Grading the Patriots Free Agency Moves One Week In
We’re about a week into the new league year in the NFL, and the Patriots have made themselves busy on the open market. Although they haven’t necessarily gone big game hunting, seeing notable players of need like Jessie Bates, Jawaan Taylor, and James Bradberry sign for big money elsewhere. With that said, I don’t think this is as doom and gloom an opening window as some are making it out to be.
Bill Belichick has made it a point to try and keep this defense, which was excellent for most of the season, together, with the only two losses being Devin McCourty via retirement, and Jalen Mills via release. He also opted to go to the open market to try and do some patchwork fixes at tackle which was a surprise, and not to mention find a Jakobi Meyers successor as well. Of some of the more notable moves they made, here’s how I’d grade them as this opening week of free agency comes to a close.
Jonathan Jones Contract Details: Two Years, $19,000,000 ($13,000,000 Guaranteed)
I was not expecting New England to bring back Jones at all going into last week. As tough as it would have been to lose his experience and veteran presence, his expected market value felt like it would have been too rich for Belichick’s blood, and that departure would allow the Patriots to seek out a longer, lengthier cornerback which they so desperately need to pair with Marcus and Jack Jones. So, it was ultimately a pleasant surprise to see Jones leave plenty of money on the table to stay in Foxborough.
Despite the struggles against some stiff competition last season and lacking in the size department, this is a guy who you know has a great compete level, and more importantly, clearly wanted to stay. And at only a six-million-dollar cap hit in 2023? Fantastic value. I’d still like to see the Patriots get some size in the secondary, but this was a good start to free agency.
Calvin Anderson Contract Details: Two Years, $7,000,000 ($4,000,000 Guaranteed)
Don’t know how much a depth tackle move gets the people going, but Anderson is a more than formidable swing tackle option, who did some solid work in seven starts with the Denver Broncos a season ago. Had some solid reps going up against old friend Chandler Jones starting at left tackle.
Simply looking at the guaranteed money, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the Patriots view Anderson as that swing option at the absolute bare minimum. His guaranteed number is significantly higher than Connor McDermott, who was brought back on a two-year deal for half the total value and a fraction of the guaranteed money. Again, nothing that breaks the internet, but a quality depth move that does what it’s supposed to do.
Jabrill Peppers Contract Details: Two Years, $9,000,000 ($6,000,000 Guaranteed)
Especially now that the Patriots don’t have a set-in-stone center fielder in the secondary, keeping their options open was always going to be a priority, and keeping around a Swiss Army Knife like Peppers is a gigantic win, especially at that number. Don’t know if you’ll see him single-high with any sort of regularity over the other guys in that room, but the Patriots felt comfortable putting him in two deep looks last season so he’s certainly an option there. Add that to his ability to make plays and set the tone up front in the box and on special teams with his physicality and athleticism, this is an awesome move to keep him around.
James Robinson, RB Contract Details: Two Years, $8,000,000 (Guaranteed Money N/A)
Although the writing was ultimately on the wall for Damien Harris when New England selected two running backs in last year’s draft, them signing another running back to effectively replace him wasn’t on my bingo card. Robinson however is an interesting addition to the New England backfield with Rhamondre Stevenson. If you had Robinson in fantasy football during his rookie year in Jacksonville, you probably heard of his success often. He racked up over 1000 rushing yards and nearly 350 receiving yards on 49 grabs. This most recent season though was nowhere close to that, however. After being traded to the New York Jets in light of Brecce Hall's injury, he was inactive in six of their final seven games.
Now, I think there are pros and cons to bringing in Robinson as opposed to either sticking with Harris or rolling with Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong. While Harris has had issues remaining on the field consistently outside of 2021, Robinson is only about 15 months clear of tearing his Achilles tendon. Now, Robinson is a significantly better-receiving option out of the backfield than Harris. Not having James White for basically these last two seasons have been rough and to get someone who can be a consistent threat out of the backfield is gigantic. Not to mention, Robinson is an excellent runner in between the tackles. I’m obviously worried with the Achilles injury in mind, but cautiously optimistic the more I think about this move.
Riley Reiff Contract Details: One Year, $5,000,000 ($4,125,000 Guaranteed)
It didn’t take long whatsoever for the top free-agent tackles to go off the board. And looking at the price tag of Jawaan Taylor, Mike McGlinchey, and Orlando Brown Jr specifically, the Patriots were probably not going to hit those numbers. They even reportedly lost out on Andre Dillard, who got paid a hair under 10 million a year by the Tennessee Titans. So in what was already a weak tackle class as it was, the Patriots didn’t appear to have any enticing options left on the board but opted to bring in the 34-year-old Reiff, who spent last year with the Chicago Bears, anyway.
The immediate red flag with Reiff is that he has a ton of miles on him. He’s set to turn 35 years old at the tail end of this upcoming season, which will be his 12th in the league. I say this because the contract would indicate that Reiff will be the Patriots starting right tackle barring them taking a tackle early in the draft. Or even Trent Brown being a surprise cut/release. Now despite the Bears losing in all 10 of Reiff’s starts, Bears GM Ryan Poles directly credited him for the Bears' vast success running the ball. The numbers reflected those feelings, as the Bears averaged 174.7 ypg in Reiff’s games, which would have ranked second in the NFL only to the Bears' full season ypg total of 177.3. As nice as that is to have, I worry about Reiff with his age and mileage at this point in his career. Would have liked for the Patriots go younger here.
JuJu Smith-Schuster Contract Details: Three Years, $25,500,000 ($16,000,000 Guaranteed)
While the Patriots weren’t willing to go the extra mile to find an Isaiah Wynn replacement, they were willing to find an immediate impact guy to replace Jakobi Meyers, outbidding the reigning Super Bowl Champion Chiefs to do so. In his lone campaign at Arrowhead Stadium, Smith-Schuster had his best season in several years, returning much closer to what he was his opening two years in the league. He was more solid than anything, but had a monster three-game stretch from Weeks 6-8, with 22 catches, 325 yards, and two scores.
A lot has been made of Smith-Schuster being a better YAC guy than Meyers while largely serving the same role, and that is certainly accurate. But the win here is that the Patriots secured his services for less money, but also more years than what Meyers got from the Raiders, which in essence was a one-year 11-million-dollar contract. We’ve seen that Smith-Schuster isn’t a true No. 1 wideout, but assuming there’s another move coming, he should be an excellent secondary piece. He’s going to do some legit damage in the short and intermediate game.
Mike Gesicki Contract Details: One Year, $4,500,000 ($3,550,000 Guaranteed)
For the first time in recorded history, a free agent player following players on social media was indeed the precursor to said player going to a new team, so congrats to Gesicki. Funny enough, he does have a slight, and I mean slight tie to this staff, in that Bill O’Brien was a part of the contingent that recruited him to Penn State before he left for the Houston Texans. Although that was nearly 10 years ago, that’s a nice little full-circle deal.
Although Gesicki is a tight end, I wouldn’t come even close to saying he is a Jonnu Smith replacement. He fits perfectly into that ‘Tight End that’s a Wide Receiver in all but name’ mold perfectly. Big body target, is athletic and has some solid hands. Before this season, had put up three straight years of at least 51 catches, 570 yards, and 10.7 yards per reception. Not going to give you much as a blocker, and isn’t going to be a broken tackle or YAC machine. I still think the Patriots should be in the market for an inline tight end (Darnell Washington I’m begging you), but bringing in Gesicki for a year and 4.55 million dollars?? Sign me up, Hoss-Y/Z Juke with him, Henry, ‘Mondre, and whoever fits in at wideout is going to go CRAZY. His Griddy not so much though.
Chris Board Contract Details: Two Years, $5,00,000 ($2,600,000 Guaranteed)
Found it funny that a sect of Patriot fans were seemingly enraged at the thought of Belichick paying an elite special teams player when special teams literally lost them two games this last season. And this isn’t just any special teams gunner, and Board’s number one fan just so happens to be his new head coach.
Will never not be hilarious to me that Belichick can talk about literally any special teamer to ever play football, Lawrence Taylor, Pepper Johnson, Ed Reed, Chad Ochocinco, or Zeus Brown for multiple hours at a time while also giving five-word answers for anything else. Anyway, a core four group of Matt Slater, Cody Davis, Brendan Schooler, and now Board sounds pretty good to me.
What Else Can the Patriots Do?
As far as areas where the Patriots are still lacking, they have at least tried to make something happen at wide receiver in the trade market. They’ve reportedly been, or are potentially still in on both DeAndre Hopkins and Jerry Jeudy. The price for Hopkins has reportedly been a second-round pick, with Jeudy being floated for a first, with the Dallas Cowboys bowing out of talks at that price.
I think the price on both guys could come down after the recent Brandin Cooks trade to Dallas, however. If a guy who has been a 1000-yard receiver all but three times in his career is only going for a fifth and future sixth, I have a hard time seeing either Hopkins or Jeudy fetching what Arizona or Denver wants. Granted I wouldn’t trade either guy if I were either of those teams, but I’ve seen more questionable moves before. But if I'm being threatened with a good time, I’d give up a two and then some for Jeudy in a heartbeat.
Size and length at cornerback is still another pressing need at this juncture, but I think that’s going to have to wait until the draft now. Just nothing out there right now that fits that bill unless the Patriots refuse to go down with the Joejuan Williams train. Hard to say if they go corner in the first round of the draft for sure, but I’d say there’s a fair chance. Joey Porter Jr would probably be their guy if so. Would also like to see the Pats add another body out on the edge. I genuinely wouldn’t be shocked if they took one at 14 if some guys end up slipping and they fit what Belichick is looking for.
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