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?
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:
Robert Tonyan (RFA)
Poona Ford (RFA)
Kyle Van Noy
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.