The 2019 season didn’t end the way the New England Patriots had hoped with a loss to the Tennessee Titans in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. From there, things went downhill. While the Patriots struggled to finish with a 7-9 record, they got to watch Tom Brady win his seventh Super Bowl title with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, the Patriots could return to the playoffs next season with an aggressive offseason.
Despite having the most players in the league opt out because of Covid-19, the Patriots’ defense held opponents to 22.1 points per game, good enough for seventh-best in the league. However, on the other side of the ball, the Patriots’ offense struggled to put up points without Brady. With Cam Newton under center for most of the season, the Patriots averaged 20.4 points per game, finishing sixth-worst in the league. They had more games this season scoring under 13 points (six) than games scoring more than 23 (five). In total, the Patriots’ offense scored a total of 32 touchdowns this season. Meanwhile, Brady had 40 passing touchdowns in his first season in Tampa Bay. Let’s see how the Patriots can turn things around this offseason.
Pending Free Agents
According to OverTheCap.com, the Patriots have 26 players heading towards free agency this season. In the Bill Belichick Patriot way, many will be on new teams next season as the Patriots value their compensatory picks. After losing several key defensive players last season, the Patriots should have most of that unit back next year. However, on offense, several offensive linemen are scheduled to be free agents. According to OverTheCap.com, the Patriots project to have the fourth most cap space this offseason with just over $63 million. However, like always, expect the Patriots to be smart with their cap space and make wise free agent moves.
Joe Thuney, Guard
Thuney played last season on the franchise tag and spent most of the year hearing his name in true rumors. However, the Patriots never found an offer they liked and held onto him. Depending on how the market unfolds, Thuney could be back next season, but more than likely, he’s played his final down as a Patriot.
Jason McCourty, Cornerback
After spending most of his career in Tennessee, McCourty has spent the last three seasons with his twin brother Devin McCourty in New England. The two are very close, and Devin has one year left on his current contract. While the Patriots have several younger cornerbacks they like, expect the McCourty twins back with the team in 2021.
David Andrews, Center
Even as he dealt with injuries in 2020, Andrews was a critical part of the Patriots’ offensive line. He missed the entire 2019 season because of blood clots in his lungs, and the Patriots’ offensive line struggled because of his absence. Of the several offensive linemen heading towards free agency, Andrews is the most critical to re-sign. Expect him to be back with the Patriots as he will be their top offensive priority heading into free agency.
J.C. Jackson, Cornerback (RFA)
The Patriots’ top priority this offseason is re-signing Jackson as he is their best young cornerback. Jackson had a breakout season in 2020, finishing second in the NFL with nine interceptions. By comparison, Jackson totaled eight interceptions in his first two years in the league combined. The good news for the Patriots is Jackson is a restricted free agent, so expect him back with the team next season.
Cam Newton, Quarterback
When the Patriots signed Newton late in the offseason last year, everyone knew it was a chance for Newton to revive his career while Belichick can prove he can win with any quarterback. Well, neither happened, and reports are that both sides agree it’s time to part ways this offseason. Newton’s days as a starting quarterback are likely over, as he had eight passing touchdowns this season. However, three of them came in a meaningless Week 17 game against the New York Jets. Furthermore, Newton had more games in which he got benched this season than games with multiple passing touchdowns.
James White, Running Back
During the Brady years in New England, White was a staple of the offense, averaging 94 targets per game from 2016-2019. However, last season, White had only 62 targets and one receiving touchdown as the passing game struggled with Newton under center. As much as Belichick loves White, the team reportedly likes J.J. Taylor‘s upside and view him as a part of the team going forward. If the market dries up on White, he could return next year on a short term deal. However, don’t be surprised if he ends up in Tampa Bay with Brady.
Potential Cap Casualties
Given the Patriots’ cap situation, fans shouldn’t expect many cap casualties this offseason. The moves would be due to poor play rather than the lack of cap space. However, depending on where the Patriots head this offseason, some veterans could find themselves on the cutting block.
Marcus Cannon, OT ($7.1 Million Saved)
Cannon was one of the Patriot players to opt-out this season because of Covid-19 and understandably so, given his history with cancer. However, the Patriots spent two sixth-round picks on offensive linemen last season. One of them is Michael Onwenu, and he is a star in the making. His versatility means Cannon could find himself out of a job if the Patriots want to save the $7.1 million and play Onwenu at right tackle. However, given all the other potential holes on the offensive line, that is unlikely to happen.
Julian Edelman, WR ($3.4 Million Saved)
The 2020 season was one filled with injuries for Edelman as he played a career-low six games. Furthermore, he struggled to produce without Brady (as everyone else did) and will turn 35 years old in May. Given the lack of talent at wide receiver, releasing Edelman is unlikely. However, if the Patriots add a couple of younger wide receivers in free agency, Edelman could find himself on the trading block.
Adrian Phillips, SAF ($3 Million Saved)
While the Patriots will mostly quiet in free agency last season, they did sign Phillips to a two-year deal. In his first season in New England, Phillips played a critical role, totaling 109 tackles and two interceptions. However, 2020 second-round pick Kyle Dugger will play a bigger role next season and the Patriots could decide to move on from Phillips to open up snaps for Dugger.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
The Patriots will add some players on defense but expect them to focus on offense in free agency. Historically, the Patriots don’t spend big in free agency as it impacts their future compensatory picks. However, don’t be surprised to see the Patriots target an expensive free agent or two this offseason give all their cap space.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Miami Dolphins
Unless the Dallas Cowboys decide against re-signing Dak Prescott, the free agent market doesn’t offer much upside at quarterback. However, if the Patriots select a rookie in the first round of the draft, they will need a veteran bridge gap option. Fitzpatrick has done it several times in the past, and since he has already played for the other three teams in the AFC East, why not make it all four with the Patriots.
Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans
Former first-round pick N’Keal Harry has done little so far in the NFL. He joins Edelman and Jakobi Meyers as the starting trio of wide receivers under contract for next season. However, Davis is coming off a career-year, and the Titans won’t have the cap space needed to re-sign him. Davis’ route running and ability to create at all three levels would make him an ideal target for New England.
Jared Cook, TE, New Orleans Saints
Unlike the Patriots, the Saints are in salary cap hell and will be moving on from Cook this offseason. There are rumors that Cook could opt for retirement but if he plays again in 2021, expect there to be a market for the veteran. The Patriots spent two third-round draft picks on tight ends last year. However, the tight end position combined for 18 catches this season. Cook would provide the Patriots with a veteran bridge gap while Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene develop.
Brandon Scherff, G, Washington Football Team
More than likely, Scherff re-signs with Washington this offseason as he is their top priority. However, if the Patriots decide to let Thuney leave in free agency, Scherff would an excellent upgrade. Playing on the franchise tag in 2020, Scherff made the Pro Bowl and All-Pro First-Team. The Patriots have a young offensive line, and adding Scherff would elevate the entire unit.
Shaquil Barrett, EDGE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After his dominant Super Bowl performance, Barrett is heading towards free agency after playing the 2020 season on the franchise tag. While he is the Buccaneers’ top priority this offseason, they have limited cap space and several free agents they want to re-sign. If Barrett hits the open market, he would be an excellent fit in the Patriots’ defense.
Previewing the Draft
The last time the Patriots had a top 20 draft pick was in 2008. This year they are picking 15th in the first round and have several needs on offense to address. Belichick has a history of trading back and moving around, so don’t be surprised to see the Patriots either trade up into the top 10 or out of the first round entirely.
Round 1, Pick 15: Quarterback
Unless the Patriots move up into the top 10, they have no shot at the big four quarterbacks. However, staying at 15, they are in range to select former Alabama quarterback Mac Jones. Belichick and Alabama head coach Nick Saban have a great relationship, so Patriot fans shouldn’t be surprised if Jones ends up being the guy selected at pick 15.
Round 2, Pick 46: Wide Receiver
Even if the Patriots keep Edelman and sign a wide receiver like Davis in free agency, they still need to add more weapons. The wide receiver class is one of the deepest in recent memory. With that in mind, the Patriots can wait till the second round and still find an impact player starting day one. A name to keep in mind is former Clemson wide receiver Amari Rodgers, as he would be an excellent long-term replacement for Edelman.
Early 2021 Expectations
Depending on how the Patriots attack the offseason, they could find themselves back in the playoffs next season or around .500 again. The Patriots’ biggest problem is the quarterback position, but they have several ways they can fix it for next year in the offseason. With the return of several players from the Covid-19 opt-out, combined with a consistent threat at quarterback, expect the Patriots to return to the playoffs next season and contend for the AFC East division title.