Patriots Free Agents: These 14 Players Are Set To Hit Market After Season

Plus three restricted free agents


The New England Patriots locked up a key member of their secondary last weekend, signing safety Adrian Phillips to a three-year, $12.75 million contract extension.

Phillips had been one of 15 Patriots players set to hit unrestricted free agency this offseason — a list that includes four other starting defenders, two starting offensive linemen, a pair of backfield mainstays and a handful of special teams contributors.

The Patriots won’t make decisions on most of these impending UFAs until after their playoff run concludes, but here’s an early look at the players poised to hit the market this offseason:

S Devin McCourty
The last time the Patriots played a game without McCourty in the lineup? Week 16 of the 2015 season. He’s played almost every snap for this defense over the last decade. But at 34, the longtime co-captain is one of several players on this list who could retire this offseason. If he opts to keep playing, would he and the Patriots be able to agree on a new contract? McCourty currently has New England’s highest base salary ($8 million; tied with linebacker Dont’a Hightower) and second-highest salary cap hit ($11.1 million), and with the cap hits for several 2021 signees shooting up next season, he likely would need to accept less to return.

OT Trent Brown
A calf injury limited Brown to just seven snaps over the Patriots’ first nine games, but he’s been largely excellent since his Week 10 return. Head coach Bill Belichick said this week that having his super-sized right tackle back has “changed a lot of things offensively for the better.” Brown has spoken glowingly about his love for the Patriots organization. Would he be open to a hometown discount?

LB Dont’a Hightower
Hightower started slowly after returning from his 2020 opt-out, but he’s been vital to the Patriots’ defensive resurgence this season. Dubbing himself the “Trash Man,” most of the bruising 31-year-old’s contributions are the type that don’t show up on the stat sheet, like his affinity for blowing up opposing O-linemen. But like McCourty, he’d likely need to take a pay cut to re-sign this offseason. Hightower currently is carrying an $8 million base salary and a $12.4 million cap hit.

CB J.C. Jackson
With eight interceptions and a league-best 44.5 passer rating against, Jackson has set him up for a massive pay raise this offseason. If he hits free agency, he’ll be the top cornerback on the market — and might command more money than the Patriots would be willing or able to pay. That makes him a prime candidate for the franchise tag. With no obvious replacement in the pipeline, letting Jackson walk would leave a massive hole in New England’s secondary.

LB Ja’Whaun Bentley
With 91 tackles, five tackles for loss, five quarterback hits, three forced fumbles and two pass breakups, Bentley picked a great time to have the best season of his career. As a bigger, slower linebacker, the 2018 fifth-round draft pick won’t be a fit for every defense, but he’s sure to receive a sizable raise over the paltry $920,000 in salary he’s making this season.

OL Ted Karras
Karras’ October insertion into the starting lineup helped stabilize what had been a chaotic and ineffective offensive line, and his play at left guard prompted New England to move promising second-year pro Mike Onwenu to the bench. Karras clearly is a starting-caliber player, but his future with the team likely hinges on what the Patriots plan to do with Onwenu, who also plays tackle. Center David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason both have multiple years left on their contracts, though the latter could become a cap casualty at some point.

ST Matthew Slater
Slater considered retirement in each of the last two offseasons. Will this be the year the special teams legend finally hangs ’em up? Despite his advanced age, the 36-year-old still is one of the NFL’s best at what he does, representing the AFC in 10 of the last 11 Pro Bowls.

RB James White
One of the best pass-catching backs of the Belichick era, White re-signed on a one-year contract last offseason, then suffered a season-ending hip injury in Week 3.

RB Brandon Bolden
A longtime special teams stalwart, Bolden has greatly expanded his role this season, assuming all of White’s third-down back duties after the latter was lost for the season. He’s one of Belichick’s favorite players and should be considered a near lock to re-sign if he wants to return.

ST Brandon King
This has been a quietly impressive comeback for King, who ranks fourth on the Patriots in special teams snaps played and tied for second in total special teams tackles after injuries wiped out his 2019 and 2020 seasons.

QB Brian Hoyer
Having an experienced backup like Hoyer has been highly beneficial for rookie quarterback Mac Jones. But is the 36-year-old in the Patriots’ future plans? Would they want to bring Hoyer back for another season? Does he even want to play another season? Jarrett Stidham has one year left on his rookie contract, so he could be Jones’ understudy in 2022 if Hoyer doesn’t return.

K Nick Folk
The 37-year-old Folk has been one of the Patriots’ most consistent players over the last two seasons. In 2021, he’s 35-for-38 on field-goal attempts — tops in the NFL in both categories — and a perfect 30-for-30 from inside 50 yards. Folk hasn’t missed from inside 50 since Week 1 of last season. He’s beaten out inconsistent rookie kickers in each of the last two training camps. With the way he’s performed, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Patriots bring him back for another camp battle.

LB Jamie Collins
Back for his third stint with the Patriots, Collins has been a solid depth piece in their front seven. Since most of the NFL probably now realizes he performs better with New England than he does anywhere else, the 32-year-old likely wouldn’t be expensive to re-sign.

LB Harvey Langi
Langi made the roster as a special teams-focused linebacker, but he landed on injured reserve after Week 7 and did not return. His position is easily replaceable, so the Patriots could choose to let him walk.

The Patriots also have three notable restricted free agents: wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, wideout/return man Gunner Olszewski and fullback Jakob Johnson.

Meyers has been New England’s No. 1 receiver since midway through last season; Olszewski was an All-Pro punt returner in 2020 and ranks second in punt-return average this season; and Johnson, a product of the NFL’s International Pathway Program, has played 28% of offensive snaps this season in the Patriots’ run-focused offense.

NFL teams can choose to “tender” their own RFAs at a first-, second- or original-round level, which would award them a corresponding draft pick if the player signs elsewhere. Because Meyers, Olszewski and Johnson all were undrafted, an original-round tender would yield no draft-pick compensation.

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