By Ben Babcock
New England will have a good amount of key players they will need to resign this offseason. The good news is that only one of them will demand a large contract. Trey Flowers will easily be the Patriots most important re-signing if they can come to a deal. Flowers has been averaging 7.0 sacks a year over the past three seasons and has become the best pass rusher on New England’s defense. There is no doubt other teams will be interested in him. The Patriots absolutely need to pay Flowers this offseason and keep him long-term.
Other important free agents that are a must sign for New England are Punter Ryan Allen and Kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Both of these guys are some of the better players in the league at their respective positions, and good kickers are especially hard to come by in the league right now.
With Gronk probably on the way out it will be important for New England to keep their receiving core together. If Josh Gordon can make good with the league and the Patriots can re-sign him, he would be a huge asset going into next season, Cordarrelle Patterson, Chris Hogan, and Phillip Dorsett will also be free agents. There aren’t any top tier receivers available in this year’s free agency, so re-signing these three guys may also be a smart move. Golden Tate, Randall Cobb, and Jamison Crowder are in my opinion the best available receivers this offseason. If Crowder is healthy, he could be a great deep threat option for the Patriots. Cobb is nearing the end of his career but still had a productive year in Green Bay. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if he decides to finish out his career there with Rodgers. Tate is interesting though. New England has a great slot receiver already in Edelman, but those two together could be a nightmare in the middle of the field and on short routes for opposing defenses. As long as Tate doesn’t ask for too much I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Patriots go after him.
On the defensive side, there’s a little more going on. Danny Shelton, Jason McCourty, Malcolm Brown, Eric Rowe, and Jon Jones will all be free agents. On top of that, Devin McCourty could very well be retiring, after stating that winning a championship with his brother is about as good as it gets. Also, Patrick Chung just broke his forearm in the Super Bowl, currently 31 years old, he could be close to the end of his career as well. The five free agents I listed above all had key roles on this New England defense. None of them are huge losses if they don’t re-sign them, but it is always easier to bring someone back that knows your system and you know can do what you want, than it is to bring in someone new. None of those five are big money players either which is good for the Patriots. It shouldn’t break the bank to bring them back and then you’re looking at the same defense you just shut won a Super Bowl with.
Right now there are a lot of “ifs” with the Patriots going into the offseason. If Gronk will stay. If McCourty stays. If Gordon can get his suspension appealed. Each of these “ifs” will have a big impact on what the team looks like next year. You can’t replace Gronk, there’s nobody else like him, and there are only two guys I’d even think of going for that could produce in his place. Tyler Eifert and Jared Cook. Neither are studs, but both are talented and could make losing Gronk less of a blow. Either way, New England should draft a tight end this spring. If McCourty retires that is a huge veteran presence lost in this secondary. He’s been with the team for 9 years. Duron Harmon is a solid safety and could take that spot, but there would then be a loss of depth. There is a good group of free agents on the market this offseason and New England should make a move if they have the cap space. Tre Boston, Landon Collins, Adrian Amos, Eric Reid, and Clayton Geathers are all young guys that could fill that hole and still have their prime years ahead of them. Collins and Amos could demand larger contracts so they may be out of the questions, but if Gronk leaves that will open up around $20 million in cap space.
It’s obviously still way too early to predict much of anything at the moment. It could be a very interesting free agency in New England or a pretty quiet one where they just bring everyone back and don’t really add anyone. Either way, I don’t see them getting any worse. They just won the Super Bowl, they’re going to still be a top team in the league unless absolutely nothing goes their way.