Patriots Free Agency Primer: Everything To Know As League Year Begins

NFL free agency officially opens Wednesday

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Bill Belichick’s bid to rebuild the New England Patriots’ roster after their worst season since 2000 begins in earnest this week.

Here’s everything you need to know as NFL free agency gets underway:

WHEN DOES FREE AGENCY BEGIN?
The legal tampering period — when teams are allowed to begin negotiating with representatives for external free agents — opens Monday at noon ET. Teams cannot officially sign free agents or finalize trades until the 2021 NFL league year kicks off at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

HOW MUCH CAP SPACE DO THE PATRIOTS HAVE?
Plenty.

We don’t have all the details on the four transactions they’ve made thus far (acquiring offensive tackle Trent Brown, re-signing quarterback Cam Newton and special teamer Justin Bethel and trading away offensive tackle Marcus Cannon), but the Patriots have somewhere in the neighborhood of $55 million in cap space, more than every NFL team except the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets.

Note: The Brown and Cannon trades cannot be finalized until Wednesday.

WHO ARE THE PATRIOTS’ FREE AGENTS?
The Patriots already have re-signed Newton and Bethel, leaving them with 20 internal unrestricted free agents:

C David Andrews
S Terrence Brooks
RB Rex Burkhead
DT Adam Butler
WR Damiere Byrd
OLB Shilique Calhoun
LB Brandon Copeland
DT Carl Davis
ST Cody Davis
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
OL James Ferentz
K Nick Folk
DT Lawrence Guy
QB Brian Hoyer
CB Jason McCourty
WR Donte Moncrief
OLB John Simon
G Joe Thuney
RB James White
DE Deatrich Wise

Cornerback J.C. Jackson, who ranked second in the NFL with nine interceptions in 2020, is a restricted free agent. The Patriots likely will tender him at either a first- or second-round level, meaning an interested team would need to give up a corresponding draft pick if they signed Jackson to an offer sheet and the Patriots declined to match.

Jakob Johnson is an exclusive-rights free agent. If the Patriots extend a qualifying offer (a one-year contract for the league minimum) to the German fullback, he cannot negotiate with other teams.

WHAT ARE THE PATRIOTS NEEDS?
Part of that will depend on which internal free agents they re-sign, but the Patriots have clear needs at wide receiver, tight end, interior offensive line, defensive tackle, linebacker and edge defender.

If White leaves, New England could look to sign a veteran pass-catching back to replace him. If McCourty or Jackson departs or the Patriots trade Stephon Gilmore, cornerback would be in play. The Patriots bolstered their depth at offensive tackle by re-acquiring Brown, but that could be a position they target in the 2021 NFL Draft.

WHO’S OUT THERE?
More impact veterans than usual. Thanks to the NFL’s shrinking salary cap, many teams have needed to cut quality players this offseason to clear money off their books.

A sampling of some notable players available at positions of need:

Wide receiver
Kenny Golladay
Corey Davis
JuJu Smith-Schuster
Will Fuller
Curtis Samuel
Marvin Jones
Josh Reynolds
Emmanuel Sanders
John Brown
Keelan Cole
Adam Humphries
Sammy Watkins
A.J. Green

Tight end
Hunter Henry
Jonnu Smith
Gerald Everett
Kyle Rudolph
Jared Cook
Dan Arnold
Tyler Eifert
Robert Tonyan (RFA)

Defensive line
Dalvin Tomlinson
Shelby Harris
Ndamukong Suh
Tyson Alualu
Jurrell Casey
Henry Anderson
Kawaan Short
Derek Wolfe
Brent Urban
Solomon Thomas
Steve McLendon
Malcom Brown
Poona Ford (RFA)

Edge defender
Kyle Van Noy
Romeo Okwara
Tyus Bowser
Tarell Basham
Jordan Jenkins
Trent Murphy
Carlos Dunlap
Jadeveon Clowney

Linebacker
Jayon Brown
K.J. Wright
Denzel Perryman
Avery Williamson
B.J. Goodson
Reggie Ragland

Running back
Duke Johnson
Mike Davis
Jamaal Williams
Jerick McKinnon
Matt Breida

There also will be a number of former Patriots on the market. Van Noy, Malcom Brown, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Justin Coleman all were cap casualties, and safety Duron Harmon and center/guard Ted Karras are impending free agents.

It would not be surprising to see at least one familiar face land back in Foxboro.

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