Resetting Patriots’ Depth Chart After Opening Wave Of Free Agency

The Patriots have been quiet thus far

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The New England Patriots’ roster has changed since NFL free agency began last week. And not for the better.

Since the start of the new league year, the Patriots have lost three starters (two on offense, one on defense) and added just three mid-to-low-level players (two through free agency, one via trade). They’ve also re-signed seven of their own free agents, mostly long-tenured veteran leaders.

It has not been a particularly inspiring showing for a team that already had clear needs at multiple positions (cornerback, linebacker, wide receiver, offensive tackle, etc.), especially as many of New England’s AFC opponents have made high-profile additions.

(UPDATE: The Patriots also re-signed right tackle Trent Brown on Monday, a major boost to their depleted offensive line.)

With the season still more than five months away, it’s not wise to enter panic mode or draw any definitive conclusions about this Patriots team. But Bill Belichick and his staff have a lot of work to do.

Here’s how New England’s current depth chart stacks up (in our view) after its initial wave of additions and departures:

QUARTERBACK
Mac Jones
Brian Hoyer
Jarrett Stidham

Hoyer re-signed for two more years and $3 million guaranteed, locking the 36-year-old in as Jones’ top backup. The Patriots could look to trade Stidham, who’s entering the final year of his rookie contract.

RUNNING BACK
Damien Harris/James White
Rhamondre Stevenson
Ty Montgomery
J.J. Taylor
Devine Ozigbo

The Patriots re-signed White to a term-friendly contract, retaining their longtime pass-catching back. The question now is whether he’ll be the same player after the hip injury that ended his 2021 season. We could see another depth/developmental addition before the season. New England is listing new signee Montgomery as a wide receiver, but he’s played a lot of running back in his career, so we’re including him here, too. It’ll be interesting to see how the Patriots utilize the multi-purpose veteran, but it’s been several years since Montgomery was a productive offensive player.

FULLBACK
None

Jakob Johnson gave an interesting reason for signing with Josh McDaniels’ Las Vegas Raiders, sharing with a German news outlet that the Patriots told him “they will no longer need (his) services next season simply because they will no longer have (his) position on the roster.” The Patriots phasing out the fullback would be a dramatic shift — only the San Francisco 49ers used one more often in 2021 — but one some expected to occur after they signed big-money tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith last offseason. Perhaps we’ll now finally see the full-time reintroduction of 12 (aka two-tight end) personnel, which the Patriots utilized on just 14% of their snaps this past season. Tight end Dalton Keene also could find a role as a more athletic H-back type if he can stick on the roster after a season lost to injury.

TIGHT END
Hunter Henry
Jonnu Smith
Devin Asiasi
Dalton Keene

The Patriots need more from Smith, who caught just 28 passes in his debut season in New England (with nine of those coming in the first two games). The Jones-Henry connection (nine touchdowns in 2021) should be even stronger in Year 2.

WIDE RECEIVER
Jakobi Meyers
Kendrick Bourne
Nelson Agholor
Ty Montgomery
Kristian Wilkerson
N’Keal Harry
Tre Nixon
Malcolm Perry

Meyers hasn’t officially been retained for 2022, but the Patriots placed a second-round restricted free agent tender on him, so odds are he’ll be back. Outside of the Montgomery pickup, New England hasn’t made any offseason upgrades to this group despite reportedly being active in the wideout market since the start of the tampering period. At this point, any significant boost would need to come via trade or the NFL draft.

OFFENSIVE LINE
LT: Isaiah Wynn
LG: James Ferentz
C: David Andrews
RG: Mike Onwenu
RT: Trent Brown
Reserves: OT Justin Herron, G/T Yasir Durant, OT Yodny Cajuste, G/T Will Sherman, G Arlington Hambright, G Drew Desjarlais

Re-signing Brown was huge for the Patriots, who would have been forced to replace three O-line starters had their mammoth right tackle landed elsewhere. Onwenu could step in for either Ted Karras (signed with Cincinnati) or Shaq Mason (traded to Tampa Bay), but we plugged him into Mason’s right guard spot since that was his primary position at Michigan. There’s no obvious internal replacement for the other guard vacancy, so look for the Patriots to fill that through either free agency or the draft, unless one of their current reserve options impresses in camp.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Davon Godchaux
Lawrence Guy
Christian Barmore
Deatrich Wise
Daniel Ekuale
Henry Anderson
Byron Cowart
Bill Murray

Nothing new so far for this group, other than the Patriots reworking Anderson’s contract to create an extra $1.25 million in cap space. He was a disappointment this past season before an injury ended his year in Week 4, but he’s been a solid and versatile contributor at his previous NFL stops. A return to form from the veteran would be welcomed in a unit that struggled to stop the run down the stretch.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
Matthew Judon
Josh Uche
Ronnie Perkins
Anfernee Jennings

Not a lot of depth or experience in this group behind Judon, who was excellent for the first three-quarters of his first season in New England but a non-factor down the stretch. There are reasons to be optimistic about Uche and Perkins, but the former struggled to earn playing time in 2021 (21.8% of defensive snaps) and the latter didn’t see the field at all as a rookie. The Patriots have trimmed this group by cutting Kyle Van Noy and trading Chase Winovich but have yet to add any edge rushers.

INSIDE LINEBACKER
Ja’Whaun Bentley
Mack Wilson
Raekwon McMillan
Harvey Langi
Jahlani Tavai
Cameron McGrone
Terez Hall

The Patriots re-signed Bentley and traded for Wilson, an Alabama product who’s smaller and more athletic than New England typically likes its ‘backers. The same is true of McGrone; the 2021 fifth-round pick will be a player to watch after sitting out his rookie year with a torn ACL. McMillan was off to a strong start in training camp last summer before his own ACL tear. Still no word on whether Dont’a Hightower or Jamie Collins will be back. Both still are free agents.

CORNERBACK
Jalen Mills
Terrance Mitchell
Jonathan Jones (slot)
Myles Bryant
Joejuan Williams
Shaun Wade
Justin Bethel

Mitchell has started 29 games over the past two seasons, but he’s a massive downgrade from Pro Bowler J.C. Jackson, and signing one corner while letting Jackson walk doesn’t solve the depth problems that eventually burned the Patriots this past season. The terms of Mitchell’s contract also indicate he’s not a lock to make the roster. Outside of the O-line, this is their most glaring need through one week of free agency.

SAFETY
Devin McCourty
Kyle Dugger
Adrian Phillips
Joshuah Bledsoe
Cody Davis

Re-signing McCourty allowed the Patriots to keep their talented safety trio intact. Dugger and Phillips both are coming off strong seasons, and Bledsoe impressed behind the scenes as he worked his way back from a broken wrist, though he didn’t see game action as a rookie. Bryant and Jonathan Jones can play safety, too. Unlike corner, there is plenty of stability and continuity here.

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