The New England Patriots seem to have their 2020 roster pieced together and training camp will help get them down to 53 men.
However, there are still questions to be answered regarding a few skill positions in New England, with a plethora of free agents still awaiting employment. That being said, the Patriots have approximately $1.7 million to spend, so the options will have to come cheap.
Who is left?
Chris Hogan – Wide Receiver – Carolina Panthers
Patriots veterans have already endorsed the possibility of New England bringing back Hogan, who played in Foxborough for three seasons.
While never confused as a No. 1 wideout, Hogan was sneakily productive in his New England, corralling 107 receptions for 1,651 yards and 12 touchdowns in 40 games. He even led the National Football League in yards per reception in 2016, boasting a mark of 17.9.
Times were tough, however, for the Monmouth product in Carolina. Injuries limited him to just seven games. Over the seven he did participate in, he recorded just eight receptions for 67 yards on 15 targets. Not much should be read into that, but it is worth noting that his 53.3 percent reception rate was the worst mark of his career.
He’s going to come cheap, meaning the onus is on Bill Belichick and Robert Kraft if they’re willing to cut a check for any portion of that $1.7 million remaining in cap space.
Demaryius Thomas – Wide Receiver – New York Jets
Thomas was briefly a Patriot but then was cut. He was soon re-signed and traded to the Jets. It was a real whirlwind for the four-time Pro Bowler, one that he didn’t handle in the most professional of ways with his comments.
“It was insulting for sure [to be moved],” said Thomas. “Once I got cut, I coauld’ve just come here [to the Jets], and not stay there and re-sign. When they re-signed me, I was thinking I was good. Two weeks later, I was gone. So it’s like, why did I waste my time? Because at the end of the day, it did feel like a waste of time to me.”
That alone might be enough for Belichick to not even entertain the thought of bringing him back for Round 3. However, he and Jarrett Stidham looked impressive together in that preseason finale against the Giants, connecting seven times for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) August 30, 2019
In his 11 games with the Jets, the veteran wideout totaled 36 receptions (58 targets) for 433 yards and one touchdown. He’s not the same explosive option that once tormented defenses with the Broncos, but he can still be a serviceable secondary or tertiary option in an otherwise questionable offense.
Andy Dalton – Quarterback – Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton was cut by the Bengals on Thursday morning in a move that surprised nobody.
The Patriots have four quarterbacks on the depth chart as it stands but could very well make space for him by cutting veteran Brian Hoyer.
Dalton hasn’t been stellar since 2016 and hasn’t seen his team post a winning record since 2015, but he has shown flashes of his old self from time to time. Moving on to a situation where there’s no question about the availability of his skill players should help improve the numbers of the former MVP candidate as well as provide competition for the young Stidham.
The cost will likely surpass that of the cap situation, but they can make space through cutting or renegotiating contracts or trading Joe Thuney.
Delanie Walker – Tight End – Tennessee Titans
This one is probably a long shot, as New England doubled down on tight ends in the draft.
With that in mind, Dalton Keene’s ability to play all over the field (including fullback), it could be inferred that he will be used more critically in the running game––with a greater chance shot at catching passes than James Develin.
That leaves Ryan Izzo, Matt LaCosse, and Devin Asiasi.
The former two may find themselves on the chopping block after camp, as neither of them appear to be proficient pass-catchers or run-blockers.
Delanie Walker comes in because he, despite turning 36 in August, can still make his presence felt in the passing game. He has played just eight games in the past two seasons, but the last we saw of healthy Walker corralled 74 passes for over 800 yards in 2017. He should come cheap, given age and questions about durability, and be an instant impact player in spurts for the 2020 Patriots roster.
Ezekiel Ansah – EDGE – Seattle Seahawks
This seems like a match made in heaven. Ansah was once regarded as one of the most lethal pass-rushers in the league, but injuries have derailed his performance the past two seasons.
In his past 18 games, he has just 6.5 sacks. However, if you extend that timetable to the 2017 season, he has 18.5 sacks.
He’s likely not a starter anymore, which should drop his cost, and he could provide an explosive burst in bunches, much like James Harrison did in 2017. Considering the losses of Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins and the continuous aging of Dont’a Hightower and John Simon, the Patriots could greatly benefit from adding a proven veteran workhorse like Ansah to their front seven.