Just days before the start of training camp, the New England Patriots suddenly find themselves with an abundance of salary cap space and several open roster spots.
The decisions by linebacker Dont’a Hightower, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, safety Patrick Chung, running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale and guard Najee Toran to opt out of the 2020 NFL season due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns created six vacancies on New England’s 80-man roster and gave the team roughly $24.7 million in available cap room.
As of 11 a.m. ET Tuesday, the Patriots had filled just one of those spots, re-signing undrafted rookie receiver Will Hastings after initially releasing him on Sunday.
It remains to be seen how the Patriots will fill the other five openings — and whether any additional players will choose to opt out — but the pool of available free agents includes several notable veterans who could address New England needs. Here are a few:
Jadeveon Clowney, edge rusher
The biggest fish left in the free agent pond, Clowney remains unsigned after a down year with Seattle in 2019. The three-time Pro Bowler tallied three sacks, seven tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hits in 13 games with the Seahawks. As of 11 a.m. ET Tuesday, the Patriots had not reached out to Clowney’s camp, according to a report from Jeff Howe of The Athletic.
Cordy Glenn, offensive tackle
Cannon’s opt-out leaves the Patriots without an obvious replacement at right tackle. The current candidates: Korey Cunningham, 2019 third-round pick Yodny Cajuste, sixth-round rookie Justin Herron and potentially Joe Thuney, who could bump out from his left guard spot. Glenn, 30, has started 95 games at left tackle for the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals but has never played an NFL snap on the right side. The Bengals cut him after a tumultuous 2019 season that featured a team-imposed suspension, reportedly for arguing with a coach.
Demar Dotson, offensive tackle
Tampa Bay’s primary right tackle since 2012, the 34-year-old Dotson has started 15 games in each of the last two seasons. He was Pro Football Focus’ 31st-highest-graded tackle in 2019, allowing five sacks and 34 total pressures and committing 10 penalties. The Bucs let him walk in free agency.
LaAdrian Waddle, offensive tackle
A familiar name for Patriots fans. Waddle played both tackle spots during his three seasons with New England, starting four games in 2017 and three in 2018. He signed with the Bills last offseason and suffered a season-ending quad injury in training camp.
Jared Veldheer, offensive tackle
It’s unclear whether the Patriots would want Veldheer back after he abruptly retired shortly after signing last summer, only to resurface with Green Bay late in the season. The 33-year-old journeyman appeared in the Packers’ final four games, including postseason, with one start. He’s started 113 games in his career and has experience at both tackle spots.
Marshall Newhouse, offensive tackle
Newhouse was signed off the street last September and almost immediately thrust into New England’s starting lineup after Isaiah Wynn landed on injured reserve. He struggled during his 15 appearances (nine starts) but knows the Patriots’ offense — a benefit given this year’s truncated training camp format.
Mark Barron, linebacker
A converted safety, Barron appeared in 15 games at inside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, starting nine. He was PFF’s 54th-highest-graded linebacker. Barron began his career with the Buccaneers and played against the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. Hightower’s decision further weakened a Patriots linebacking corps that already had lost Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts to free agency.
Clay Matthews, linebacker
Matthews no longer is the All-Pro-caliber talent he was in the early 2010s, but the former Packers star was a productive pass rusher for the Rams last season, finishing with eight sacks in 13 games. The 33-year-old split time between on-the-ball and off-the-line earlier in his career but played almost exclusively as an edge rusher in the last two seasons.
Nigel Bradham, linebacker
A nagging ankle injury sidelined Bradham for four games last season, and the Philadelphia Eagles released the 30-year-old in February. Bradham averaged 96 tackles per season from 2016 to 2018 and has started 96 games in his career, which began with the Buffalo Bills in 2012.
Tony Jefferson, safety
The Patriots have decent depth at safety with Terrence Brooks, top draft pick Kyle Dugger and veteran newcomers Adrian Phillips and Cody Davis complementing standout starter Devin McCourty. But if they want to add another body to that group, Jefferson, who’s split time between free and strong safety during his seven-year career, is one option. Jefferson had issues in coverage during his three-year stint in Baltimore — his passer rating against was above 115 in all three seasons, per PFF — and is coming off a torn ACL that ended his 2019 campaign after five games.
Reshad Jones, safety
A longtime starter for the division rival Miami Dolphins, Jones was released in March and has yet to find a new home. The two-time Pro Bowler (2015 and 2017) appeared in just four games last season before landing on injured reserve in November.
Eric Reid, safety
Reid tallied a career-high 130 tackles with the Carolina Panthers this season but struggled mightily in coverage, allowing the most receiving yards (573 on 57 targets) and touchdowns (seven) of any NFL safety, per PFF. Reid has been an outspoken advocate for social justice since his time with the San Francisco 49ers, when he kneeled alongside Colin Kaepernick. When the Panthers signed Reid in 2018, ending a six-month spell in free agency, McCourty applauded the move.
Other available free agents include: edge rusher Everson Griffen, edge rusher Jabaal Sheard, edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah, running back Devonta Freeman, running back Lamar Miller, safety Tavon Wilson, safety Morgan Burnett, linebacker Wesley Woodyard, linebacker Alec Ogletree, offensive tackle Greg Robinson, cornerback Logan Ryan