It is not much of a stretch to say that the 2022 New England Patriots will feel different than the 2021 team. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels has officially left for the Las Vegas Raiders. Additionally, long-time front office member Dave Ziegler will serve as his general manager. For now, Joe Judge is back in the fold, with Bill O’Brien possibly joining later on as well as McDaniels replacement. The Patriots roster will not be immune from looking different either. They have a number of notable free agents which include J.C. Jackson, Trent Brown, Devin McCourty, Jakobi Meyers, and Dont’a Hightower. What further complicates matters is the Patriots do not have much cap space to work with. This should be an interesting offseason for the 10-7 squad to say the least.
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Pending Free Agents
Via Over the Cap, the Patriots are projected to have a hair over 8.2 million in cap space heading into this offseason. Not a great situation given some of the players set to hit the open market, but there is some good news. Adrian Phillips, who was set to be a free agent, was picked up on a three-year extension late in the regular season. Since coming over from the Los Angeles Chargers, Phillips has been a great piece on the Patriots’ defense. For that, his efforts were justifiably rewarded, and on a great team deal at that. With that said, there is a good chance some key players are not back for 2022.
No other way to put it, Jackson is going to get the bag this offseason. The only question is who is giving it to him? The good news for the Patriots is they have some options other than letting him simply leave. Option No. 1 is to pay him. Looking at some other top cornerbacks, a new deal could be five years and somewhere north of 18 million dollars per. If the Patriots aren’t willing to hit that number, then the franchise tag feels all but assured. This year that number would give Jackson a one-year deal around the 17-million-dollar mark via OTC. The tag would also give the Patriots the opportunity to turn Jackson into some draft capital if any teams want to bring him aboard.
After his failed stint with the Raiders, Brown more or less picked right back where he left off in Foxborough. He has the ability to play both tackle spots as well which could make him a hot commodity on the open market. Brown however during the preseason, made it quite aware that he likes being in New England. Even with the 6’8″ behemoth missing six games this year, he was an unmissable presence on the offensive front. It would not be a surprise to see Brown stick around with the Patriots whatsoever.
Jakobi Meyers (RFA)
Meyers is the interesting case of the bunch, as he is the lone restricted free agent the Patriots have. As a refresher, the Patriots will have the option to place a first or second-round tender on Meyers. Which allows him to negotiate with other teams and sign an offer sheet. If the Patriots do not wish to match, they will receive draft compensation based on the tender they used. The Patriots should want Meyers back, as he is an extremely dependable pass catcher. However, if another team is willing to go above and beyond to sign him the Patriots’ hands are just about tied. Look for a second-round tender to go on Meyers, which carries a salary of nearly four million dollars if teams decide to not pursue him.
Potential Cap Casualties
The Patriots will have to cut bait with some players to afford some of the moves they need to. The good news is that most of the realistic candidates are not key pieces for the Patriots in the long run. However, some are, so Bill Belichick may have to make some tough calls if he wants to make some moves this year. That goes for both in-house and open market signings.
Nelson Agholor ($4.8 Million Saved)
It’s not that Agholor was dreadful in 2021, but it became apparent that his productivity did not match what the Patriots gave him a year ago. Of the three main receivers and two tight ends, Agholor ranked fourth in targets, receptions, yards, and passer rating when targeted. He was brought in to be a potential big-play threat, and although it was not entirely on him, it just never materialized. Even with the 10-million-dollar dead cap hit, it may be for the best if the Patriots cut bait, or find a trade partner if possible. The latter option would save New England an extra five million dollars, with a significantly lower dead cap charge.
Kyle Van Noy ($4.9 Million Saved)
Cutting Van Noy would be the hardest call of these three options. A fan favorite for nearly his entire time in New England, and a very good player to boot. Given some of the younger pass rushers, the Patriots have like Ronnie Perkins and Josh Uche, this may be for the best. The Patriots need to get younger on the defensive side of the ball in any case. Additionally, his dead cap charge is only half of how much money the Patriots would end up saving.
Isaiah Wynn ($0 Saved) ($10 Million Saved if Traded)
Despite his fifth-year option being picked up last year, Wynn did not have a good 2021. In addition, since being drafted in 2018, he has only played in 34 out of a possible 65 regular-season games. While cutting Wynn saves them nothing, the Patriots trading him would save just over 10-million-dollars with no dead cap charge whatsoever. Even if the return is minimal at best, unloading Wynn should be high up, if not priority one, on Belichick’s to-do list.
Open Market Free Agent Targets
As far as making a gigantic splash in free agency, say getting Davante Adams, don’t expect the Patriots to do what they did last year in terms of spending. What they do have the ability to do is make some value signings to bolster up the overall depth of the roster. Another plus is that the Patriots have the opportunity to do some old-school AFC East poaching like in years past. For example…
Isaiah McKenzie, Buffalo Bills
Patriots fans for sure remember McKenzie. The 5’8″ burner absolutely torched New England back in Week 15, going for 11 catches, 125 yards, and a touchdown. He was/has been buried on the Bills depth chart with their loaded group. With the Patriots potentially shaking up their unit, McKenzie could conceivably get some more full-time snaps. Additionally, McKenzie can return kicks, which is also an area of need with Gunner Olszewski more than likely on his way out.
Charvarius Ward, Kansas City Chiefs
There are several cornerbacks that are going to get a ton of money on the open market. Ward, while not the best corner of the bunch, provides some good value compared to Jackson, Carlton Davis, Darious Williams, etc. Ward did end up having a subpar outing in the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals. Outside of that, he was solid. Of the Chiefs’ main cornerbacks, Ward gave up a team-best 79.4 passer rating when targeted. Additionally, depending on what the Patriots do at cornerback, he wouldn’t necessarily be relied on to be the No. 1 guy on the outside. Joejuan Williams being a cut candidate also would make this a good signing.
Akiem Hicks, Chicago Bears
Hicks for the Patriots is the one who got away. After a 13 game stint with the team in 2015, the big man has spent the last six years in the Windy City. Now hitting the open market for what could be the last time, the Patriots should right the wrong of letting Hicks go to the Bears in the spring of 2016. The statistics have dipped from his first few monster years with the Bears. As a rotational piece, however, this would be a home run move for the Patriots. Hicks would do wonders for opening things up for Christian Barmore on the inside.
Previewing the Draft
As far as picks are concerned, the Patriots are in a good spot entering the 2022 Draft. They currently are not in possession of their own fifth, sixth, or seventh-round pick, but will make five picks as of this moment. Linebacker is a big area of need with both Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley uncertain to return. In addition to Raekwon MacMillian and 2021 pick Cam McGrone missing all of last year. A wideout has been talked about as a need, but wouldn’t say it’s above a new defensive field general. If both of this year’s top Linebackers (Nakobe Dean and Devin Lloyd) are gone by pick 21, expect the Patriots to potentially trade out of round one. Unless there is a cornerback that they cant pass on.
Round 1, Pick 21: Linebacker
Linebacker is the biggest area of need for the Patriots. Both Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley are uncertain to return next season. While additionally, Raekwon MacMillian and 2021 pick Cam McGrone missed all of last year. A true long-term solution that can keep up with the current NFL speed standards is a must. Luckily they have some options in the opening round, and they went one-two in Butkus Award voting. Both Dean and Lloyd would be excellent pick-ups, and you can’t go wrong with either. Even if the Patriots have to move up a few spots to acquire one of them, it would be worth it.
Round 2, Pick 54: Wide Reciever
Getting Mac Jones a legit No. 1 receiver is another box that needs to be checked off this offseason. In the event they miss out or don’t want to pull the trigger on a Calvin Ridley deal, they would have some options to at least shore up the depth chart. A name to keep an eye on would be George Pickens out of Georgia. Despite an ACL tear last spring, the 6’3″ wideout ended up playing in four games for the Bulldogs this season, including the National Championship. John Metchie from Alabama is another receiver to look for, although he tore his ACL in the SEC title game.
Round 3, Pick 85: Offensive Line
It can be argued that no team in the NFL has done a better job in the last decade drafting/developing linemen than the Patriots. Although their starting lineup isn’t in serious question, shoring up the depth is never a bad call. This is also a very solid offensive lineman draft as well, so New England with have options. Kellen Diesch out of Arizona State could potentially be a tackle option if he is still there. On the inside look for Sean Rhyan out of UCLA. He played tackle but could kick inside to play guard in the NFL.
Early 2022 Expectations
After a return to the postseason, the Patriots hope they have returned to form for the foreseeable future. Seeing as they had the AFC East lead late in the season, a division win next year should not be ruled out. Although by no means should they be favored, especially if the Bills can keep the bulk of their team intact. If the Patriots however can get Jones a true No. 1 guy, they could be a sleeper out of the AFC. For anyone whos skeptical about making that kind of a move, consider this. Look at what Ja’Marr Chase has done for Joe Burrow, Stefon Diggs for Josh Allen, etc. If they do what they need to, watch out for the Patriots in 2022.
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