The New England Patriots find themselves in unfamiliar territory, for quite a few reasons. For one, the team didn’t make the postseason for the first time since 2008, and Bill Belichick will certainly try to change that in 2021. Secondly, the Patriots currently have tons of cap space and should be able to go after a wide variety of free agents. With the beginning of free agency roughly a month away, let’s take a look at some of the players New England could pursue on the open market.
The Patriots have the money to sign just about whoever they want, but that really isn’t Belichick’s style. While he could very well sign one or two players to big deals, Belichick typically prefers to sign multiple players to team-friendly deals rather than go after the biggest name. Because of this, we’ll break this list down into three categories: big stars, solid starters, and under-the-radar signings that could bolster the Patriots depth.
Free Agents the New England Patriots Should Target in the Offseason
The Big-Name Additions
New England’s first order of business this offseason should be finding someone capable of making plays without schematic assistance. The Patriots had the worst group of skill position players in the league last year, as Jakobi Meyers was the only player capable of getting open on a consistent basis. The 2021 free agent class has a ton of fantastic wide receivers, but Allen Robinson is probably the best of the bunch.
The former second-round pick has proven time and time again that he can put up elite numbers regardless of situation, and he would go a long way in fixing this offense. While Bill Belichick historically hasn’t paid up for wide receivers, it’s worth noting that the last time the offense was this bad, Belichick acquired Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth.
Lavonte David is arguably the best linebacker in the NFL not named Fred Warner and is a perfect fit for a Bill Belichick defense. Throughout the course of his time in New England, Belichick has always built his defense around a do-it-all linebacker. However, that guy wasn’t there in 2020, and the defense suffered because of it.
Even with Hightower coming back in 2021, the Patriots need to find the next heart of their defense. Lavonte David is no spring chicken, but he still has plenty of great years left in his tank. His coverage ability is second to none among linebackers, and he’s still a great run defender and blitzer.
Jameis Winston isn’t nearly as good at his job as Robinson and David are at theirs, but the importance of the quarterback position thrusts him to the top tier of this list. Cam Newton wasn’t the biggest problem with New England’s offense, as it would’ve been impossible for just about anyone to succeed under these circumstances. However, there is room for improvement, and Winston is a better quarterback than the 2015 MVP.
Winston is simultaneously the best and worst quarterback in the league, capable of singlehandedly keeping both teams in the game at all times, regardless of score. This style of play might take five years off your life, but it can be effective in the right offense. Winston is the best quarterback likely to be available, and signing the former first-overall pick would be a great way to upgrade the offense.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Curtis Samuel is one of the most underrated players in the NFL and could easily be a 1,000-yard receiver in the right system. Whether New England possesses that aforementioned system is up for debate, but what isn’t up for debate is Samuel’s ability to make plays all over the field. The former second-round pick has the speed to beat defenses deep, the route-running prowess to get open right off the line, and the versatility to line up all over the formation, including in the backfield. He’s the perfect swiss-army knife that would thrive in New England, if given a large enough role.
Honorable Mention: Corey Davis
Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene faced uphill battles in 2020, as both rookies had to learn arguably the NFL’s hardest non-quarterback position without the benefit of a true offseason. Both tight ends underwhelmed as rookies, but both players still have a chance to carve out successful NFL careers.
That said, the Patriots should still upgrade the tight end position, and it’s hard to think of a better fit than Jonnu Smith. Smith is a versatile tight end that holds up in the trenches and is simply impossible to bring down in the open field. While he’s not an elite tight end like Travis Kelce or George Kittle, he’s a very good starter that deserves more of an opportunity.
Jonnu’s league rank among qualifying TEs in @NextGenStats’s YAC Over Expectation:
2019 – 1st
2020 – 3rd
— Pats Pulpit (@patspulpit) January 12, 2021
Honorable Mention: Hunter Henry
Gerald Everett would make a fine consolation prize if the Patriots aren’t able to sign any of the aforementioned tight end free agents. While he’s not exceptional at any one thing, Everett is a solid all-around tight end that perfectly encapsulates the “Do Your Job” mentality. The Patriots should definitely set their sights higher, Everett’s league-average play is still a notable upgrade from what they had last year.
New England’s inability to move the ball through the air was their biggest issue last year, but it wasn’t their only one. After losing several key free agents in the offseason, New England’s run defense transformed from one of the best units in the league to one of the worst. Bringing back Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler is critical, but New England should add another body like Chris Wormley. Wormley certainly won’t break the bank, and he’s a perfectly serviceable rotational defensive tackle. Belichick loves to rotate his defensive linemen, and Wormley’s skill set would perfectly complement this defensive line.
A guy I always thought would be a good early-down #Patriots fit is Chris Wormley. UFA after this season, should come cheap.
Buried on PIT’s depth chart, but got the week-17 start with Hayward out. Started slow but flashed power and quickness vs some tough competition. pic.twitter.com/KG3cHhUpC5
— Brian Phillips (@BPhillips_SB) January 5, 2021
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