The first week of the NFL’s free agency period has not been kind to the defending AFC champions. Let’s recap the most significant developments for the Patriots thus far.
Note: I apologize if this reads a bit like an obituary. That’s because it is.
Danny Amendola to Dolphins for 2 years, $12M
Danny Amendola/Dolphins terms, per source:
Wide receiver Danny Amendola has inked a two-year contract with the Miami Dolphins. Amendola was at his best on the brightest stage and took several pay cuts over the past few seasons to remain a Patriot. He is survived by an Edelman and a Gronkowski. He will be missed.
Nate Solder to Giants on 4-year, $62M deal
Nate Solder and #Giants contract details: four-years worth $62 million and $35 million guaranteed. Now the highest paid offensive lineman in the NFL #NFLFreeAgency pic.twitter.com/Rn0J04RZQA
— Armchair NFL (@ArmchairNFL) March 14, 2018
This one hurts. Solder has been a dependable starter at a premium position since he was drafted in 2011. Now, he’s leaving New England for the greener pastures (read: deeper pockets) of the Big Apple, leaving a hole on Tom Brady’s blindside. If anything softens the blow of this signing, it’s that the Giants are making Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league. Solder has never even been a Pro-Bowler, let alone an All-Pro, so I think Patriots’ fans can agree he’s not worth that type of money.
Malcolm Butler signs with Titans
It’s been obvious that Butler was on his way out of New England ever since he stood on the sidelines for the entirety of Super Bowl LII. I’m not sure we’ll ever know exactly what transpired in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl or why Belichick did what he did, but Butler has a new home now. He’ll forever be endeared to fans in New England for his game-saving interception in Super Bowl XLIX, and I wish his time here hadn’t ended so bitterly. Thank you, Malcolm.
Dion Lewis lands with Titans for 4 years, $20M
It’s not shocking that Bill Belichick let Dion Lewis walk, given what he ended up commanding on the open market and Belichick’s own preference for a committee approach to the backfield. Lewis had his best season as a pro in 2017, totaling 1,110 scrimmage yards and nine touchdowns as the Patriots’ primary running back. In Tennessee, he’ll provide the “lightning” to Derrick Henry‘s “thunder” for new head coach (and former Patriots’ linebacker) Mike Vrabel.
Nate Ebner back to Patriots on a 2-year deal
Patriots reached agreement with special teams standout Nate Ebner on a 2-year deal, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 14, 2018
The Patriots earned a small victory here, inking a core special-teamer for the next two seasons. Ebner is coming off a season-ending injury, but should be able to return and resume his position as a primary contributor for the Pats’ tertiary unit. Ebner is one of those players that doesn’t necessarily pop out in game film or on the stat sheet, but his steady, veteran presence makes this a solid move for the Pats.
Rex Burkhead inks 3-year deal to stay with Pats
The Patriots made an effort to keep their 2017 offensive lineup intact by signing running back Rex Burkhead to a multi-year deal that will keep him in New England through the 2020 season. Burkhead was an important piece of the Pats’ running back rotation until a late-season knee injury caused him to miss the rest of the regular season and limited his effectiveness in the playoffs.
The @Patriots have agreed to a multiyear contract with RB Rex Burkhead @RBrex2022 according to a league source. Burkhead collected more than 500 yards from scrimmage with 8 TDs in 2017.
— Jim McBride (@globejimmcbride) March 14, 2018
Clearly, the first official day of free agency was a whirlwind for the Patriots, who witnessed four starters from their 2017 roster depart. Of these, Nate Solder’s is the most damaging. At running back and wide receiver, the Patriots have enough depth to get by, and will plug and chug as they always do. At cornerback, the Patriots still have Eric Rowe and Stephon Gilmore in addition to the Joneses (Jonathan and Cyrus). At offensive tackle, however, the Patriots are now left with three middling players in Marcus Cannon, Cameron Fleming, La’Adrian Waddle, and the unproven Antonio Garcia.
One could make the argument that tackle is now the Patriots’ biggest need heading into the draft, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise if they address the position early. The team has gambled on 40 year-old Tom Brady having a few good years left, but it won’t be easy to preserve that expectation without a reliable blindside protector.
It will certainly be interesting to see how the remainder of free agency plays out for the Patriots. They currently have exactly $19,725,108 in cap space and are rumored to be interested in a pair of recently-released former all-pros: Ndamukong Suh and Jordy Nelson. Stay tuned for any further updates, go Pats, and Roll Armchair.