The New England Patriots shocked the region three years ago when they made the out-of-character move to spend big bucks on cornerback Stephon Gilmore the first day of free agency. Since that happened, we’ve learned not to put anything past the franchise.
The Patriots have limited salary cap space after franchising left guard Joe Thuney, but they could still free up room to sign a big name Wednesday when free agency officially opens up (and no, Damiere Byrd didn’t quite qualify as a big name). Our best guess is they won’t. They probably want those sweet, sweet compensatory draft picks from losing Tom Brady, Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy in free agency.
But if they do decide to pay up, here are our top candidates:
WR EMMANUEL SANDERS
The market has been eerily quiet for Sanders in the legal tampering period. Maybe a little too quiet?
Even with Brady gone, the Patriots could still use some offensive weapons. Sanders proved he could learn a system quickly last season after joining the San Francisco 49ers at midseason. He also proved he can still play at 33 years old.
Sanders hasn’t posted a 1,000-yard season since 2016, but the Patriots wanted him in 2013 when he was a restricted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Maybe they can get him now on the back end of his career.
TE ERIC EBRON
Ebron is the top tight end left on the open market, and he’s also had a quiet legal tampering period.
Ebron was great while catching passes from Andrew Luck in 2018 with 66 receptions for 750 yards with 13 touchdowns. He caught just 31 passes for 375 yards with three touchdowns in 2019 while Jacoby Brissett was under center.
Perhaps he could have another career resurgence at 27 years old in 2020 on the tight end-needy Patriots.
DE JADEVEON CLOWNEY
Clowney likely will be too expensive and out of the Patriots’ price range. But couldn’t you imagine Bill Belichick being infatuated with Clowney’s rare ability?
He’s a three-time Pro Bowl selection, and while he was disruptive in 2019, he only registered three sacks with the Seattle Seahawks.
The Patriots could lessen their need for linebackers by signing Clowney and turning back from a three-man front to a four-man defensive line.
OK, it’s probably not going to happen. But Clowney is a special player worthy of consideration.