They’ll be free, but they won’t come cheap.
NFL free agency opens this week (legal tampering Monday and legal for real Wednesday), and the Patriots — and every other franchise — will need to make decisions on whom to retain, whom to let go, and whom to pursue.
New England has 15 “in-house” free agents. Here’s a prediction of how it goes for each of them.
▪ WR Jakobi Meyers
2022 salary cap hit: $3,986,000
The Patriots’ leading receiver three seasons running, Meyers, 26, is at the top of a comparatively thin list of available veteran pass catchers. He’s reliable on the field (he built rapports with Tom Brady, Cam Newton, and Mac Jones) and accountable in the locker room. The franchise tag (nearly $20 million for one year) is unlikely. What is likely is a four-year deal worth north of $50 million, which likely means an address change.
▪ WR Nelson Agholor
2022 salary cap hit: $14,882,345
Agholor, 30, never caught on here after signing a whopper of a contract in 2021. He will be looking for a new deal to prove he can still produce, but it won’t come from the Patriots.
▪ RB Damien Harris
2022 salary cap hit: $1,186,534
Harris ran for just over 2,000 yards in four seasons in which he battled multiple injuries. With Rhamondre Stevenson now the lead dog in the pack and young pups Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris in the New England pipeline, Damien Harris, 26, will find more carries and more money in a new location.
▪ OT Isaiah Wynn
2022 salary cap hit: $10,413,000
Wynn consistently flashed one of the biggest smiles in the locker room over his first four seasons at One Patriot Place, but that grin was rarely seen in 2022. Though Wynn, 27, denied that the switch from left to right tackle bothered him, it was hard not to connect the dots. He’ll be toeing the line somewhere else in 2023.
▪ OT Yodny Cajuste
2022 salary cap hit: $1,030,545
Injuries have dogged Cajuste since he was drafted in 2019, limiting him to just 17 games. Still, Cajuste, 27, has shown flashes, and since he knows the Patriots program, a low-cost, one-year deal to finally prove he can be a consistent contributor makes sense.
▪ OT Marcus Cannon
2022 salary cap hit: $751,111
Signed off the street in September, Cannon quickly rounded into form and performed better than anyone could have expected, first at jumbo tight end and then supplanting Wynn at right tackle. A concussion prematurely ended the feel-good return for Cannon, 35. Retirement is a possibility, but judging by how excited he was to be back, a one-year deal as a depth player and mentor would work.
▪ G/C James Ferentz
2022 salary cap hit: $895,000
The Patriots love Ferentz and Ferentz loves playing here. The 34-year-old offers great depth at multiple positions. He’ll be back.
▪ CB Myles Bryant
2022 salary cap hit: $895,000
The only restricted free agent on New England’s docket, Bryant has consistently improved every season. He moved into Jones’s slot role this year and made some nice plays as well as some mistakes. He is on the right trajectory and he’ll be back.
▪ S Jabrill Peppers
2022 salary cap hit: $1,725,000
Peppers brought a lot of intangibles and a lot of pain in his first year in New England. A physically punishing player who showed energy and versatility, Peppers, 27, could expand his role even more with a year of the system under his belt. A multiyear deal to stick around seems practical.
▪ LB Mack Wilson
2022 salary cap hit: $2,540,000
Though Wilson, 25, started the year strong, his snaps dwindled to the point where he didn’t play a single defensive snap over the final five weeks. He will seek a spot in a defense that more suits his skills.
▪ DT Carl Davis
2022 salary cap hit: $1,047,500
He quietly put together a solid season in the rotation with Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, and Christian Barmore. For Davis, 31, the good times will continue to roll in New England in 2023.
▪ DT Daniel Ekuale
2022 salary cap hit: $1,002,777
Another inside beast, Ekuale, 29, probably could start for a lot of teams, and he likely will seek an opportunity to do just that.
▪ DB Joejuan Williams
2022 salary cap hit: $2,108,482
Missed 2022 with a shoulder injury. Exquisite athleticism never translated to New England’s scheme, whether it was at corner or safety. Williams, 25, wasn’t a special teams contributor, either. A change of scenery could spark his career.
▪ Cody Davis
2022 salary cap hit: $2,330,000
An elite contributor in all phases of the kicking game, Davis, 33, missed most of the season after tearing an ACL in Cleveland. His absence was felt. Davis is well respected and admired by the staff and his teammates. A return engagement is all but certain.
▪ LS Joe Cardona
2022 salary cap hit: $1,333,000
A torn ligament in his foot snapped Cardona’s 140-game ironman streak late last season, but the 30-year-old lieutenant in the Naval reserves almost certainly will be back to start a new one.
Players who have made a decision
▪ CB Jonathan Jones
2022 salary cap hit: $7,701,098
Long a stellar special teamer and sterling slot corner, Jones added boundary corner to his résumé last season, and to no one’s surprise he was really good, often shadowing opponents’ top targets. Oh sure, he took some learning lumps, but overall, he was better than most. The Patriots know how valuable he is, and they made that clear by signing him to a two-year deal.
▪ S Devin McCourty
2022 salary cap hit: $5,750,000
After playing at a high level for 13 seasons, the 35-year-old McCourty has opted to retire despite watching good buddy Matthew Slater sign up for one more run.
▪ LB Raekwon McMillan
2022 salary cap hit: $1,055,000
McMillan will be sticking around after agreeing to terms on a new deal, a league source confirmed.
Rugged and smart, the 27 year-old was a solid special teamer and depth player at the second level. He has a knack for being around the ball, and that’s a nice quality to have.
McMillan signed with the Patriots in 2021 but missed the season after tearing his ACL during training camp.
In 2022, he finished with 35 tackles and a sack as part of the linebacker rotation. His most memorable play came against the Cardinals when he returned a fumble for touchdown in a 27-13 Patriots win. McMillan was also a core special teamer, accumulating 277 snaps on the coverage units.