The New England Patriots made a quantum leap this season from where they were last year when they finished with a 7-9 record and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008. However, this offseason, they need to progress again, and there are roster moves the Patriots need to contend for a Super Bowl.
By all measures, making the playoffs is a successful season, and they did it with a rookie quarterback. However, the way the season finished left fans with a bad taste. Dropping four out of the last five games, falling to the sixth seed, and getting smoked in the first round was not ideal.
Last year, it seemed they had no plans for the future at quarterback, and the roster was depleted. It was a stressful time for Patriots fans, and there was little hope. However, things changed quickly during the offseason, and they put themselves back in the playoffs. Now, it is time to make another leap forward, especially with the rise of the Buffalo Bills.
What the Patriots Need To Do To Contend
Bring Braxton Berrios Back
The Patriots need a dependable, speedy receiver that can get open quickly and pick up first downs. This type of receiver would take a lot of pressure off Mac Jones and be his safety valve. It would also be instrumental to his progression. That player is Braxton Berrios, and the Patriots need to get him back.
Former Patriots legendary offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia agrees. In a recent interview with Karen Guregian, he said: “we’ve always had that guy, a guy who moved the chains. Whether it’s Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, (or) Danny Amendola, when all else failed, he was that guy. But they don’t have that guy right now.”
Scarnecchia believes the Patriots already had the “potential heir to Edelman” in Berrios. “He’s just like those guys. He can get open; he can run the reverses.” They drafted Berrios in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL draft and released him the following preseason. The New York Jets claimed him off waivers, and he has blossomed. Berrios made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist in 2021.
The good news for the Patriots is that Berrios is a free agent. With a base salary of $850,000 in 2021, it would not break the bank to offer him a reasonable contract. It would also benefit them to take away a weapon from a division rival.
— NFL (@NFL) January 2, 2022
The Patriots Must Keep J.C. Jackson
The Patriots have a decision to make regarding second-team All-Pro cornerback, J.C. Jackson. They can offer him a contract, use the franchise tag or let him walk away and get a massive contract from another team. The most likely scenario is that they use the franchise tag on him. However, that will not be a cheap option.
The franchise tag amount for cornerbacks is projected at around $17 million next season. That is more than half of their available salary-cap space, which is about $30 million. The team would have to find a way to free up cap space by releasing players, trading them, or having veterans retire.
There will be many moving pieces this offseason, but the Patriots will need Jackson or a similar player if they want to contend for a Superbowl. He has had 17 interceptions and a 49.1% completion rate against him in the past two seasons.
Jonnu Smith Must Have a Breakout Year
The Patriots need Jonnu Smith to have a breakout year or, at least, become the player he was when they signed him. It has been a disappointing season considering they signed him to a 4 year, $50,000,000 contract, including a $15,000,000 signing bonus, with $31,250,000 guaranteed.
Smith is a much better player than he has shown this season, and he is a monster after the catch. Perhaps, he is not comfortable with the offense yet, and an entire offseason will benefit him. In 2022 his cap hit will be over $13.5 million. If he can produce the value of that contract, the offense would get a massive boost, and the Patriots will be more likely to contend.
The Patriots paid Jonnu Smith for exactly this reasonpic.twitter.com/lflhzSq1XL
— PFF NE Patriots (@PFF_Patriots) September 7, 2021
The Patriots Need Speed at Linebacker
The league has gotten faster at every position, and the Patriots are behind on this trend. They need to add speed everywhere but mostly at linebacker if they want to contend. It is a pass-friendly league, and speed is displayed all over the field. Linebackers have to be able to cover from sideline to sideline for longer periods now that quarterbacks are buying more time.
Linebackers have gotten smaller and faster because they often have to drop into pass coverage or chase a scrambling quarterback. Any fan who watched the playoffs this weekend must have noticed how fast the elite teams are and how tough they are to cover. The Patriots will have to deal with elite scrambling quarterbacks like Josh Allen a lot in the future.
The good news is that there are easy roster moves to make that can free up cap space. They can release Henry Anderson ($2.5 million) and Joejuan Williams ($1.4 million). Dont’a Hightower had a cap hit of nearly $12.4 million in 2021 and is now a free agent. It is hard to see them bringing him back without a significant pay cut.
There are more decisions to be made, but those roster changes alone would free up about $16.5 million to spend on free agents. Bill Belichick, who likes bigger, heavier linebackers, will have to go against his natural instincts and recognize the need to bring in speed if they want to contend for a Superbowl.
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