The New England Patriots need to get better at linebacker, and the team reportedly has interest in free agent Matt Milano. Milano is one of the better linebackers set to hit free agency, and the Patriots currently have over $63.5 million in available cap space. On paper, this combination looks like a match made in heaven. However, a deeper dive shows that New England is better off using their resources on other parts of the roster.
Why the New England Patriots Should Not Pursue Matt Milano
Only So Many Resources
Let’s start by saying that this article is not an attack on Matt Milano the football player. Overall, he’s a very good linebacker that would certainly improve New England’s current roster. As of this posting, the only linebackers of note on the roster are Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall, and an age-31 Dont’a Hightower. Josh Uche and Chase Winovich are technically linebackers, but they play a much different role in New England’s defense and won’t be included in this discussion.
The Patriots should definitely try to improve the position over the next few months, but they should do it in a more cost-effective manner. One could easily make an argument that Milano is the second-best linebacker on the market, behind only Lavonte David. Because of this, it’s safe to assume that Milano will land a deal for at least $15 million per year. After all, Zach Cunningham of the Houston Texans is making $14.5 million, and Milano is probably the better player.
Fix the Offense First
New England has a lot of cap space, but they also have a lot of holes on the roster. If they want to return to the playoffs, they’ll need to use every last dollar to address their weaknesses. The most important issue is fixing the offense, and that starts with the supporting cast. New England’s collective weaponry is arguably the worst in the league, as the unit made Tom Brady look mortal in 2019 and Cam Newton look completely toast in 2020.
The jury is out on whether Cam Newton can still be a good quarterback, but Brady definitively proved that he was not the issue in 2019. The supporting cast from two years ago was downright putrid, and it might be even worse now. Jakobi Meyers looks like a solid player, but N’Keal Harry has not lived up to expectations. Julian Edelman might not play in 2021, while Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene both left a lot to be desired as rookies. As the cherry on top, New England could lose Joe Thuney and David Andrews to free agency. This doesn’t even address the quarterback issues, as New England doesn’t have any type of answer under center.
Since 2018, every single team that made it to the conference championship has ranked top 10 in Dropback EPA/play. Passing is king in today’s NFL, and the Patriots currently have one of the worst passing attacks in the league. Finding the right quarterback is obviously priority number 1, but New England needs to add multiple receivers to give their quarterback a fair shot. Even if they can’t get an elite receiver like Allen Robinson, New England should add multiple above-average starters like Curtis Samuel, Will Fuller, or Jonnu Smith.
Matt Milano Is Good, But Not Great Player For New England Patriots
Building around the offense is a good general philosophy, but exceptions should be made for truly special players. At the end of the day, football is a complementary game and you need a strong offense and defense if you want to consistently win football games.
If Matt Milano was truly good enough to justify a $15 million salary, then the Patriots should be interested. After all, linebacker is an important part of any Bill Belichick defense, and New England could certainly use an upgrade. However, Milano isn’t quite good enough to justify that type of payday.
According to Pro Football Focus, Matt Milano finished the 2020 season as the 41st-best linebacker in the league, out of 83 qualifying players. The eye test doesn’t quite back this up, as Milano feels more like an above-average player than a league-average one. However, the point remains that he is not elite at his position, and would not be a good return on investment.
Ultimately, signing Matt Milano just doesn’t make sense for the current iteration of the New England Patriots. Instead of spending top dollar on a good linebacker, New England should go after an under-the-radar guy like Jayon Brown and use the remaining money to make their offense as good as possible.
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