The start of NFL free agency is just a few short days away. Here’s a position-by-position look at some offensive players the New England Patriots could target when the market opens for business Thursday afternoon:
QUARTERBACK: BRIAN HOYER
No, the Patriots do not need a quarterback. But they might consider signing a veteran backup if they end up trading Jimmy Garoppolo and question whether Jacoby Brissett is ready to be the No. 2. New England reportedly plans to keep Garoppolo, but the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe reported the Pats are scouting free-agent QBs just in case.
Hoyer, who spent this season with the Chicago Bears, served as Tom Brady’s understudy from 2009 to 2011 and knows the Patriots’ system.
RUNNING BACK: EDDIE LACY
Could the Patriots gamble and sign Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles? Sure. But Lacy would be the safer bet, despite the fact he’s coming off season-ending ankle surgery. Lacy, who will turn 27 in June, averaged 5.1 yards per carry this season before busting his ankle in Week 6, and he could be the power-running back the Patriots would lack if they lose LeGarrette Blount in free agency.
He’s no sure thing, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Alabama product revitalize his career in New England.
TIGHT END: JACK DOYLE
Ideally, New England would love to re-sign Martellus Bennett, who’s easily the best free-agent tight end on the market. There’s a strong chance Bennett will receive a more lucrative offer elsewhere, though, which would leave the Patriots with a need at the position.
They could address it through the draft — this year’s tight end class, headlined by Alabama’s O.J. Howard and Miami’s David Njoku, is teeming with talent — but if they decide to go the free-agency route, Doyle could be an option.
After totaling just 35 receptions over his first three NFL seasons, the 26-year-old caught 59 balls for the Indianapolis Colts in 2016, tallying 584 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
WIDE RECEIVER: CORDARRELLE PATTERSON
There are a lot of talented wideouts set to hit free agency, including the Patriots’ own Michael Floyd. The Patriots have a strong top three at the position in Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell, but reports linking them to Brandin Cooks showed they’re still looking to improve. Don’t expect them to shell out big money, though, meaning a top-flight wideout like Alshon Jeffery probably isn’t coming to Foxboro.
Patterson, a 2013 first-round pick, should be a more affordable option after he never quite met expectations in four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. He’s an All-Pro kick returner but was held back in the Vikings’ dink-and-dunk offense, averaging just 8.7 yards per reception this season.
Other potentially intriguing names to watch here include Robert Woods, Brandon Marshall and DeSean Jackson. Terrelle Pryor also worked out for the Patriots a few years back, but he’ll likely command far more than New England is willing to pay.
OFFENSIVE LINE: NICK MANGOLD
The Patriots are pretty well set along the O-line, as all five starters from 2016 are signed through next season. Reserve guard/center Ted Karras also will return, and Tre’ Jackson should be back in the mix at guard, as well, after spending all of this season on the physically unable to perform list.
David Andrews has been solid at center for the past two seasons, but if the Patriots want to give him some competition this summer, they could take a look at Mangold, whom the New York Jets released last week. Who knows how much the 33-year-old has left in the tank, but he made the Pro Bowl as recently as 2015. (Ultimately, I doubt this will happen.)
If the Patriots need to replace third tackle Cameron Fleming, who’s set to become a restricted free agent, they’ll probably do it through the draft or with a bargain-basement signing. There’s not a lot of tackle talent in this year’s free-agent class, meaning teams probably will overpay for decent players.
Thumbnail photo via Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY NETWORK