Before the 2020 NFL postseason began, we surveyed each playoff team’s roster to find players the New England Patriots could target this offseason.
Now, with only two teams left standing, let’s take a deeper look at the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to identify some potential future Patriots:
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
In our earlier piece, we singled out wide receiver Sammy Watkins, an impending free agent, as a player who could interest the Patriots. Here’s what we wrote then:
The Patriots? lack of pass-catching talent hamstrung their offense this season, making wide receiver one of their top offseason priorities. Watkins isn?t in the top tier of wideouts set to hit the market this spring and has been slowed by injuries of late, but he?s only 27 (28 this summer) and was a solid contributor in the Chiefs? loaded offense during their 2019 Super Bowl run. It?ll be interesting to see what his market is after the least productive season of his career (37 catches, 421 yards, two touchdowns in 10 games).
Watkins has yet to take the field this postseason as he recovers from a calf injury but said he’s “very optimistic” about his chances of suiting up Sunday.
Most of the Chiefs’ stars are locked up on long-term contracts, but they have a sizable group of notable role players set to hit unrestricted free agency.
Along with Watkins, that group includes safety Daniel Sorenson, receiver Demarcus Robinson, defensive ends Tanoh Kpassagnon and Alex Okafor, linebacker Damien Wilson, center Austin Reiter, cornerback Bashaud Breeland, fullback Anthony Sherman and running back Le’Veon Bell.
Tall, long and explosive, Kpassagnon (6-foot-7, 289 pounds) was mentioned as a potential Patriots target before the 2017 NFL Draft but hasn’t lived up to his draft slot as a second-round pick. His Pro Football Focus grade ranked 90th out of 112 edge defenders this season and 99th out of 114 in 2019.
Breeland visited the Patriots in free agency in 2018. The 32-year-old Sherman grew up down the road from Gillette Stadium in North Attleboro, Mass., and could be an upgrade over Jakob Johnson and Danny Vitale.
Chiefs general manager Brett Veach and his staff have done a masterful job of building and maintaining a Super Bowl-caliber roster in recent years. But with KC projected to be over the shrinking 2021 salary cap entering the offseason, it’ll have a difficult time re-signing its free agents and might need to trade or release players to shed salary.
The Chiefs could free up $14.8 million in cap space by moving on from All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu, but they’re more likely to sign the do-it-all defender to an extension to lower his $19.7 million cap hit for 2021.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The two Bucs we highlighted before the playoffs were wideout Chris Godwin and linebacker Lavonte David, both of whom are set to hit the open market:
Receiver and linebacker are two of the Patriots? biggest offseason needs, and Godwin and David would be ideal additions. The former saw his numbers dip a bit this season while he battled injuries but was one of the NFL?s most productive wideouts in 2019, catching 86 passes for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns. (This season, Godwin went 65-840-7 in 12 games.) David, who turned 31 last month, is one of the league?s premier linebackers, earning a top-five grade from Pro Football Focus in three of the last four seasons. Both players will be pricey, but with more than $60 million in projected salary cap space, the Patriots will have plenty of spending money this offseason.
Godwin (6-1, 209) has been the Bucs’ primary slot receiver for the last two seasons, playing 496 snaps inside and 329 out wide in 2020, per PFF. He’d be a perfect fit for the Patriots’ offense, but as one of the top players in an intriguing free agent receiver class, he won’t come cheap.
As for Tampa Bay’s other impending free agents, New England could make a play for 34-year-old Ndamukong Suh or 35-year-old Steve McLendon to bolster a defensive line that lacked quality depth this season.
Suh had six sacks in 2020 (his most since 2015) and hasn’t missed a game in nine years. McLendon was a longtime starter with the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets before being traded to the Bucs in October. Bucs D-tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches (27) also is set to hit free agency.
Veteran linebacker Kevin Minter was a starter in Arizona earlier in his career and plays a ton in the kicking game for Tampa Bay. He ranked third among Bucs players in special teams snaps. (Cornerback Ryan Smith, who ranked first, also will be a UFA).
The Patriots never shell out big money for high-priced pass rushers, so don’t expect them to be in the mix for Shaquil Barrett.