The Patriots have the resources for another aggressive offseason that might not rival the 2021 spending spree but should still make a significant impact.
The Patriots are projected to have the seventh-most cap space in the league, per Over the Cap. Furthermore, New England typically backloads big-money free-agent contracts to keep the cap hits lower in the first year of the deal. For example, Pro Bowler Matthew Judon signed a four-year, $54.5 million deal with the Patriots in free agency in the 2021 offseason. Although it was one of the bigger contracts signed that free agency, Judon's year-one cap hit was only $6.3 million. The Pats can create more cap space with restructures, extensions, and cuts if necessary.
My dream offseason that we are about to lay out is very doable from a cap perspective, so don't let the dollars and cents of it get in the way as we outline our plan. Here we go:
- Trade the 46th overall pick and a fourth-round compensatory pick for WR Jerry Jeudy
- Sign one of Mike McGlinchey, Jawaan Taylor, or Kaleb McGary to play right tackle
- Make a run at LB Tremaine Edmunds or S Jessie Bates (pending Devin McCourty's retirement decision)
- Draft offensive tackles in R1 and on day three, an outside CB in R3, TE in R4, and a system-fit wide receiver on day three (Xavier Hutchinson, Parker Washington, Charlie Jones)
- Retain CB Jonathan Jones and reach a year-early extension with S Kyle Dugger
Money talks when it comes to the highly-coveted free agents targets, as we saw in the 2021 offseason. If you come in at the top of the market for their services, convincing players such as Edmunds, Bates, or one of the top tackles to sign here in a competitive market is simple.
The more challenging box to check is acquiring Jeudy in a trade that is out of character for head coach Bill Belichick and predicated on Denver parting ways with Jeudy. The former first-rounder was reportedly shopped at the deadline, but nobody met the Broncos asking price. With new head coach Sean Payton at the helm, Jeudy, who is entering the fourth year of his rookie deal with the fifth-year option decision looming, might still be available.
New England is searching for that number one receiver in its offense for third-year quarterback Mac Jones. Jeudy has produced despite a shaky quarterback and coaching situation with the Broncos. His inside-outside versatility, route-running, and productivity after the catch make him a terrific addition. With the Pats needing a top pass-catcher, they should invest another top-50 draft choice in the position. Instead of drafting another receiver, which hasn't panned out, the Pats use the 46th overall selection and a fourth-round compensatory pick the team will receive from cornerback J.C. Jackson's departure last offseason to acquire Jeudy while still holding onto their first-round draft selection to address the need at left tackle.
Eventually, the Patriots need to make a significant move for a game-changing receiver, whether in the veteran market or at the top of the draft. Given their track record in the draft and some question marks about the top receivers in this year's class, my preference is to dip into the veteran market, where we've seen plenty of movement over the last few years.
Now that we've outlined our master plan for the Patriots offseason, let's answer your Patriots mailbag questions en route to Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine:
Q: The Titans have released Taylor Lewan, who is a proven left tackle. We need a left tackle, and due to his injury shouldn't cost a fortune. Should we sign him? - Badax33 Michaud
The Patriots have a veteran tackle already on the roster in Trent Brown, who can serve as a bridge to the future, so I don't see the need for a 31-year-old Lewan coming off a season-ending ACL injury. Although he recently said he's leaning toward playing next season, Lewan is also flirting with retirement, bringing into question how much he has left in the tank. As we outlined in the intro, the Pats need to throw significant resources at the offensive tackle position. But we're hoping to see younger, more long-term solutions than someone like Lewan, who was a rock-solid player in his prime but doesn't fit that description.
Q: Is there really one of our own free agents we can't live without? A few good players, but not even Meyers is a must-retain for me. - Neil Jeffrey
Jakobi Meyers is one of the toughest negotiations the Patriots have with an in-house free agent in recent memory. He has done everything right in his career, going from a UDFA to the most productive receiver in the Pats offense. Meyers is a hard worker, humble, and intelligent, with future captain written all over him. With that said, his game is admittedly limited to the point where gauging his market and value to the offense is challenging. You'd like your number one receiver to produce more big plays before and after the catch for a high-volume role. With Meyers as their number one option, I also doubt that opposing defenses lose much sleeper while prepping for New England. You hate to say those things because he's a great representation of the organization. Still, it's hard to envision the Patriots competing with Meyers's market as one of the top available free-agent receivers. Secondly, I don't view Jonathan Jones as irreplaceable, but the Pats should be able to retain his services, given his projected market.
Q: A short question: is Tee Higgins a true number one receiver or a really good receiver but not really a number one? - David Brown
It's a fair question given Higgins's role as the number two behind Ja'Marr Chase in Cincinnati. Chase is the game-changer who attracts most of the attention and faces the opposition's top cover corners. As for Higgins, his size, speed, and fluidity to run the vertical route tree while producing big plays as a contested-catch receiver make him a challenging one-on-one matchup, which the Patriots know first-hand from last season. Higgins immediately upgraded the room as the best wideout on New England's roster, which could be worth the price. But it remains to be seen if Higgins can dictate defensive game plans and produce as the top option. Right now, I wouldn't meet the reported asking price of a first-round and mid-round draft choice for his services.
Q: I know the Patriots paid for Henry and Smith at tight end, but could they trade one and sign Mike Gesicki, who I feel would be an amazing addition? - Mark Silveira
There's always the possibility with Bill Belichick that he zigs when everyone else zags by dipping into free agency in a year where the tight end class is terrific in the draft. However, I don't love Gesicki as a player since he's more jumbo receiver than a true do-it-all tight end. With so many options in the draft, the Pats can get a similar skill set in the middle rounds for a fraction of the cost or target a true Y tight end such as Michael Mayer for a more well-rounded player. Don't sleep on adding at tight end with Henry entering a contract year and Jonnu Smith's underwhelming production. It's not a major need, but it could be a position New England looks to upgrade.
Q: Who are you most looking forward to being able to talk to at the combine? To really get a sense of their football "smarts," who intrigues you? - Clare Cooper
It's a tie between Alabama DB Brian Branch and Oregon corner Christian Gonzalez. Both players show excellent intelligence on film to instinctively react to things and adjust on the fly. Branch played the "star" role in Nick Saban's defense as primarily a slot defender and will work out with the corners in Indy. But his play speed, instincts, and ball skills have me thinking he'd be a superb heir to Devin McCourty at free safety. Gonzalez has the movement skills to mirror receivers with plus-size as an outside corner, while his awareness in zone and zone-match calls to pass off routes stood out. I'm interested in picking both of their brains about some of the plays they made last season.
Q: Simulate the off-season plan in three different ways. They take an OT at 14, WR at 14, or CB at 14. Who are you taking? - Ryan Jame
The question wanted me to outline all the steps to each final destination here, but that would be a long answer. Instead, I'll give my top choice at each position for the Patriots if they select an OT, WR, or corner in the first round. At offensive tackle, it's Georgia's Broderick Jones. Jones is not a finished product from a technique standpoint, but his issues are fixable, and his athleticism cannot be taught. At wideout, I'm leaning toward Jordan Addison as the target at no. 14 because of his big-play ability and versatility, but that could change depending on Jaxon Smith-Njigba's athletic testing. As for corner, Christian Gonzalez is my top choice, with Illinois's Devon Witherspoon a close second. Gonzalez's size to play on the outside gives him the edge.
Q: We know Bill likes to look at the lesser-known names in free agency (most of the time, at least), so who are the guys that aren't making headlines you can see the Pats going after? - Jono Thorpe
A few mid-tier free agent options the Patriots could kick the tires on are safety Juan Thornhill and Titans linebacker David Long. Thornhill is someone we expected them to have interest in during the 2019 draft as a rangy free safety who looks smooth playing the ball in a centerfield role. Long is a system-fit linebacker and an underrated player in Tennessee's defense. He is a downhill enforcer against the run but has a little more athletic ability to go sideline-to-sideline than some of their current linebackers. Not totally a new-age player, but a nice middle ground between the two styles. Long could be a solid consolation prize if the Pats strike out on Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.
Q: How do you handle Mac and the QB position? Do you draft a Hendon Hooker to hedge? - Stephen Cue
The Eagles model of protecting their Carson Wentz investment with Jalen Hurts a few years later is a popular trope. I don't hate the idea, but I don't think this is the draft for it, and it's premature. Philly drafted Hurts four years after selecting Wentz in the 2016 draft, so we are a year early here. Hooker is also a 24-year-old rookie who will likely miss his entire rookie development due to tearing his ACL in November. If you're taking him early, which you need to if you want him, Hooker is probably someone you project to start once he's healthy. BYU's Jaren Hall is a toolsy prospect while the team liked working with Dorian Thompson-Robinson from UCLA at the Shrine Bowl, so maybe that's the play? I understand the desire for a developmental quarterback with more athletic upside than Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe. But we are a year too early for that kind of competition.
DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer