As the March 15 start of the new NFL league year approach, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the New England Patriots roster.
Who’s returning? Who could be out the door? What are the biggest questions facing each group?
Next up: the cornerbacks.
IMPENDING FREE AGENTS
Myles Bryant (restricted)
2022 STATS (via Pro Football Focus)
Jonathan Jones (16 games): 41 tackles, four interceptions and five pass breakups
Jack Jones (13 games): 14 tackles, two interceptions and four pass breakups
Marcus Jones (11 games): 27 tackles, two interceptions and four pass breakups
Myles Bryant (17 games): 42 tackles, one interception and three pass breakups
Jalen Mills (10 games): 20 tackles, two interceptions and three pass breakups
Shaun Wade (three games): two tackles, zero interceptions and zero pass breakups
Quandre Mosely (one game): zero tackles, zero interceptions and zero pass breakups
THREE BIG QUESTIONS
1. Is it time to add a new top corner? Jonathan Jones did an admirable job in shifting from slot to outside corner this season. At times, he looked like a borderline No. 1 cornerback.
But, by the end of the season, it was evident that Jones is best suited for a No. 2 role or in the slot. He got exposed against the likes of Justin Jefferson and Stefon Diggs, as do many other cornerbacks. Plus, he might be in line for a decent payday this offseason.
Bill Belichick’s defenses have been at their best when a truly high-end cornerback takes away half of the field. Ty Law, Darrelle Revis, Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore all led Super Bowl-winning defenses. It might be time for the Patriots to find the next in line, be it via trade, free agency or the draft.
One potential option: See what it would take to pry Jalen Ramsey away from the Los Angeles Rams.
2. Will Jonathan Jones be back? The 29-year-old is beloved by teammates and coaches alike. Undrafted in 2016, Jones has turned himself into a prototypical Patriot, and a damn-good corner to boot.
He also is the kind of player who typically leaves New England at this point in their career.
Jones will turn 30 in September and might have priced himself out of Foxboro. The Auburn product is on record as wanting to stick around, but the reality is that he’s about to test free agency for the first time. He’s earned the right to go to the highest bidder.
There are arguments for and against the Patriots re-signing Jones. If they deem acquiring someone like Ramsey unrealistic, they probably should do what they can to keep Jones in Foxboro. If the Patriots add an established star or use a high draft pick on a cornerback, it wouldn’t make sense to bring Jones back, especially if they believe Jack Jones is ready for a larger role.
Ultimately, New England must upgrade at cornerback this offseason. It’s hard to envision a path toward accomplishing that while keeping Jones in a Patriots uniform.
3. What roles will Jack and Marcus Jones have? Both youngsters enjoyed very impressive rookie campaigns and likely will see their usage increase in 2023. However, it all depends on what moves the Patriots make at the position this offseason.
Let’s say Devin McCourty retires (he apparently has gone back and forth on making his decision). Would New England sign a free agent like Jordan Poyer to fill the void at free safety, or would it slide Mills into the role? Such a move seemingly would put Jack Jones in line to open the season as the No. 2 outside cornerback. But what if the Patriots have doubts about the 2022 fourth-round pick after his late-season suspension and reported dispute with Belichick?
Another option would be handing the free safety keys to Bryant, who will be a restricted free agent this offseason. If Bryant moves to safety or signs elsewhere, Marcus Jones likely would take over as the full-time slot cornerback, something he absolutely has the talent to do. However, the third-round pick’s usage in all three phases might make the Patriots hesitant to overuse him in one area.
Assuming the Patriots don’t trade Jack Jones, he and Marcus Jones likely will be big contributors next season. Jack might even have an outside shot at replacing Jonathan Jones as the No. 1 cornerback, despite not having the ideal size for the position.
Our ideal scenario: Move Mills to safety, trade for Ramsey or someone similar, establish Jack Jones as the No. 2 corner, make Marcus Jones the starter in the slot and re-sign Bryant to provide versatility and depth.