Free agency is right around the corner, and the New England Patriots should be fairly active in their free agent pursuit. The team has several key players set to hit the market, but not the money to retain all of them. While making a big splash by signing someone like Amari Cooper is fun to think about, free agency is often defined by the under-the-radar moves made by the club. The following players won’t make too many headlines, but they could be cost-effective role players in the right scheme.
New England Patriots Under-the-Radar Free Agent Targets
The New England Patriots will probably need another linebacker in 2020. Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts are all set to test the market, and it’s hard to imagine all three coming back. Roberts shouldn’t cost too much to retain, but Collins and/or Van Noy will probably have a new home next year.
The Patriots could replace one of those departed linebackers with Nick Kwiatkoski. Kwiatkoski isn’t as good as Collins or Van Noy, but he’s a solid role player who could thrive in the right system. The longtime Chicago Bear finished the 2019 season as PFF’s 15th-best linebacker, and is a solid all-around player. Granted, he’s never been a 16-game starter, so there is a chance his efficiency drops off if given a larger workload. That said, he probably won’t be asked to lead the defense. With Dont’a Hightower, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Roberts, and Kwiakoski, New England’s linebackers should be in pretty good shape heading into 2020.
If the Patriots want to shoot for the moon, they could go with Christian Kirksey over Nick Kwiatkoski. While Kwiatkoski has the higher floor, Kirksey has a dramatically higher ceiling. At his best, Christian Kirksey is an athletic linebacker capable of stopping the run and making getting to the quarterback.
Kirksey’s struggled to stay on the field over the past two seasons, but that’s never stopped Bill Belichick in the past. Signing the veteran to a one-year, incentive-laden contract with minimal guaranteed money makes all the sense in the world for the Patriots.
Edge defenders typically get overpaid relative to their actual impact on the game, so New England will probably wait until the second wave of free agency to address their need on the edge. Assuming they do, they could look to bring back an old friend in Jabaal Sheard. Sheard, of course, spent two seasons in New England before leaving for Indianapolis in 2017. The former second-round pick is a proven commodity in Belichick’s system and is a good all-around player.
The New England Patriots should shoot for the stars in free agency, but if they miss on guys like Amari Cooper and Emmanuel Sanders, then Breshad Perriman is a nice fallback option. Bill Belichick loves to roll the dice on former first-round picks that never quite lived up to their potential, and Perriman actually showed some signs of life last year. Over the final four games of the season, Perriman recorded 20 receptions for 419 yards and five touchdowns. While a DeVante Parker breakout season shouldn’t be expected in 2020, he could be a nice depth signing for decent upside.
Remember the Vance McDonald hype train? The Pittsburgh Steelers tight end is one of the better athletes at the position and looks good with the ball in his hand. Many expected a breakout season in 2020, but Ben Roethlisberger’s injury completely derailed that possibility. The former second-round pick appears to be overlooked on the free agent market but could provide some much-needed depth for the Patriots.
Longtime Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker could be 2020’s version of the annual veteran looking for one last chance at a Super Bowl. These signings rarely work out for New England, but they carry such little risk that it hardly matters. Walker is still a solid player when on the field, but he’s struggling to stay healthy in his later years. Still, he’d cost next to nothing and the Patriots like to see if they can catch lightning in a bottle.
Dwayne Allen spent the majority of the 2019 season out of football while nursing an injury. Assuming he’s at full health, the Patriots should consider bringing back the former blocking specialist. While Allen certainly won’t blow anyone away in the passing game, he’s great in the trenches and can make life easier for Sony Michel and the running backs. He should come for close to the veteran minimum, and his familiarity with the offense is always a good thing.
Joe Thuney is about to get a lot of money, and Ted Karras could possibly earn a contract the Patriots won’t match. Even if David Andrews comes back and returns to full health, the Patriots are going to need more depth along the offensive line. Erik Flowers was a terrible tackle for the New York Giants, but he actually looked ok playing guard for the Washington Redskins. It’s hard to imagine Flowers getting too big of a contract in free agency, but he’d be a great signing that can start at an adequate level if Hjalte Froholdt can’t win the job in the offseason.
The Patriots love versatility for than any other team in the league, and Daryl Williams has tons of it. The longtime Detroit Lions can play tackle, guard, and center, albeit not at the highest level. With questions all around the offensive line, New England should bring in as many depth options as possible. In a perfect world, David Andrews will come back at full strength, Hjalte Froholdt will take over at left guard, and Yodny Cajuste will be a perfect swing tackle. However, chances are, all three of those things aren’t going to happen. Adding Wiliams provides insurance at all three positions, and his experience with Belichick disciple Matt Patricia doesn’t hurt either.
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