The free agent current has flowed away from Foxboro, Mass., this week.
Since the NFL’s legal tampering period opened Monday, seven New England Patriots players (Tom Brady, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, Danny Shelton, Ted Karras and Nate Ebner) have jumped ship, and an eighth (Duron Harmon) has left via trade.
In other words, business as usual — except for the whole losing Tom Brady thing.
With a few exceptions, like the surprise Stephon Gilmore signing in 2017, Bill Belichick and his staff tend to wait out the first wave of free agency before diving in. And plenty of quality players remain unsigned.
Here’s a rundown of some of the available names — as of 2 p.m. ET on Thursday — at positions of need for the Patriots:
Ebron, Eifert and Walker are the clear top three on this list (in that order), but all three come with injury concerns. Ebron had ankle surgery in December, Eifert has played a full 16 games just once in seven seasons and Walker appeared in just eight games over the last two seasons. Same goes for Reed, who missed all of 2019 with a concussion. Given the NFL’s current moratorium on team physicals amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it could be a while before any of these players sign. Ebron, who had a career year with Andrew Luck in 2018, likely will be the priciest.
The Patriots already made one low-level signing here in the speedy Byrd. And they’re not nearly as talent-deprived at wideout as they are at tight end, assuming Mohamed Sanu’s ankle heals (and he isn’t cut) and N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers take steps forward in Year 2. They still could use an upgrade, however, and Sanders — one of the top free agents left on the market — is a player they’ve targeted for years. Perriman also had a breakout year for Tampa Bay last season, and Agholor, a favorite whipping boy for Philadelphia Eagles fans, could benefit from a change of scenery.
New England needs serious help at linebacker after losing Van Noy, Collins and Roberts in free agency, and we can’t see them ponying up for someone like Jadeveon Clowney, who remains unsigned. Bynes, who turns 31 in August, posted the highest Pro Football Focus grade on this list, grading out as PFF’s sixth-best linebacker after going unsigned until October. The Patriots have seen a lot of Hewitt, Lee and Preston Brown from their time in the AFC East. Ragland played under Nick Saban at Alabama. Correa had a solid year for Mike Vrabel’s Titans and could be an under-the-radar option
Adding Allen was a start, but the Patriots still could use more beef up front after losing Shelton to Detroit. They’ve shown interest in Wolfe, who tallied a career-high seven sacks in 2019 and is a stout run defender, according to a report from Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal. He would be an upgrade over Deatrich Wise if New England sticks with the 3-4 scheme it used last season.
In case you haven’t heard, the Patriots will have a new starting quarterback this season with Brady reportedly off to Tampa, and as you can see from this list, the pickings in free agency are slim. Winston is the only QB on here who was a full-time starter in 2019, and his interception issues and potential price tag make him a poor fit for the Patriots. New England could look to land someone like Cam Newton, Andy Dalton or Jacoby Brissett via trade or, potentially, post-release signing, but given the Patriots’ current salary cap situation, they’d likely be better off bringing in a budget veteran to compete with Jarrett Stidham and Cody Kessler. Bortles — who, for all his flaws, nearly beat the Patriots in the 2017 AFC title game — wouldn’t be a bad option in this scenario.