The new NFL year begins Wednesday, March 14, and with it, the advent of 2018's free agent marketplace. Leading up to that first day, we'll examine the landscape from a Patriots perspective, beginning with perhaps the most important position groups for New England: defensive back.
PATRIOTS FREE AGENTS
Malcolm Butler (CB), Johnson Bademosi (CB), Nate Ebner (S)
OTHER NOTABLE NFL FREE AGENTS
Corners: Trumaine Johnson (LA Rams), Kyle Fuller (Chicago Bears), Bashaud Breeland (Washington Redskins), Davon House (Green Bay Packers), Morris Claiborne (NY Jets), Prince Amukamara (Chicago Bears)
Safeties: Marcus Gilchrist (Houston Texans), Morgan Burnett (Green Bay Packers), Eric Reid (San Francisco 49ers)
Corners: Johnson, Fuller, Breeland
Safeties: Reid, Burnett, Ebner
It's a shame that Butler's remarkable Patriots story will likely end on such a sour note (from Super Bowl star as a rookie to benched in the most recent big game). However, it was encouraging to see last year's big-name signing, Stephon Gilmore, steadily improve throughout the season and into the playoffs. Head coach Bill Belichick spoke very highly of Gilmore late in the year, which might translate to Belichick wanting another young, tall, athletic cornerback to pair with Gilmore in 2018.
If that's the case, Johnson (6-2), Fuller (5-11), and Breeland (5-11) would make sense as proven, productive starters in the league who are in the prime of their careers. I wouldn't rule out an unconventional signing, like Justin Bethel of Arizona or the Jaguars' Aaron Colvin – tall, young players who have limited starting experience.
Bottom line, as Super Bowl LII showed, aside from Gilmore, the Patriots need more quality at cornerback.
At safety, the team's core of returning vets remains strong, but is beginning to age, which could prompt the Patriots to look at someone like the 26-year-old Reid (6-1, 215), who has started all but one game in which he's appeared for the Niners over the past five seasons.
Burnett's a bit older, but as a stalwart in the Green Bay secondary for the entirety of his career, he could be a seamless fit here in Foxborough. I also wouldn't rule out a surprise signing like the Chargers' Tre Boston, Bradley McDougald of Seattle, or Kenny Vaccaro, the Saints safety coming off major recent surgery to his groin and wrist.
Ebner, of course, is an adored special teams-focused player and, despite a devastating knee injury in 2017, will likely be back in uniform here.