Patriots Offseason Blueprint: To-Do List As 2022 NFL Free Agency Begins

New England has just under $5 million in salary cap space

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March 7

This offseason might not see the Patriots make as many headlines as they did last year, but New England still has work to do in free agency if it wants to be a true contender in 2022.

The Patriots currently have just under $5 million in salary cap space, per cap guru Miguel Benzan. There are a myriad of ways for New England to increase that number, but the Patriots nevertheless figure to be bargain shoppers in free agency this offseason. A recent report from Phil Perry of NBC Sports indicates New England will not pursue marquee players when free agency begins next Wednesday.

But that doesn’t mean the Patriots can’t use free agency to address some of their many needs. Regardless of what they do on the trade market and during the draft, the Patriots inevitably will sign new players in the very near future.

What should they do? Here’s a to-do list with NFL free agency set to begin in just over a week:

Get a slot receiver
Many want New England to add a flashy, elite receiver this offseason, but a case can be made that the Mac Jones-led offense instead should get an upgrade in the slot. Besides, players such as Davante Adams and Chris Godwin likely will be too expensive for the Patriots, and nobody feels good about Bill Belichick drafting wideouts.

Jakobi Meyers is a good player, but he’s not quick enough to provide what Julian Edelman did for so many years. Jones needs someone who can get open in a hurry on a consistent basis, and that really isn’t Meyers’ game. And, for whatever reason, New England clearly doesn’t believe in Gunner Olszewski’s abilities in the passing game. The Patriots reportedly are considering trading for Robby Anderson and moving on from Nelson Agholor, but the Carolina Panthers wideout is more of a boundary receiver than a typical slot.

So, who could be available? If the Patriots aren’t going to draft someone like Wan’Dale Robinson or John Metchie, they could use the discount aisle to find a slot receiver. Alex Erickson, 29, was very good in the slot for the Bengals in 2019 before becoming an afterthought in Cincinnati the next season. He caught only three balls for the Carolina Panthers last season despite being active for every game. If nothing else, Erickson might be worth taking a flier on and giving a chance to prove himself in training camp. Another intriguing free agent option is Arizona Cardinals receiver Christian Kirk, who can play outside as well as in the slot.

Sign a starting-caliber cornerback
The Patriots should do this regardless of what happens with J.C. Jackson, who reportedly is heading for a New England exit.

Jalen Mills played out of position for much of last season, due to the absence of Stephon Gilmore. He is at his best when used as a swiss-army knife in the secondary, rather than as a 1-on-1 outside corner. Joejuan Williams clearly is not a starting cornerback in the NFL, and Shaun Wade, whom New England acquired last August in a preseason trade with the Baltimore Ravens, was active for just three games during his rookie season. The jury very much remains out on the 2021 fifth-round pick.

As for Jonathan Jones, who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in October, he’s one of the best slot corners in the game and probably should stay at that position.

So, the Patriots need another starting corner, one who can be relied upon next season. Perhaps the Patriots use the 21st overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft to fill the need, something draft guru Bucky Brooks believes they’ll do. If not, New England should use the free agent market to find a solid cornerback.

Improve the front seven
If not for Christian Barmore and (pre-collapse) Matthew Judon, the Patriots hardly would’ve had any pass rush this season. One way or another, the front seven must improve over the next few months.

Even if Josh Uche and Chase Winovich figure it out and have big roles in 2022, the Patriots still could benefit from adding another impactful piece on the edge. This is an area where they might want to swing big, with players such as Chandler Jones and Von Miller available on the free agent market.

New England also could stand to improve on the interior defensive line. Davon Godchaux, who is under contract for one more season and carries the sixth-highest cap hit on the roster, was inconsistent in 2021 — to put it kindly. The Patriots could trade the nose tackle (a more financially beneficial route than an outright release) and try to find an upgrade in free agency. Also, backup tackle Carl Davis, who was decent this season, is a free agent and seemingly could leave town.

Prioritize youth
The Patriots had one of the older rosters in 2021, largely due to the returns of Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, Lawrence Guy, Devin McCourty and Matthew Slater, to name a few. And at least a few of those players likely will be back in 2022.

New England must get younger and more explosive in all three phases. That will be hard to accomplish if Belichick keeps spending money on aging veterans with whom he’s familiar. We’re not saying the Patriots should totally avoid those kinds of players (Miller is 32 years old, after all); rather, they need to strike a delicate balance.

The youth movement is well underway in Foxboro, and it needs to continue.

Maybe get a quarterback?
No, we’re not saying there’s any reason to doubt Jones. He looks like a franchise quarterback.

But Brian Hoyer is a free agent, and it remains to be seen how the Patriots truly feel about Jarrett Stidham. New England needs to bring in an insurance option, preferably a veteran, if neither of those players are in the backup mix for next season.

Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Teddy Bridgewater, Jacoby Brissett and Colt McCoy are some of the backup quarterbacks available on the open market.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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