Patriots Mailbag: Which Still-Available Free Agents Could Pats Add?

Plus: Why Jake Bailey's roster spot might not be safe


Apr 1, 2022

As NFL free agency approaches its de facto conclusion and the 2022 NFL Draft draws closer, it’s time to sift through another batch of your New England Patriots mailbag questions.

What are the most realistic free agent options New England could still add?

I still think a Trey Flowers reunion would make a lot of sense for both sides. Yet to latch on with a new team since the Detroit Lions cut him earlier this month, the veteran defensive end would bring versatility and proven pass-rush ability to a Patriots front seven that lacked depth in that department in 2021.

Bringing back Akiem Hicks to bolster the defensive line could be wise, too. And rekindling their relationship with Stephon Gilmore would improve the Patriots’ shaky cornerback group, though that’s probably unlikely given the circumstances surrounding Gilmore’s exit last fall.

In the non-former Patriot category, here are some notable names who still are available at a few positions of concern:

Wide receiver
Odell Beckham Jr.
Julio Jones
Cole Beasley
Emmanuel Sanders
Jarvis Landry
Will Fuller
T.Y. Hilton
Keelan Cole

Joe Haden
Kevin King
Jackrabbit Jenkins
Bryce Callahan
Chris Harris
Kyle Fuller
Xavier Rhodes

Edge rusher
Jadeveon Clowney
Melvin Ingram
Jerry Hughes
Justin Houston
Carlos Dunlap
Carl Nassib
Jason Pierre-Paul
Takk McKinley

Alexander Johnson
Anthony Barr
K.J. Wright
Kwon Alexander
Reggie Ragland
Joe Schobert

Ereck Flowers
Daryl Williams
Billy Price
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif
Trai Turner

A small handful of Patriots free agents have yet to sign new deals: linebackers Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy (who was released) and special teamer Brandon King. It remains to be seen whether any will return.

Why do a lot of the mock drafts have the Pats taking a punter? Jake Bailey is only 24 and one of the better punters in the league.

Because Bailey’s performance dipped a bit in 2021, and thanks to a proven performance escalator he triggered by making the Pro Bowl in 2020, he’s set to earn a salary of nearly $4 million this season — the highest of any NFL punter. The Patriots can wipe that entire salary off their books by cutting Bailey, leaving behind just $72,245 in dead money from his rookie signing bonus.

Bailey still is a very good punter, but that’s a lot of money to devote to that position, even for a special teams aficionado like Bill Belichick. If Belichick believes he can get comparable production from a much cheaper rookie — “Punt God” Matt Araiza from San Diego State is this year’s top prospect — that’s something he’d have to consider.

Who will be returning kicks/punts with Gunnar gone?

We’ll see who they add in the draft, but the favorite right now to take over Gunner Olszewski’s punt-return duties is Jabrill Peppers. The newly signed safety has 83 career punt returns across five seasons with the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants, though he is coming off a torn ACL.

Peppers also has kick-return experience, though he hasn’t done that regularly since 2018. New receiver/running back Ty Montgomery has returned kicks, too, and running back J.J. Taylor is another potential option there.

What are the reall ods that Olave or Williams is still available at 21, im starting to fear their are gone in 20
I’m getting that sense, too. I think either Chris Olave or Jameson Williams would be a great fit for the Patriots if they’re willing to use a first-round pick on a wideout (of which I’m still skeptical), but there seems to be a good chance both will be gone by No. 21, even with Williams less than three months removed from an ACL tear.

Either way, I think a Day 2 receiver is more likely for New England. I have my eye on Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore, North Dakota State’s Christian Watson, Kentucky’s Wan’Dale Robinson and Williams’ Alabama teammate, John Metchie.

If they pick at 21 and don’t trade, who would YOU like to see them take?
It’ll depend on who’s available at that point, but Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie, Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd and Olave are three I especially like. I do think there are very good prospects at all three of those positions who could be had on Day 2, though, so I have a tough time gauging where the Patriots will go with this one.

Michigan safety Dax Hill also is deservedly receiving a ton of Patriots-related attention for his athleticism and positional versatility. He certainly could be in play at No. 21 or after a trade-down, even though safety is probably the deepest position on New England’s current roster.

Zack, what round will the Pats be drafting Alabama WR Slade Bolden in?

Honestly, despite the obvious connections, I’d be mildly surprised if the Patriots used a draft pick on Bolden.

Could he come aboard as an undrafted free agent? Absolutely. He checks a lot of intangibles boxes and is tight with Mac Jones. But he tested poorly in the 40 (4.66; 8th percentile for wideouts), vertical jump (32 inches; 12th percentile) and broad jump (116 inches; 20th percentile) at the combine and doesn’t seem to have the elite separation skills that defined New England’s great slot receivers.

Couple that with modest collegiate production (42-408-3 in 2021) and there’s a good chance Bolden won’t hear his name called, especially in a wideout class as deep as this one.

There’s also this:

Belichick could be planning to watch Bolden in a private workout at a later date. Or this could be a sign that the Patriots aren’t as interested in him as a portion of the fanbase is.

What is your thoughts on the future of Jarrett Stidham? Will he even get any playing time this pre-season (if healthy)?

The ideal situation for the Patriots with Stidham would be for him to play well during the preseason, allowing them to flip him for some sort of asset before cutdown day.

The 2019 fourth-rounder’s current value can’t be high since he’s never started a game and hasn’t played a snap since undergoing back surgery, but an impressive showing or two this August could inspire another team (perhaps Josh McDaniels’ Las Vegas Raiders or Nick Caserio’s Houston Texans) to acquire him as a backup. Brian Hoyer has that job locked down in New England after re-signing on a new two-year contract.

Thumbnail photo via Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports Images
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