The Super Bowl still feels fresh in the memory bank but we're already under a week away from the beginning of the new league year. Even a few days sooner is the opening of the legal tampering/negotiation window for free agency. While the Patriots have some money to spend this year, it's nowhere near as close to 2021, or what 2024 will be most likely.
What is also a factor going into next week is that Bill Belichick has several key players heading into the open market, headlined by Jakobi Meyers and Jonathan Jones. It's no secret that the Patriots could use some upgrades/retooling at both of their positions, but does the solution lie in keeping one of them, if not both? What about Devin McCourty? The 12-year veteran has yet to make a decision on his future with time running out before free agency kicks off, and I'd like to think a resolution is coming shortly. And that's not even mentioning guys like Damien Harris or Jabrill Peppers either. So with that in mind, here's a look at how things could go with some of the Patriots' key free agents.
Ian Rappaport just yesterday mentioned that the Patriots weren’t going to be tagging Jones on the day of the deadline, but that was realistically never going to happen. Assuming the cornerback tag is in excess of 18 million dollars, that would put Jones as one of the six highest-paid corners in the NFL in terms of AAV at the absolute worst.
With that said, Mark Daniels of MassLive.com mentioned yesterday that New England wants to bring Jones back and are actively trying to do so. Should he hit the open market, I imagine he’ll come back to the Patriots to see if they will be willing to match or beat any offer like other notable team-free agents in the past.
Although Jones did have some tough outings on the outside this season against the likes of Justin Jefferson and Stefon Diggs, teams will value his ability to play both on the boundary and in the slot. Not to mention his takeaway production as well, which was at a career-best level in 2022 (3 forced fumbles and four interceptions). My guess is that Belichick will offer Jones high-end CB2 money, but if one of these corner-needy teams is willing to go the extra mile, he’ll bow out.
My Hypothetical Contract Offer: Three Years, $37,500,000 ($23,625,000 guaranteed at signing)
Potential Landing Spots if not New England: Chicago Bears, Las Vegas Raiders, Minnesota Vikings
I was thrilled when the Patriots picked up Peppers on a two-million-dollar pact last spring, and I feel like keeping him around would be in their best interest. Of just about every player here, I feel his value is the hardest to nail down, mainly because this is only his second time hitting the open market, and the first time the Patriots just picked him up on a flier. With that said, the fact he’s a defensive swiss army knife who can also serve as a key special teams contributor and team leader, I doubt the Patriots will let him walk willingly with what his market value likely is.
My Hypothetical Contract Offer: Three Years, $9,250,000 ($6,240,000 guaranteed at signing) Potential Landing Spots if not New England: TBD
This was a huge year for Wynn to show that he could be relied upon to be an anchor up front and things went as poorly as they could have. In the Week 6 game against the Browns, PFF had him down for a grade of 5/100 just as one example. Wynn also couldn’t shake his injury woes, being held to just nine games all season. At this point, I think it would be best for everyone to go their separate ways here and get a fresh start.
My Hypothetical Contract Offer: One Year $7,000,000 (Fully guaranteed) Potential Landing Spots if not New England: Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans
Agholor had his moments in 2022, but once again he wasn’t much of a factor in the grand scheme of things. Seeing as the Patriots should be attempting to overhaul their pass-catching unit, I don’t see a path that leads to the veteran wideout on the team next year. A disappointing result considering he was the highest-paid wide receiver in team history to this point.
My Hypothetical Contract Offer: One Year $3,000,000 ($1,750,000 guaranteed at signing) Potential Landing Spots if not New England: TBD
Historically speaking, the odds that Damien Harris is a Patriot this time next week aren’t that great. Belichick hasn’t been in the camp of paying running backs his entire tenure here, and I don’t think that will change with Harris. Especially considering he drafted both Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong a year ago as well. Speaking personally, however, if you could get him to sign something in the ballpark of the James Connor contract on a shorter term, I would probably bite on that.
My Hypothetical Contract Offer: Two Years, $14,250,000 ($9,500,00 guaranteed at signing) Potential Landing Spots if not New England: Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens
Still nothing regarding a decision from McCourty, but I have a suspicion we could be just days, if not hours from his choice. If he so chooses to participate in his 13th season, I would be floored if it wasn’t with the Patriots. While not the same player he was even just five years ago, the leadership and mentorship McCourty brings to the table are priceless, and even then his play in 2022, save for maybe the Bengals game, didn’t strike me as alarmingly off.
Money is where things get a bit tricky. This last season McCourty was making nine million dollars on the button, good for the 19th-highest safety AAV in the league, which was in the range of guys like Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, and the Honey Badger. Ultimately, I would try to see if he would be willing to leave a little bit on the table should he return, but if it’s nine million or nothing, I would take that.
My Hypothetical Contract Offer: One Year, $7,750,000 (Fully guaranteed) Potential Landing Spots if not New England: None
Meyers is quite the interesting case going into his first true free agency. He’s not in the WR1 mold despite being a reliable presence but is also the de facto No. 1 guy in this free agent class. Mike Reiss recently stated that his market could be in the 15-20-million-dollar range, while Mike Giardi even more recently put that figure at 12-14 million. My gut feeling is the Giardi figure is closer to what may happen, but I can certainly see a team dip into that 15-20 range.
Christian Kirk is a natural comp for Meyers since neither were true No. 1 wideouts in the last years of their deals but entered the open market as the top available option. Both players also never hit the 1000-yard or 100-catch mark before hitting the open market either. That’s something that I’m sure Meyer’s camp will use in negotiations both with the Patriots and abroad.
The tough thing with Meyers is I do believe the Patriots want him back, but he has to chance to make a ton of money on the open market given his situation. Would the Patriots re-sign him if the money makes sense? Absolutely I’d say, but a couple of teams who desperately need some help at receiver, the Bears and Giants specifically, can and most likely will outbid the Patriots. I can’t envision Belichick getting into a bidding war in this specific instance, regardless of how tough it would be to lose Meyers.
My Hypothetical Contract Offer: Three Years, $40,500,000 ($29,250,000 Guaranteed at signing) Potential Landing Spots if not New England: Chicago Bears, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Giants
Other Impending Free Agents that I would bring back: Carl Davis, Daniel Ekuale, Cody Davis, Mack Wilson, and Joe Cardona.
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