It wasn’t until most of their fans had clocked out for the weekend that the New England Patriots finally got to work in free agency.
After a quiet start to the NFL league year that included a trade for cornerback Jason McCourty but no free agent additions, the Patriots began a rapid flurry of activity Friday evening.
In the 48 hours between 6:30 p.m. ET Friday and 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, news broke about four separate New England transactions — three signings and one trade.
For those of you who weren’t keeping up with your NFL news over the weekend, here’s a quick rundown of the new faces, plus updates on a few Patriots free agents who have yet to land new contracts:
Adrian Clayborn, defensive end
Drafted: First round (20th overall) in 2011 by Tampa Bay
2017 team: Atlanta Falcons
2017 stats: 21 tackles, 9 1/2 sacks, 17 quarterback hits in 16 games
Clayborn, who made headlines this past season with his six-sack performance against the Dallas Cowboys, was arguably the best pass rusher available on the open market, and he filled a serious need for the Patriots. The veteran likely will start opposite Trey Flowers in New England’s otherwise youthful defensive end rotation. Clayborn’s contract reportedly is a two-year deal worth up to $12.5 million.
Jeremy Hill, running back
Drafted: Second round (55th overall) in 2014 by Cincinnati
2017 team: Cincinnati Bengals
2017 stats: 37 carries, 116 yards, zero touchdowns in seven games
The Hill signing reunited the LSU product with Rex Burkhead, his former Bengals teammate. Hill is coming off by far his worst season as a pro — one that ended in mid-November thanks to an ankle injury — and his athletic profile is drastically different from what the Patriots typically look for in their running backs. He still has upside, however, having rushed for 2,757 yards and 29 touchdowns over his first three NFL seasons. Hill also missed just one game over those three campaigns.
It’s worth noting Hill’s one-year contract reportedly includes just $150,000 in guaranteed money, meaning the Patriots easily could cut him this summer if he doesn’t pan out.
Matt Tobin, offensive tackle
Drafted: Signed as undrafted free agent in 2013 by Philadelphia
2017 team: Seattle Seahawks
2017 stats: 15 games, zero starts, 81 offensive snaps
The Patriots desperately need a new left tackle following Nate Solder’s decision to sign with the New York Giants last week. Tobin probably isn’t the answer there, but he at least provides some depth at the position. The fact that he hardly saw the field on offense this past season (just 7.6 percent of snaps), even on a Seahawks team that had a mess for an offensive line, is telling. Fortunately for Tobin, who also can play guard, he’ll get now get to work under Dante Scarnecchia, one of the NFL’s top offensive line coaches.
ACQUIRED VIA TRADE SUNDAY
Cordarrelle Patterson, wide receiver/kick returner
Drafted: First round (29th overall) in 2013 by Minnesota
2017 team: Oakland Raiders
2017 stats: 31 catches (42 targets), 309 yards; 13 carries, 121 yards, two touchdowns in 16 games
In one of those odd, time-is-a-flat-circle moments, the Patriots traded for Patterson five years after trading away the pick the Vikings subsequently used to draft him. In this latest swap, they reportedly sent a fifth-round draft choice to the Raiders for Patterson and a sixth-rounder.
Patterson has yet to develop into a consistent offensive contributor in the NFL, but he’s fast as all heck (4.42-second 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine) and is one of the league’s top kick returners, earning Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors in that category in 2013 and 2016. He’ll replace Dion Lewis, now with the Tennessee Titans, as the Patriots’ primary kick return man. Patterson probably won’t take over Danny Amendola’s punt return duties, though, as he’s returned just one punt in his NFL career.
As for Patterson’s offensive potential, expect offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to line him up both out wide and in the backfield, which the Raiders did at times in 2017. His 42-yard touchdown run against New York Jets came on a straight inside handoff.
The trade did create somewhat of a logjam on the Patriots’ depth chart, as they now have nine wide receivers under contract through the 2018 season.
PATRIOTS FREE AGENT UPDATES
Matthew Slater, special teamer
In a surprising development, Slater, one of New England’s longest-tenured and most-respected leaders, visited the Pittsburgh Steelers over the weekend. The seven-time Pro Bowler reportedly left Pittsburgh without signing, but the fact he and the Patriots have not come to terms on a new deal is highly unexpected.
New England already has re-signed special teamers Nate Ebner, Brandon King and Brandon Bolden, and the acquisition of Patterson could lessen the likelihood of Slater returning. Patterson is known for his return abilities but also plays gunner on the punt team — Slater’s specialty.
Cameron Fleming, offensive tackle
It still would be in the Patriots’ best interest to re-sign either Fleming or LaAdrian Waddle, but Fleming reportedly will be in Dallas early this week to visit the Dallas Cowboys. New England’s left tackle spot is very much in flux.
Patriots free agents who remain unsigned: Slater, Fleming, Waddle, linebacker James Harrison, linebacker Marquis Flowers, defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois