The initial frenzy of free agency hit hard and fast with many of the top free agents being signed as soon as the new league year officially started.
The Patriots have made some moves during the first week of free agency but haven’t made any flashy signings as of yet. That isn’t out of character Bill Belichick and the New England brass. Their biggest move of the offseason thus far was the trade for defensive end Michael Bennett, which provides a spark to New England’s lackluster pass rush.
New England has quietly improved their roster by signing tight end Matt LaCosse, defensive lineman Mike Pennel, wide receivers Maurice Harris and Bruce Ellington, safety Terrence Brooks, and brought back a familiar face in running back Brandon Bolden.
They also re-signed punter Ryan Allen, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, cornerback Jason McCourty, and defensive end John Simon.
Unfortunately, the Patriots don’t have a ton of cap space and were unable to match a lot of big-money contracts offered to New England’s best free agents. They lost Trey Flowers (signed with Detroit), Corderelle Patterson (signed with Chicago), Trent Brown (signed with Oakland), LaAdrian Waddle (signed with Buffalo), Malcom Brown (signed with New Orleans), and Eric Rowe (signed with Miami).
There are several significant players from last season that still remained un-signed that the Patriots still have to make decisions about. The Patriots placed an original round Restricted Free Agent tender on wideout Josh Gordon that will pay him $2.025 million if/when he is reinstated from his suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. If he signs with another team New England will be awarded a second-round compensatory pick. Wide receiver Chris Hogan and longtime kicker Stephen Gostkowski also remain in the free agent pool.
Despite the initial blitz on free agents, there are still many valuable assets available that could help New England this upcoming season. Here are a few veteran guys that the Patriots should consider signing:
Jamie Collins, Linebacker
Collins was traded by the Patriots for a third-round pick back in 2016 and was then given a four-year, $50 million contract by Cleveland, which made him the highest paid 4-3 outside linebacker at the time.
After getting paid, Collins’ play never warranted the amount of money he was making. His attitude and work ethic has come into question over the years as he is known to take plays off and his effort is inconsistent. His output was not worth the $9.25 million that Cleveland was due to pay him and he was cut this offseason.
Reuniting with Bill Belichick and the Patriots’ defensive scheme seems like the perfect move this late in Collins’ career. He never really meshed in the Browns’ system and he missed a lot of time while in Cleveland. Even with playing in 16 games last season, he never looked like the player he was while in a Patriots’ uniform.
Now is the time to give Collins a second chance, if the price is right. With all the time missed and low production, he doesn’t necessarily scream high dollar multi-year deal. A one-year prove-it deal is a real possibility and makes sense for both parties.
Jordy Nelson, Wide Receiver
Nelson was a bit of a surprise cut by the Raiders after head coach John Gruden stated he would be back in 2019. Nelson was a few steps slower in his first season with Oakland compared to the quality years he put in for Green Bay. Despite looking like the 33-year-old he is, he came up huge at the end of the season catching 38 passes for 386 yards in the final five games. That was just over half of the 739 yards he had for the entire year.
Just when fans think that a veteran has nothing left in the tank, Bill Belichick is able to push all the right buttons. It worked the last time they snagged a washed up receiver from Oakland in Randy Moss, who caught 47 touchdowns over three seasons in New England. Moss was four years younger than Nelson when he joined the Patriots, but his career was all but over before Belichick turned him around. Nelson would be a veteran presence in the locker room and a for a wide receiver group that needs someone, besides Julian Edelman, to look to for leadership.
More importantly, New England needs a prominent outside route-runner between the 20’s and reliable target in the endzone. Jordy Nelson possesses exactly what the Patriots lack and was able to prove he can produce when given the opportunity late last year. Belichick will be able to coach better and more consistent numbers out of an aging Nelson for at least one more season.
Michael Crabtree, Wide Receiver
Speaking of ex-Raider wide receivers, Michael Crabtree was released after a brief one-year stint in Baltimore. He is also a former Raider.
This was a tale of two seasons in Baltimore for Michael Crabtree. The first story, with Joe Flacco under center, saw Crabtree be a productive target that was dependable at all levels of the field. The second story, with Lamar Jackson at quarterback, saw Crabtree all but disappear from the game-plan entirely. In fact, every wideout for the Ravens took a production hit with Jackson as the starter and the run game becoming the first, second, and third option.
With a more prototypical passer like Flacco as the signal-caller (nine games), Crabtree caught 41 passes for 472 yards and two of his three touchdowns. Once Lamar Jackson took over (seven games), his numbers dropped to 13 catches for 135 yards and one touchdown. He had just 24 targets over that seven-game span.
Much like Jordy Nelson, the leadership and experience that Micheal Crabtree would bring the Patriots’ locker room is something New England covets. He is also an aging wideout that is nearing the end of his career, but he is only two seasons removed from a 1,000-yard campaign. The three seasons prior to the debacle in Baltimore, Crabtree still proved to be productive by catching at least eight or more touchdowns in each season.
The Patriots could entice Crabtree to a one-year deal that is team-friendly with the caveat of the chance to play for a championship. It all depends if he is looking to cash in one last time or if he wants a ring before hanging them up.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tight End
The Jaguars declined to pick up their team option on the sixth-year tight end after just one season in Jacksonville.
Seferian-Jenkins was a huge disappointment for the Jaguars and seemed to vanish throughout the five games he played. Granted his quarterback was Blake Bortles, but he had just 11 catches for 90 yards and one touchdown before ending his season early to undergo core-muscle surgery.
After squandering his first three seasons in Tampa Bay, Austin Seferian-Jenkins got his career turned around while playing for the Jets in New York. He finished the 2017 season with 50 receptions for 357 yards and three touchdowns, which lead to the big free agent contract from Jacksonville.
Even though it didn’t work out for Seferian-Jenkins in Jacksonville, he is far from washed up. He is only 26 years old and is an excellent receiver. What can really separate him from other young tight ends is his ability to run and pass-block. Bill Belichick is a sucker for tight ends that block and their scheme requires a tight end with high-end blocking skills.
With Gronk in the twilight of his career, taking a shot on a young tight end that has had a bumpy career seems like a perfect move for New England.
Stephen Gostkowski, Kicker
New England opted to not place the franchise tag on Gostkowski and instead allowed him to test the market for the first time in his career.
He has drawn interest from other teams, but it is believed he is working on a new deal with the Patriots and could sign a new contract any day now. New England won’t be looking to break the bank on a kicker but with Gostkowski, they have the confidence and familiarity to give him enough money to stay in town.
There is a lot to be said about some key misses in big situations over the past few seasons by Gostkowski. He has been iffy, at best, on extra points ever since the rule change that moved the attempt further back. Yet, he’s also been one of the most clutch kickers in the history of the NFL over the past 13 seasons.
Even with a bit of decline in Gostkowski’s performance, he deserves to end his career with the New England Patriots.