Should he stay or should he go, now?
Similar to last year, the Patriots head into the 2021 offseason with a huge question mark at the most important position on the roster.
Cam Newton replaced Tom Brady at quarterback in 2020, and now it remains to be seen if another former MVP quarterback will exit Foxborough for another NFL outpost.
Newton said Monday he hasn’t yet had any conversations with Bill Belichick about a return engagement, though those chats undoubtedly will be coming. Newton has expressed a desire to sign his next deal sooner rather than later, no matter his destination.
Once the quarterback quandary is solved, other areas of concern — including 24 other pending in-house free agents — can be addressed.
With plenty of homework to be done before the league year kicks off on St. Patrick’s Day, here is a very early roster breakdown (including the year when each player’s contract is up):
Cam Newton (UFA), Brian Hoyer (UFA), Jarrett Stidham (2023).
Newton came to town recovering from a pair of major injuries and without the benefit of a full offseason program. He had his struggles reading through progressions, but perhaps showed the coaching staff that with more time in the program, he can make some hay. His leadership was undeniable, and his teammates embraced him as enthusiastically as he embraced the Patriot culture.
Stidham will be back for another chance to compete for the starter’s job.
James White (UFA), Rex Burkhead (UFA), Sony Michel (2023), Damien Harris (2023), J.J. Taylor (2022), Brandon Bolden (2022), Jakob Johnson (ERFA), Dan Vitale (2022).
The Patriots could have one of the best 1-2 tailback punches in the league if Harris and Michel can stay healthy. Harris had a breakthrough year and Michel was solid when 100 percent. White would like to return, and it’s likely the feeling is mutual. He’ll draw interest on the market if he gets there. Taylor will get touches. Vitale (opt-out) could provide a huge fullback boost.
Ryan Izzo (2022), Matt LaCosse (2022), Devin Asiasi (2024), Dalton Keene (2024).
Rookies Asiasi and Keene were hurt by the shortened camp, no preseason games, and injuries. Look for them to make huge sophomore strides. Izzo did yeoman work as a blocker. LaCosse (opt-out) showed flashes in 2019.
Julian Edelman (2022), Damiere Byrd (UFA), Jakobi Meyers (2022), N’Keal Harry (2024), Marqise Lee (2022), Gunner Olszewski (2022), Donte Moncrief (2022).
After Newton, Edelman’s status is the next big question. There’s no doubt that if he’s healthy, the 34-year-old can still help; check those Week 2 numbers. Byrd (47 catches, 604 yards) exceeded all expectations with career-high numbers, and there will be mutual interest in a return. Meyers was terrific. Harry had another subpar season, and the former first-rounder will be under the microscope again. Lee (opt-out) would have helped this year; he’ll get another chance. Olszewski and Moncrief are valuable returners.
C: David Andrews (UFA), James Ferentz (UFA).
G: Joe Thuney (UFA), Shaq Mason (2024), Marcus Martin (UFA).
T: Isaiah Wynn (2023), Marcus Cannon (2023), Jermaine Eluemunor (UFA), Yodny Cajuste (2023), Korey Cunningham (2022), Mike Onwenu (2024), Justin Herron (2024).
The largest position group on the team has the most questions. It would be stunning if Andrews doesn’t return. He loves the organization, and it’s reciprocal. His leadership and consistency are invaluable. Thuney will get another bundle of money as the best guard on the market. A new long-term deal here is possible, but it’s doubtful that he’d get franchised again. There’s good depth at tackle even if Cannon (opt-out) and Cajuste (zero games played) don’t return.
Lawrence Guy (UFA), Adam Butler (UFA), Deatrich Wise (UFA), Byron Cowart (2023), Tashawn Bower (2022), Rashod Berry (2022), Akeem Spence (2022), Beau Allen (2022), Carl Davis (UFA), Chase Winovich (2023), John Simon (UFA).
Another big group with big questions. Guy has been immense as a Patriot, and as with Andrews, there will be lots of mutual interest in extending his stay. Butler keeps getting better and fits this defense. Ditto for Wise, who added strength in the offseason and snaps during the season. Injuries kept Allen off the field all season, but he was engaged in the program and could be a key contributor ahead. Concussions derailed Davis’s brief stay. Winovich’s role and leadership will continue to expand. Simon is a valuable edge defender, but his play declined late in the season. Berry has a chance to be a regular in the end rotation.
Dont’a Hightower (2022), Ja’Whaun Bentley (2022), Shilique Calhoun (UFA), Brandon Copeland (UFA), Josh Uche (2024), Anfernee Jennings (2024), Terez Hall (2022).
Hightower’s absence because of an opt-out was glaring. He’s smart and strong and makes every player around him better. The man fills holes. His future plan is yet another big question mark. Bentley is a hard charger and hitter. Hall showed a real nose for the ball. Like all rookies, Uche and Jennings were hurt by the odd offseason. They eventually will be the rocks upon which this defense is built for seasons to come.
Stephon Gilmore (2022), J.C. Jackson (RFA), Jason McCourty (UFA), Jonathan Jones (2023), Joejuan Williams (2023).
Gilmore had another fantastic season, and his status bears watching. His cap hit is approximately $17 million, and there are multiple possibilities for 2021: play at that number, receive an extension/raise, a trade, a release. None would be shocking. Jackson thrived opposite Gilmore this season, and he’ll be back on either an extension or first-round tender. McCourty can still play and his leadership is unquestioned. Jones is a speedy ballhawk. Williams has struggled with consistency but could be poised for a big year.
Devin McCourty (2022), Patrick Chung (2025), Adrian Phillips (2022), Terrance Brooks (UFA), Kyle Dugger (2024), Myles Bryant (2022).
McCourty is the players’ beacon on and off the field. Chung (opt-out) has expressed his desire to return, and his versatility and ability to mentor would be huge. Phillips played a hybrid safety/linebacker role and ended up leading the team in tackles. Dugger hits like a Mack truck, and he’s another building block for the future. Bryant, who has corner skills, was the defensive surprise of camp.
Matthew Slater (UFA), Justin Bethel (UFA), Cody Davis (UFA), Joe Cardona (2023), Jake Bailey (2023), Nick Folk (UFA).
Slater is undecided on his future but has made it clear if he comes back it will be in a Patriots uniform. The club would love to bring back Bethel and Davis. Cardona is steady as a rock, and Bailey was tremendous as a punter and kicker. Folk was amazing, too; if he re-signs here, he’ll be competing with Justin Rohrwasser and Roberto Aguayo.