New England Patriots 2024 NFL offseason primer: Post-Belichick era begins with No. 3 overall pick, big cap space

By | February 23, 2024

New England Patriots 2023 Season: 4-13, missed playoffs

Overview: The final season of Bill Belichick’s historic run in New England was perhaps the worst. They started 1–5 and by Week 12 had completed the franchise’s first consecutive losing seasons in 30 years. Weeks 4 and 5 were particularly brutal; the Patriots lost to the Cowboys and Saints by a combined score of 72-3. Quarterback Mac Jones was benched for the last six games of the season, and Bailey Zappe didn’t exactly appear to be the future either.

It all led to the Patriots parting ways with Belichick after 24 seasons, six Super Bowl titles, nine Super Bowl appearances, 17 AFC East titles and many more unprecedented achievements. Enter Jerod Mayo, the linebackers coach who was hired as head coach on Jan. 12 and got a message from the jump: “I’m not trying to be Bill.”

Maybe not, but there’s a lot of work ahead for Mayo and the Patriots, both in the shadow of Belichick’s success and the mess of a roster he left behind.

(Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)

(Taylor Wilhelm/Yahoo Sports)

Keyless agents

TE Hunter Henry
OT Trenton Brown
OT Mike Onwenu
S Kyle Dugger
W. Kendrick Bourne

Who’s in/out: On a roster with such a dearth of talent at the NFL level, it’s difficult to find meaningful focus. Most of the Patriots’ top free agents are concerned about injuries or production, although Onwenu was a hit as a 2020 sixth-round pick and developed into a solid starter. He could be the Patriots’ top (only?) priority to re-sign.

Top Free Agent Needs

Quarterback
Wide receiver
Offensive tackle
Edge slider
Linebacker

Bill Belichick is gone as head coach of the Patriots and Jerod Mayo (left) takes his place.  (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)Bill Belichick is gone as head coach of the Patriots and Jerod Mayo (left) takes his place.  (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick is gone as head coach of the Patriots and Jerod Mayo (left) takes his place. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Why the holes? It all starts at quarterback for New England. The solid start to Mac Jones’ career has fallen apart in recent years, with Mayo offering faint praise for Jones’ leadership qualities in January. “The quarterback has to have some kind of leadership qualities,” Mayo said, “and hopefully we can get to that point.” Well, the Patriots own the No. 3 overall pick in April’s draft, which gives them a shot at one of Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels. Perhaps their leadership is more what Mayo are looking for.

The wide receiver room has also been in dire need of upgrades for years, and this year’s draft/free agent class at the position is strong. There are also needs on defense, and as a head coach with a defensive background, he expects Mayo to place an emphasis on halting the decline that this phase has experienced in 2023.

Do they have the money?

Yes. New England is expected to have nearly $74 million in cap space, per Spotrac, the second most in the league. Even after any attempts to re-sign its own free agents, the team will have plenty of extra cash to hunt for outside players. Could that be a quarterback like Kirk Cousins, or a receiver like Tee Higgins or Mike Evans? The Patriots could certainly use the extra firepower on offense if they can’t address those needs in the draft.

Possible notable cuts

CBJC Jackson
DT Davon Godchaux

Why they might be gone: The erratic Jackson was benched by the Chargers last season and reacquired by the Patriots after they let him leave in free agency in 2022. But if he’s not in Mayo’s plans, there won’t be a dead end if they cut him. Godchaux, meanwhile, has a cap hit of $11.7 million through 2024, and his dead cap hit is $3.5 million if he is cut. The team has already begun making cuts after safety Adrian Phillips and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy were reportedly released Monday, saving about $5 million on the cap.

Design choices

1st round: No. 3
2nd Round: No. 34 overall
3rd Round: No. 68 overall
4th round
5th round
6th round
7th round (via Bears)

Good towing fit

Jayden Daniels, QB, New England

Why he? The Patriots need a long-term answer at quarterback, and Daniels is emerging as the third-ranked quarterback in this class, also on Yahoo Sports draft expert Nate Tice’s big board. Tice believes there is a lot to like about the reigning Heisman Trophy winner’s game, including his accuracy, arm strength, competitiveness and his ability to operate both in the pocket and outside the structure when a play breaks down. There are concerns about his slight frame, but the upside could be too intriguing for the Patriots to pass up.

What can move the fantasy football needle this season?

This is a team that needs offensive reinforcements everywhere. New England ranked 31st in points and 30th in yards last year, and the team hasn’t even managed a receiver for 900 yards since Tom Brady left town. First, the Patriots need to solve for the quarterback, albeit with an early-round selection in the draft, a later speculative play if the team trades up or perhaps one of the attractive free agents. And it’s also imperative that New England hunt for an impact receiver in the draft, something the organization has struggled to find for decades, even during the years of the Bill Belichick dynasty. —Scott Pianowski

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