With the offseason officially under way in the NFL it will be a long six weeks until free agency starts. The Patriots have plenty of work to do, starting with Tom Brady, who is slated to hit free agency for the first time in his career, but even beyond Brady there are a number of free agents the team must make difficult decisions on.
Team leaders like Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater and Kyle Van Noy could depart, while their most consistent offensive lineman in Joe Thuney and a dynamic defensive playmaker in Jamie Collins are also slated to hit the free agency market. Role players like Nate Ebner, Philip Dorsett and Danny Shelton are also some of the more notable players with contracts expiring.
Brady will be the first decision to be made and losing him would be monumental event. But even if he stays, the trickledown effect will have a major impact on the other internal free agents, many of whom have been the bedrock of multiple Super Bowl titles.
This week's Samsonite Make Your Case question of the week is…
Who is the most important non-Brady Patriots free agent?
Mike Dussault says...
McCourty has been a core piece of five Super Bowl trips after having burst onto the scene as a first-round pick in 2010, earning Second-Team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press, as well as a Pro Bowl nod. His shift to safety during the 2012 season was a key turning point for a Patriots defense that had been torched by the deep ball for multiple seasons. With McCourty on the back end, the Patriots won three more Super Bowls.
Now McCourty is one of the most valuable leaders on and off the field for the Patriots. If the team were to lose Brady this offseason, losing McCourty as well might be catastrophic. He'll be 33 in August but showed no sign of decline in 2019, grabbing five interceptions, his highest total since 2012.
In a conference where stopping an explosive downfield passing attack will be as critical as ever to any Super Bowl chances, McCourty's presence on the defense is vital and one they are ill-equipped to replace. Brady is certainly the first priority, but McCourty shouldn't be far behind. He's a critical piece if they're to challenge the Chiefs for AFC supremacy in 2020.
Paul Perillo says...
The Patriots offensive line suffered through its share of struggles in 2019, but Joe Thuney was not part of that. The four-year veteran was outstanding throughout the season both in pass protection and providing holes for the running backs. Losing him in free agency will be a tough blow.
Thuney has quickly developed into a mainstay up front due to his consistency and durability. He barely missed a snap in his four seasons in New England let alone a game or a practice. With the shuffling that took place on either side of him this year due to the absences of both Isaiah Wynn at left tackle and David Andrews at center, his performance becomes even more impressive.
Based on his accomplishments, Thuney should be in line of a big pay day once he hits the open market. That likely means he will go elsewhere, but losing experienced valuable players like him is not ideal, and it will leave a void up front for a group that is looking for more consistency in 2020.