With the “legal tampering” free agency window officially opening today, here are a few New England Patriots’-related free agency quick-hits and thoughts.
Firstly, the whole idea of legal tampering is really pointless. Everyone knows that teams and players have been negotiating illegally for the past few weeks. Today is just the first day when contracts can be officially agreed to. We’ll see deals miraculously come together the next few days that were totally not discussed at all before today. The numbers just somehow fell perfectly into place (sarcasm)
I was really hoping that Danny Amendola would come back to the Patriots, but I’m guessing that they were only willing to pay about $3 million tops. It’s interesting to see how he went from agreeing to reduce his salary to about $1.75 million from 2015-2017 to getting $6 million from the Miami Dolphins last year and $4 million+ from the Detroit Lions this year.
Good on him for getting paid. That being said, his real value comes in the playoffs. He’s never going to be a great full-time starter because of his injury history, but his elite body control and hands make him a clutch playoff performer. Maybe we’ll see a reunion next year. Fingers crossed.
Trent Brown is not coming back to the Patriots, mark my words. He performed much better this year for the Patriots than Nate Solder did last year for the team, and Solder still got paid $62.5 million over four years. Brown is five years younger and will likely become the highest paid offensive tackle with a deal worth about $82.5 to $85 million over five years with about $40 million guaranteed.
An interesting side note is that Brown was a right tackle for the 49ers for the first few years of his career. Had he stayed in that role in San Francisco, he likely would have been looking at around $6-$8 million per year as a starting right tackle. Instead, he was traded to New England and became a solid left tackle, thereby earning himself probably around $10 million more per year. Great career move for him.
Trey Flowers is either going to take a slight discount to stay with the Patriots or get severely overpaid by another team like the New York Jets. Flowers is one of the top edge guys on the market, but few people seem to care that he’s far from the prototype; he lacks great bend and burst and wins almost exclusively on technique.
He’s almost certainly one of the best “defensive linemen” in the league and probably has some of the best hand usage, but he’s not an elite edge rusher and should not be paid like one. His best fit is as a base 4-3 or 3-4 end that rushes from the inside on passing downs, as most of his pass-rushing production comes when he can use his hands against guards and centers.
Better contract comparisons for him should be guys like Akiem Hicks, Jurrell Casey, and Stephon Tuitt, all of whom are in the $12-$15 million range. Mark my words, if he signs elsewhere, a team like the Jets will overpay him and be disappointed.
I can’t see Stephen Gostkowski signing anywhere else this offseason. The Patriots made him the league’s highest paid kicker back in 2015 with a deal worth $17.2 million over 4 years, and no other kicker has yet surpassed that deal. Gostkowski is still one of the league’s best kickers, but has missed a few important kicks in the playoffs. The team likely wants him to test his value on the market and see if they can avoid making him the league’s highest-paid kicker again.
The Patriots really wanted to stash undrafted punter Corey Bojorquez last year to have him take over for Ryan Allen this year. But the Bills claimed Bojorquez off of waivers, bringing and end to that plan.
While the Patriots would undoubtedly like to get younger and cheaper at the position with a rookie punter, it is unlikely that they would be willing to do so without having a capable veteran option also on the roster. As a result, they may be pressured into re-signing Allen and committing to him for the next few years until they can groom another replacement.
The Patriots’ special teams units performed uncharacteristically poorly to start the season last year, but were eventually solidified with the additions of Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber. Both players will probably want to see if they can more money and defensive playing time elsewhere, but the Patriots would likely be willing to bring both back as special-teams only players for about $1 million each. Expect to see at least one back next year.
Speaking of special teams, Cordarrelle Patterson is a great returner but struggled sometimes to find yardage after running the ball out of the end zone instead of taking the touchback. He’ll probably command about $3-$4 million on the market, and in my opinion, it will be worth moving on and getting younger and cheaper at the position.
The wide receiver market got sort of messed up last year when Paul Richardson and Albert Wilson signed contracts for about $7-$8 million per year to be starters despite the fact that neither had achieved over 750 yards in a season. As a result, players like Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett will likely want to see if they can get similar deals.
In my opinion, the Patriots should move on from Hogan, as he can’t separate against man coverage and will command too much money to be a glorified zone coverage beater. I honestly that last year that Dorsett should have been starting over Hogan, but his skillset as a speedster a la Brandin Cooks isn’t going to be utilized in the Patriots offense because they don’t trust his hands downfield. I would bring Dorsett back for about $2-$3 million a year because of is potential, but would refrain from seriously competing for either player.
LaAdrian Waddle had a bit of a down year last year, but he is still a solid backup offensive tackle. The Patriots could probably bring him back as depth for about $2 million per year depending on how his market shakes out, but I get the sense that the team wants to get someone younger to eventually replace Marcus Cannon.
John Simon was a crucial but underrated part of last year’s championship run. Signed off the street after Ja’Whaun Bentley went down, his strong presence to set the edge, rush the passer while maintaining gap discipline, and even drop into coverage was reminiscent of Rob Ninkovich. He will hopefully be relatively inexpensive to sign as he was last year, and would be key in replacing Trey Flowers if he left.
Even if the Patriots don’t retain Flowers and/or Simon, I think it is worth it to move on from Adrian Clayborn. He made a few noticeable plays in the playoffs, but they really only came on stunts that other guys could’ve run. He has only one pass-rush move, can’t beat one-on-ones, and often loses gap discipline.
I think the team should save the $4 million and give more opportunities to guys like Derek Rivers, who I believe still has a lot of untapped potential. However, I get the sense that the team likes Clayborn and would only move him if they retain Flowers.
The Patriots have been without a true nose tackle ever since Alan Branch regressed in 2017. Their two-gapping defensive front relies upon big, strong, and smart big defensive linemen, and there aren’t many two-gapping players coming out of college anymore. As a result, the team may have to considering re-signing one of Malcom Brown or Danny Shelton to have some continuity up front.
Shelton made a few good plays in the Super Bowl, but it didn’t look like he really grasped the two-gap concept. It seems like Brown is the better fit, but I also believe he could do better as more of a one-gap player in another scheme. If other teams also believe that, it could price him out of the Patriots range.
Overall, I would look to re-sign Brown as a run stopper worth about $3 million per year, but would have to move on and take a shot in the draft if he gets anything more than that. One potential replacement to look at is former Jet Mike Pennell, a big defensive tackle that could fit the Patriots’ mold.
Jason McCourty will be hitting free agency in March for the first time in his career, and definitely wants to test the market. Even so, the lack of interest when he was released by the Titans a few years ago that resulted in a two-year, $6 million contract and a lack of trade interest in him last year makes me think that he will end up coming back to the Patriots on a similar type of deal. But you never know with free agency; all it takes is one team to overpay a player.
I have to assume that the Patriots want to avoid dealing with restricted free agency tenders with Jonathan Jones and will try to buy it out and get an extra year or two. As an undrafted player, the team could tender Jones a one year offer of about $2 million and only have a right to match with no compensation if he leaves, but they would likely want to give him a 2nd-round tender that would get them a 2nd-round pick if he signs elsewhere. As that tender is about $3 million this year, the team will want to see if they can buy it out and ink him to a longer term contract if they can. Jones has proven to be a great special teams player as well as a promising slot cornerback.
The Patriots only have about $24 million in cap space, and probably about half of that would have to go to re-signing Flowers. Even if they don’t, I can’t see them spending big on any other free agents this year. While everyone wants them to sign guys like Adam Humphries or Golden Tate, it’s probably back to bargain bin shopping this year.
That was longer than I originally thought it would be, but be sure to keep on an eye on these players and situations over the next few weeks. And remember, free agency is when B players get A-level contracts simply because they are available.
Teams that win the offseason are from guaranteed to win the postseason, so don’t start thinking that teams like the Jets will be good all of a sudden just because they spent a lot of money. A value-based approach like the one the Patriots take is often the key to success.
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