Patriots Free Agency; Did they get better?

By Ben Babcock

 

Offseason Grade: B+

Answer: No

 

New England had the 11th lowest amount of cap space this offseason at just under $14 million before the league cap boost. This was a very big problem going into the offseason because they had fifteen players that would become free agents. Arguably the four biggest players, RB Dion Lewis, CB Malcolm Butler, WR Danny Amendola, and OT Nate Solder, who all went to other teams for big contracts. And yet, they still didn’t get worse!

The loss that left the biggest hole was by far Nate Solder, who has been with the Patriots for 8 years, playing 95 out of 98 games. Solder was the most experienced player on the New England O-line and will definitely be missed. Matt Tobin is his newly signed replacement, who has played in 57 games over the past 5 years, with the Eagles and Seahawks. Which is a great signing value considering they signed him for only $815 thousand on a 1-year contract while Solder went to the Giants on a 4-year, $62 million contract. They just re-signed OT LaAdrian Waddle, but if they don’t re-sign Cameron Fleming then they could have a bit of problem up front.

Dion Lewis went to the Titans for about $5 million a year over 4 years and the Patriots signed Ex-Bengal Jeremy Hill as a replacement. This is another great replacement in terms of value because they are only giving Hill $1.5 million for 1 year. Hill is coming off of his worst season yet with only 116 rushing yards on 37 attempts and 0 touchdowns as the 3rd-string running back. But the 3 seasons before that when Hill was a starter he averaged 919 yards on 222 attempts and 9.6 touchdowns, which is better than what Lewis produced for New England this past season. Granted, Hill isn’t as much of a receiving threat as Lewis which is where a lot of his value was, but New England still has James White who is one of the best receiving backs in the league and brought back Rex Burkhead on a 3-year deal to really solidify the RB core.

The loss of Danny Amendola isn’t as bad as you might think because Julian Edelman is coming back off of his ACL tear, Malcolm Mitchell who had a great rookie campaign in 2016, is also coming off of an injury, and they re-signed veteran Kenny Britt for $2.4 million over 2 years. They also just made a trade with the Raiders for wide receiver/special teamer Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson is also an experienced receiver, who could be utilized for his speed and agility for trick plays and breaking down the defense.

On the defensive side the Patriots may not have lost as much, but had a lot more to work on. Sure Malcolm Butler was a great corner, but he was coming off his worst year, and he wanted too much money. After also losing CB Johnson Bademosi to the Texans they still have a problem in the secondary but did manage to replace Butler quite nicely when they traded for the other McCourty Brother, Jason. They only had to give up a 6th rounder for Jason McCourty, and he is still a strong veteran cornerback who could help lead this defense with his brother Devin, Patrick Chung, Stephon Gilmore, and their combined 32 years of experience. They also only have to pay McCourty $3 million this year.

They added some depth to the defensive line with the 3-year veteran Danny Shelton in a trade with the Browns, giving up a 2019 3rd rounder. Shelton hasn’t been known for getting into to backfield but is still a solid young player who Belichick could groom. Along with defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who has 30 sacks over his 7-year career. Clayborn was their most expensive signing of the offseason at $12.5 million for 2 years, but he could really boost a Patriots pass rush that really struggled throughout 2017.

New England has the no.31, no.43, no.63, no.95, no.136, no.210, and no. 219 picks in the draft. Sam Hubbard is a great pick for the Patriots to select at no.31. He fits Belichick’s scheme and would pair up nicely with Trey Flowers, creating a strong DE duo. Expect them to take cornerbacks and offensive tackles in the middle/late rounds, along with a linebacker, and possibly a quarterback. See https://sportsmediaplus.com/2018/03/06/patriots-qb-outlook-entering-free-agency/ for more information on the Patriots possible QB targets. Some possible cornerbacks available for the Patriots in the 2nd and 3rd rounds are Kameron Kelly from San Diego St., M.J. Stewart from North Carolina, Nick Nelson from Wisconsin, and Mike Hughes from UCF. Offensive tackles Brandon Parker from North Carolina A&T, Connor Williams from Texas, Kolton Miller from UCLA, Tyrell Crosby from Oregon, and Martinas Rankin from Mississippi State could also be available for New England early in the draft.

New England is still the top team in the AFC going into the draft even after losing four of their top players. They made some very cap friendly moves and filled some holes nicely, while also bringing back key special teamers Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater, along with Cordarrelle Patterson most likely being the new return man for the Patriots. The only question that still remains is Rob Gronkowski’s mental state. He hasn’t given any official word on his future in the NFL. If he announces that he will be retiring before the draft then you could very well see New England take a tight end early. Other than that, New England is still in a very good position.

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