Five Takeaways From Patriots’ Opening Day Of NFL Free Agency

It was a comparatively quiet day for New England

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The NFL’s legal tampering period opened at noon ET on Monday, triggering an avalanche of deals and rumors.

Here are five takeaways from how the New England Patriots approached the unofficial first day of NFL free agency:

1. This wasn’t a repeat of 2021
Flush with salary cap space and lean on roster talent last March, the Patriots spent wildly on the first day of the legal tampering period, agreeing to terms with seven external free agents. This year, they took a decidely more measured approach.

As of Monday night, the Patriots had yet to reach contract agreements with any outside free agents. Most of their early moves have involved locking up veteran leaders, with safety Devin McCourty, special teamer Matthew Slater and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer all re-signing on Sunday or Monday. New England also re-upped reserve center/guard James Ferentz, who’s been with the franchise since 2018, and placed a second-round restricted free agent tender on wide receiver Jakobi Meyers. (UPDATE: The Patriots also re-signed kicker Nick Folk.)

This was a return to the norm for Bill Belichick and company, who traditionally have waited out the first wave of free agency before making their moves.

2. The Patriots need a new No. 1 cornerback
As expected, J.C. Jackson cashed in in free agency, landing a reported five-year, $82.5 million contract from the cornerback-needy Los Angeles Chargers. The average annual value of Jackson’s deal ($16.5 million) wasn’t mind-blowing — five corners have contracts with higher per-year marks — but its structure is front-loaded, reportedly paying him $28 million in Year 1, $40 million guaranteed over the first two years and $54 million over the first three years.

The Patriots declined to use the $17.3 million franchise tag on Jackson, who always was expected to fetch more on the open market than his old team would be willing or able to pay. With an outside cornerback depth chart that currently consists of just Jalen Mills, Joejuan Williams, Shaun Wade and Justin Bethel, Jackson’s replacement likely will need to come from outside the organization.

The top two free agent corners agreed to terms in quick succession Monday afternoon, with Carlton Davis reportedly re-signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Veterans still available as of late Monday included Charvarius Ward, Darious Williams, Casey Heyward, Steven Nelson, D.J. Reed, Donte Jackson, Rasul Douglas, Mike Hughes and Anthony Averett.

The Patriots, who also should look to the 2022 NFL Draft to replenish this depleted position group, have not entered a season without at least one Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback on their roster since 2012.

3. The Patriots are eyeing wideouts — but the best ones won’t come cheap
Multiple reports Monday indicated the Patriots were monitoring the receiver market, which still featured a number of notable names 10 hours into the tampering window. Among them: Allen Robinson, Odell Beckham Jr., D.J. Chark, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jarvis Landry, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Russell Gage.

The Patriots were specifically linked to Valdes-Scantling, who was a dangerous deep threat for the Green Bay Packers but boasts one of the league’s lowest catch rates over the course of his four-year career. They also were mentioned as a potential suitor for Chark, who’s coming off an injury-shortened season but had 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019.

New England isn’t expected to shell out big money for a wideout this offseason, however, and the insane four-year, $72 million contract Christian Kirk landed with the Jacksonville Jaguars (worth up to $84 million) could drive up the prices for the better pass-catchers currently available.

Two potential Patriots targets, Cedrick Wilson and Braxton Berrios, signed with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets on Monday, respectively.

4. The Patriots have a hole to fill on the offensive line
Jackson wasn’t the only starter New England lost Monday. They also said goodbye to Ted Karras, who’s off to Cincinnati on a three-year, $18 million deal.

The Patriots reportedly lowered their contract offer to Karras, who enjoyed a strong season after taking over as their starting left guard in Week 5, coming in at $5 million less than the Bengals’ bid. Cincy, desperate for O-line help after being overwhelmed by the Los Angeles Rams’ front in Super Bowl LVI, also agreed to terms with Tampa Bay starter Alex Cappa.

Mike Onwenu, whom Karras unseated after beginning the season on the bench, is the top candidate to take over the Patriots’ left guard position in 2022. But he’s also the most desirable internal replacement for Trent Brown at right tackle, where the 2020 sixth-round draft pick performed better at the NFL level. There’s been no word yet on Brown’s future, other than that he’s seeking a long-term contract in free agency.

5. Matthew Judon had a busy day
One of the jewels of New England’s loaded 2021 free agent class, Judon spent his Monday on the recruiting trail, pitching the Patriots to Robinson, Chark and linebacker Bobby Wagner on social media.

We’ll see if Judon’s efforts prove successful. All three of those players remained unsigned as of Monday night.

Syndication: Democrat and Chronicle
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