The Patriots will look to upgrade the weapons around Mac Jones and get younger and more athletic on defense when NFL free agency begins Wednesday at 4 p.m.
But the Patriots also have several of their own players that they need to re-sign, as well.
Decisions need to be made on 16 players: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Brandon Bolden, Trent Brown, Jamie Collins, Nick Folk, Dont’a Hightower, Brian Hoyer, J.C. Jackson, Jakob Johnson, Ted Karras, Brandon King, Devin McCourty, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Matthew Slater, and James White.
Let’s take a look at some of the roster moves the team should make.
|Player||Jim McBride||Ben Volin||Nicole Yang|
|Ja'Whaun Bentley, LB||Let walk||Re-sign||Re-sign|
|Brandon Bolden, RB||Re-sign||Re-sign||Re-sign|
|Trent Brown, OT||Re-sign||Re-sign||Re-sign|
|Jamie Collins, LB||Let walk||Let walk||Let walk|
|Nick Folk, K||Re-sign||Re-sign||Re-sign|
|Dont'a Hightower, LB||Re-sign||Let walk||Let walk|
|Brian Hoyer, QB||Re-sign||Re-sign||Let walk|
|J.C. Jackson, CB||Let walk||Let walk||Let walk|
|Jakob Johnson, FB*||Re-sign||Re-sign||Re-sign|
|Ted Karras, G/C||Re-sign||Re-sign||Re-sign|
|Brandon King, ST||Re-sign||Re-sign||Let walk|
|Devin McCourty, S||Re-sign||Re-sign||Re-sign|
|Jakobi Meyers, WR*||Re-sign||Re-sign||Re-sign|
|Gunner Olszewski, WR*||Re-sign||Re-sign||Re-sign|
|Matthew Slater, ST||Re-sign||Re-sign||Re-sign|
|James White, RB||Re-sign||Re-sign||Re-sign|
Re-sign: Bolden, Brown, Folk, Hightower, Hoyer, Johnson, Karras, King, McCourty, Meyers, Olszewski, Slater, White
Analysis: The Patriots have a bunch of free agents and not all of them will return to the fold, but there are several standouts that make sense for the club to keep in town.
Protecting Jones will always be a top priority, so targeting tackle Brown and versatile interior man Karras is good business practice.
Brown’s been at his happiest and most productive during his time in New England and it would be mutually beneficial to keep him in place. He’s adept at playing both left and right tackle — something very few players can boast. He’ll likely get richer offers elsewhere, but maybe a lower, yet still competitive contract from New England (plus the peace of mind that comes from playing in his happy place) will be enough to get a deal done here.
Similarly, Karras could get bigger offers from outside New England (Las Vegas comes to mind) but sweetening the pot for this guy would be wise. He’s smart and durable and can play either guard spot while also providing insurance behind David Andrews at center.
On the other side of the ball, getting pacts done with longstanding captains McCourty and Hightower would be prescient. The defense is going to undergo some changes, particularly at the second and third levels, but keeping these two in place will help with the transition as they can guide the new faces, both young and older.
Both players are an extension of the coaching staff because of their savvy on the field and their leadership in the locker room. Every club has beacons that teammates look to and McCourty and Hightower are two of the brightest in New England.
Special teams aces Slater and Bolden are two more popular and productive leaders who fit best in New England and it would be a surprise if they didn’t come back for another run.
Let walk: Bentley, Collins, Jackson
Analysis: Jackson is a wonderful talent, but he’s just become too expensive for a team that can use the $20-plus million he’ll command to fill myriad holes.
As for Bentley and Collins, they have fit in well, but New England needs to find out if its younger linebackers can play.
Re-sign: Bentley, Bolden, Brown, Folk, Hoyer, Johnson, Karras, King, McCourty, Meyers, Olszewski, Slater, White
Analysis: With the departures of Stephon Gilmore and likely J.C. Jackson, the Patriots need to bring back McCourty to ensure they have steady play and leadership in the secondary. They should bring Brown back for another go at right tackle, though I wouldn’t mind seeing him switched to the left side to replace Isaiah Wynn. White seems like a low-cost, no-brainer move, though the Patriots should also draft his eventual replacement.
Karras is a perfect fit as the utility guard/center. Bolden, Slater, and King are low-cost moves that would shore up the special teams and provide locker room leadership. Bringing back Folk is the easiest decision they have, and re-signing Hoyer as the backup quarterback is the second easiest.
Almost the entire linebacker room is hitting free agency, and the Patriots should choose Bentley over Hightower because he is six years younger. And the Patriots should try to re-sign Olszewski and Johnson for lower than the original round tender ($2.433 million).
Let walk: Collins, Hightower, Jackson
Analysis: I would love for them to bring Jackson back, but they passed on giving him the franchise tag for $17.3 million, and I see the logic in using that money to sign two or three cornerbacks instead.
They could use Hightower’s leadership in the locker room, but he’ll be 32 in August and looked like he was on the downside of his career last year. Collins will be 33 this fall and I think the Patriots need to get younger at linebacker.
Re-sign: Bentley, Bolden, Brown, Folk, Johnson, Karras, McCourty, Meyers, Olszewski, Slater, White
Analysis: Bringing back McCourty, Slater, and White (if healthy following his season-ending hip subluxation) makes sense for both leadership and football reasons. All were captains last season, and all can still provide meaningful on-field contributions.
Retaining Brown and Karras would solidify the offensive line. They could garner interest on the open market, but both experienced playing elsewhere and have since expressed appreciation for the Patriots. If you have to part ways with one, Brown probably goes because of his price tag and durability concerns.
Unless the Patriots are ready to turn things over to second-year kicker Quinn Nordin, then running it back with Folk is a no-brainer. Keeping Meyers is another no-brainer.
The challenge for the Patriots will be managing their limited salary-cap space. How many of these deals will be one-year contracts? The more one-year contracts, the less flexibility the team has with its cap room.
Let walk: Collins, Hightower, Hoyer, Jackson, King
Analysis: The writing is on the wall for Jackson, who will likely cash in on his long-awaited pay day. On the off chance that Jackson’s market isn’t as rich as expected, perhaps he’d be willing to return to the place that first gave him a chance as an undrafted free agent.
I considered opting for a full revamp of the linebacker corps by letting both Hightower and Bentley go, but the Patriots will probably want some level of continuity as they transition to a younger, faster group. Hightower ended up being the odd man out because of his age. If the money is manageable, though, a return doesn’t seem out of the question.
It might be time for Hoyer, who turns 37 in October, to join the coaching staff. Players and coaches raved about Hoyer’s contributions last season. The Patriots brought in Joe Judge as an offensive assistant, but could still use a dedicated coach for Jones following the departure of longtime offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels. With concerns about the coronavirus pandemic declining, carrying three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster may no longer be necessary. That being said, when previously asked about the potential of becoming a coach, Hoyer said something to the effect of, why would I work 10 times more to be paid 10 times less?
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow her @nicolecyang. Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @globejimmcbride.