.3 percent of his passes for 224 yards, three touchdowns and no picks, for a passer rating of 146.8. For his career, Brissett is a very Mayfieldian passer at 61.3 percent with an 85.3 rating.

If Brissett can get a deal similar to the one he signed in Washington last year — one year, $8 million — the Patriots should pursue him all the way.

If New England can’t get Brissett, grabbing Ryan Tannehill — who is familiar with the under-center, play-action bootleg-style offense Van Pelt used in Cleveland — might be the next best option.

Trading for Justin Fields remains the top upside, though it’s unclear whether or not New England would be open to a draft pick to acquire the Bears’ quarterback with just one year left on his contract.

DDon’t forget the defense

Because their offense has been such a mess for two years, it’s easy to forget that the Patriots do indeed have a need on the defensive side of the ball.

Start at the line of scrimmage. Edge defenders Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche are set to hit free agency. Matt Judon is coming back from injury, but his contract was restructured last offseason and may need another adjustment. There are questions here, it’s safe to say, and adding a pass rusher could be hugely beneficial to Mayo’s defensive scheme.

Danielle Hunter might be the best pass rusher left after a few tags were handed out in the NFL recently. Last season, he made more than 70 pressures to agree to double-digit sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. He was a threat to Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores and could have a similar impact if he found his way to Flores’ former team in Foxboro.

Houston’s Jonathan Greenard is another solid option because he does everything, which the Patriots would appreciate. He was one of the game’s top-performing defenders last year, and his relentless pass-rush style led to 53 pressures and 14 sacks.

The Patriots could also use a boost in the secondary, don’t forget that. While second-year corner Christian Gonzalez will be asked to take on a huge workload in the fall, he needs a starting-level borderline corner to play opposite him.

Washington’s Kendall Fuller and Cincinnati’s Chidobe Awuzie would fit in and help form a strong tandem with Gonzalez. Then there’s old friend Stephon Gilmore, whose great but quick skills and calm nature seem to make him the ideal mentor for a player like Gonzalez, who has some similar traits.

Hoh it could look like this

The Patriots have enough cap space to pay Dugger on the transition tag, give Hunter a deal that pays him $20 million per year as a premier pass rusher, and add Gilmore for $10 million on a one-year contract. to strengthen the secondary.

They could also re-sign Onwenu, add Jonah Williams to play left tackle, pay Brissett as a backup and overpay Ridley to keep him from going elsewhere.

There are five players there – Hunter, Gilmore, Williams, Brissett and Ridley – that the Patriots can’t even talk to until the tampering period begins. Acquiring them would be a lot of guaranteed money going out the door. Those would be some big checks for Robert Kraft to sign.

But they have the space to do it. And depending on how the cap hits were spread out over 2024, they would still have enough money to sign their draft picks and have extra money left over for in-season spending.

Add a dynamic young quarterback to this group, as well as a game-changing rookie wideout, and this team would give its fanbase a real chance after two lifeless seasons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *