New England Patriots

Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots celebrates with Darrelle Revis #24 after defeating the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. The Patriots defeated the Seahawks 28-24. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Patriots shouldn’t be done spending money on high-end free agents.

While it’s highly unlikely we’ll see the tsunami of spending the Patriots delivered in 2021, the team still has work to do in terms of improving the roster around quarterback Mac Jones. New England’s best hope at landing among the league’s top contenders is a major second-year leap for Jones, but the quarterback was the least of the problem in a season-ending 47-17 loss to the Bills in the wild card round. The 2022 off-season should be about continuing to add talent around Jones, or further complement the offense with an infusion on defense.

The quickest and simplest way for the Patriots to improve the roster for 2022 is to target established talents who may not command a long-term deal. There are two high-profile comparisons for such a move, that had drastically different results: the 2014 signing of Darrelle Revis, who played a key role in a Super Bowl-winning team, and the 2019 addition of Antonio Brown, who lasted only 11 days and one game in New England.

The Revis move, in particular, proved a worthy one-year gamble for Bill Belichick, who has made many similar moves over the years to get the most out of a veteran player. It’s not always a future Hall of Famer like Revis was, nor is it always particularly expensive.

But even Revis was exceptional value. He signed for one year at $12 million, in a year when Patrick Peterson made more than $16 million and Joe Haden earned that in just a signing bonus. Revis performed like a $16 million cornerback (at least) and anchored a championship defense. He was Belichick’s ultimate one-year wonder.

It makes even more sense for the Patriots to invest in a short-term splash now, while they have Jones on his rookie contract. Entering Monday, they have $10.2 million in cap space, according to Miguel Benzan, and would be capable of clearing enough cap space to shop ’till they drop again, if they so desire.

The free-agent pool is projected to boast a number of proven high-performing players, any of whom would be an instant difference-maker regardless of position or need. Some would fill pressing needs and provide clear upgrades on top of their upper-echelon talent.

One unavoidable downside: these signings would make the Patriots’ roster older rather than younger, so if youth is a priority this off-season, this would go against it. And the aforementioned Antonio Brown exists forever in Belichick lore as the worst case scenario for this type of move. But their ages are simply a reflection of the reality that they’re looking at short-term deals.

  • If Bill Belichick wants to make an aggressive move for a player who would make an immediate difference, he’ll have no shortage of options. Others wouldn’t even cost much financially, but still possess the potential for massive rewards. Here’s a look at some of the biggest names set to hit the open market.

  • LB Bobby Wagner

    Bobby Wagner #54 of the Seattle Seahawks reacts on fourth down against the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter at Lumen Field on September 19, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    Bobby Wagner #54 of the Seattle Seahawks reacts on fourth down against the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter at Lumen Field on September 19, 2021 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

    Wagner would be a true plug-and-play stud in the Patriots’ defensive schemes. Even at 31 years old, Wagner remains one of the premier middle linebackers in pro football. The Patriots appear headed toward a youth movement at the linebacker position in 2022, but if Wagner is interested in a one-year deal with the idea of boosting his stock as Belichick puts him in a position to succeed, he makes as much sense as any free agent.

  • WR Allen Robinson

    Allen Robinson #12 of the Chicago Bears runs for yards during the first half against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

    Allen Robinson #12 of the Chicago Bears runs for yards during the first half against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

    Recent reports have connected Robinson to the Patriots. He would certainly represent an upgrade of size, speed, and skill at outside receiver. Robinson just played on the franchise tag, but had arguably his worst season, with only 38 catches for 410 yards and one touchdown in 12 games. His best course of action may be to take a one-year deal, perhaps with a higher AAV than he’d get on a long-term offer, and try to deliver a big contract year. If the Patriots’ interest in Robinson is real, now would be the time to invest.

  • DE Trey Flowers

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – DECEMBER 30: Trey Flowers #98 of the New England Patriots reacts during the third quarter of a game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium on December 30, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Flowers got released from the Lions and immediately became a popular Patriots target on social media, which is a typical occurrence. But Flowers makes more sense than others, based on his status as a former Patriot who worked very well within their system. The Patriots have missed having a guy like Flowers on their defensive line ever since he left. He’d likely be relatively cost-effective due to his low counting stats, but would almost certainly be a great fit and have the potential to regain the glory of 2016-18.

  • LB Von Miller

    Von Miller #40 of the Los Angeles Rams looks on during the first half against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on November 15, 2021 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

    Von Miller #40 of the Los Angeles Rams looks on during the first half against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium on November 15, 2021 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

    Miller will be 33 years old when the 2022 season starts, but he’s still quite productive – 9.5 sacks and 17 QB hits in 15 games between the Broncos and Rams. He also made four sacks and six QB hits in four playoff games for the Super Bowl champions, proving he can still come up big on the biggest stages. Belichick would no doubt get a lot out of Miller, even at this stage of his career. But Miller is so good, he may still command more than one year on his next deal.

  • DE Chandler Jones

    Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Tennessee Titans fumbles after being hit by Chandler Jones #55 of the Arizona Cardinals during the third quarter at Nissan Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images)

    Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Tennessee Titans fumbles after being hit by Chandler Jones #55 of the Arizona Cardinals during the third quarter at Nissan Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images)

    Since leaving the Patriots, Jones has turned into one of the premier edge rushers in the NFL, earning first team All-Pro nods in 2017 and 2019. He racked up another 10.5 sacks and 26 QB hits in 2021. Even at 32 years old, Jones can still be a disruptive force on the edge for any defense. Belichick may prefer someone more well-rounded than Jones, but this is another example of shared familiarity and a known fit for the defense. Jones and Matt Judon off the edge would wreak havoc in pass-rush situations.

  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul

    Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates in the second quarter of the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

    Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates in the second quarter of the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium on September 19, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

    Pierre-Paul is like a less explosive, but more well-rounded version of Chandler Jones. He has always felt like a great fit for the Patriots, due to his ability to hold the edge and slow down the run in addition to chipping in as a pass-rusher. At 33, his best days are behind him. But on a classic prove-it deal, J.P.P. could be motivated and Belichick would definitely put him in position to succeed.

  • DT Akiem Hicks

    Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers is sacked by Akiem Hicks #96 of the Chicago Bears in the second half at Soldier Field on October 17, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

    Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers is sacked by Akiem Hicks #96 of the Chicago Bears in the second half at Soldier Field on October 17, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

    Hicks started to realize his potential when he came to the Patriots for the 2015 season. He’s since gone to Chicago and become one of the better defensive tackles in the league. He’ll be 33 years old when the 2022 season starts and played only nine games in 2021, so he will most certainly come at a low cost. But Hicks did have 3.5 sacks and nine QB hits in those nine games, so he may still have a good amount left in the tank.

  • CB Joe Haden

    Joe Haden #23 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates a stop on fourth down in the fourth quarter to end the game at Heinz Field on December 19, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    Joe Haden #23 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates a stop on fourth down in the fourth quarter to end the game at Heinz Field on December 19, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    The Patriots need to figure out both a short-term and a long-term plan at outside corner. A one-year deal for an established veteran as a stopgap would alleviate some concerns on the depth chart. Haden will be 33 at season’s start, but had a surprisingly strong run with the Steelers and could still be a solid starting outside corner wherever he plays. If he can be had on an affordable one-year deal, he’s a sensible short-term solution for the Patriots. There are other veteran free-agent corners in this category, including Casey Hayward and Kyle Fuller. And, if fences are mended, there’s always the possibility of bringing Stephon Gilmore back.