The train heading outbound from Gillette Stadium is a lot more packed than the one coming inbound on the first day of free agency. And that has some New England Patriots fans on edge.
The Patriots have lost quarterback Tom Brady, center Ted Karras, defensive tackle Danny Shelton and linebackers Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy in free agency. They also traded safety Duron Harmon.
They’ve brought back wide receiver Matthew Slater, guard Joe Thuney, safety Devin McCourty, defensive tackle Adam Butler, guard Jermaine Eluemunor and defensive end Keionta Davis.
And they’ve signed wide receiver Damiere Byrd and defensive tackle Beau Allen.
With more players going out than coming in, the Patriots have some fairly significant needs at the present moment. Fortunately for the Patriots, it’s the first day of the new NFL year. There’s plenty of time to fill these needs in free agency, through trades and in the draft, but they do need to be addressed with a current lack of significant salary cap room.
Ben Watson retired, but it was unlikely the Patriots would have been interested in re-signing him anyway given his (old) age and (lack of) 2019 production.
The Patriots currently have Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo on their tight end depth chart, and that’s not enough. Neither player proved to be starting-caliber in 2019.
The top free-agent tight end available is Eric Ebron. After him, the Patriots could reach out to sign Tyler Eifert or Delanie Walker. This isn’t a particularly strong draft for tight ends, but there could be solid players like Hunter Bryant, Adam Trautman or Albert Okwuegbunam available when the Patriots are picking. New England should reach out to the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants to see if they’re open to trading David Njoku or Evan Engram.
The Patriots really only have three off-the-ball linebackers on their team in Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall and Dont’a Hightower. Brandon King is a special teamer, and Derek Rivers, John Simon and Chase Winovich are edge defenders/outside linebackers.
After losing Collins, Van Noy and Roberts, the Patriots could use both inside and outside linebackers. They need at least one more versatile starting-caliber player to join Hightower and Bentley.
Unless the Patriots splurge on someone like Jadeveon Clowney, then these needs might not be filled until the draft. As far as free agents go, Reggie Ragland or Miles Killebrew could be potential fits. We like Wisconsin’s Zack Baun as a potential first-round pick for the Patriots in the draft. Ohio State’s Malik Harrison is another potential draft pick.
The Patriots at least have potential starters in Julian Edelman, Mohamed Sanu, N’Keal Harry, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Quincy Adeboyejo, Devin Ross and Byrd. Everyone knows what Edelman provides, Sanu has started for multiple teams, and Harry is a first-round pick.
The Patriots could definitely use another top wideout, however. Emmanuel Sanders is the most intriguing name in free agency. This is also a loaded draft for wide receivers, so there could be some impressive players available at the end of the first round or later.
Finally, the Patriots could reach out to teams for trades. We’ve identified Odell Beckham, Corey Davis and John Ross as players who could potentially be moved.
Brady’s gone. The Patriots need a starting quarterback.
It seems like it’s going to be Jarrett Stidham this season, but the Patriots could scoop up a veteran quarterback after the initial signing surge is over. Maybe Cam Newton or Andy Dalton get released by their respective teams? Perhaps Jameis Winston becomes a serious bargain in free agency? Maybe the Patriots trade for Jacoby Brissett?
The Patriots could also look to the draft for a QB. Jalen Hurts is a player we’re looking at in the third round.