The new NFL league year begins Wednesday, March 15, and with it, the advent of 2023's free agency marketplace. Leading up to that day, we'll examine the landscape from a Patriots perspective. Today, we analyze the cornerbacks.
NOTABLE EXTERNAL FREE AGENTS: Marcus Peters (BAL), Bradley Roby (MIA), James Bradberry (PHI), Anthony Brown (DAL), Bobby McCain (WAS), Jamel Dean (TB).
Despite promising rookie years from Marcus and Jack Jones, cornerback is one of the significant question marks this offseason as versatile vet Jonathan Jones is slated to hit free agency. The team will also have an interesting decision to make on restricted free agent Myles Bryant, who was an undrafted rookie. Now the team will have to decide to tag him with a first-round, second-round or original-round tender. The last tag would require no compensation from another team should they sign Bryant to a deal. They're likely to either look at an extension with him or allow him to walk.
The easy way to look at it is that they've got plenty of options on the inside and plenty of questions on the outside. Marcus Jones could be tapped to take over the top slot job if the team can't retain Bryant, but Jack Jones and Jalen Mills missed a combined 11 games last season as the top duo left on the outside if J. Jones departs.
The diversity of size is lacking with the group, as the team can be outgunned against bigger receivers at times and that could necessitate targeting a corner with some length who can play on the outside and take on those kinds of playmakers. However there just isn't that young stud corner hitting free agency like Stephon Gilmore back in 2017. The Pats saw their chance and struck for Gilmore and were rewarded with some key championship plays as well as a 2019 Defensive Player of the Year award. The lack of that kind of outside talent to match up with the top opposing weapons was glaring at times last year, despite a solid year from Jonathan Jones.
Peters and Roby top the class but both are north of 30, while Bradberry and Brown aren't far behind at 29. Patrick Peterson might be approaching 33 but he showed in 2022 he still has some gas left in the tank. He wouldn't be a terrible idea on a one-year deal to consider.
One of the Buccaneers free agent cornerbacks might make the most sense if the Patriots were looking to make an impact addition. Still just 26, Jamel Dean is projected to make around $16.5 million per year on his free agent deal. He was PFF's 20th-highest graded cornerback, picking up two interceptions and five PBUs for the Bucs. Teammate Sean Murphy-Bunting is also a free agent and came in at 10th in the league last season according to PFF's grades, allowing just 22 receptions on 40 targets as he entered the starting lineup over the final four games when Dean was injured. Neither are shutdown number ones but solid pros who could take a role and provide a boost of size.
The Patriots are no strangers to splash moves at cornerback. They traded for Aqib Talib in 2012, signed Darrelle Revis in 2014 and the grabbed Gilmore a few years later. Without a player like those on the market their best option could be to wait for a loaded cornerback draft class, where they could find themselves at least one outside corner on a rookie contract for the next four-plus years with a potential shutdown ceiling.