New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 03: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Gillette Stadium on October 03, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
  • One week into free agency, the Patriots’ roster is already starting to shift. While it may feel like there’s been more exits than entrances, there have been a handful of targeted signings – and re-signings – that may be setting the tone for what the plan is this offseason.

    There have been 18 players who have either joined, re-joined, or departed the team in the last seven days. Here’s a quick look of where things stand heading into week number two of the NFL offseason…

  • Players added

    Nov 25, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Ty Montgomery (88) runs against the Buffalo Bills in the first quarter at the Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

    –WR/RB Ty Montgomery
    –LB Mack Wilson
    –CB Terrance Mitchell

    Montgomery is the highlight of the players the Patriots have added so far. With the hybrid running back/wide receiver role becoming more and more popular, it felt like it was only a matter of time until the Patriots added such a player to their roster.

    At the very least, Montgomery will offer depth behind James White as a third down back, behind Jakobi Meyers as a slot receiver, and can fill some of the kick converge duties vacated with the departure of Brandon Bolden. His upside is a gadget three-down contributor. Although his recent numbers don’t suggest that kind of production, he’s been stuck on some truly dismal offensive teams. Last time he played a full season with a competent offensive unit, he totaled 800 all-purpose yards for the Packers in 2016.

    Wilson is another low-risk, high-upside signing. If the Patriots’ goal is to add quicker, younger linebackers, he fits the bill. The 24-year-old saw a decrease of defensive snaps over his three years in Cleveland, but that may have been a scheme fit as much as anything. Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have a history of changing a linebacker’s utilization to maximize their skill set. If they can’t figure that out, Wilson can still contribute on special teams and is in the last year of his rookie deal.

    Michell is a versatile corner with experience in a number of different schemes. He’s good depth option for a team in the Patriots that just needs bodies at the position. How big of a role he’ll end up having depends on ensuing moves this offseason.

  • Players retained

    Oct 3, 2021; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots free safety Devin McCourty (32) reacts to a call during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    –S Devin McCourty
    –RB James White
    –LB Ja’Whaun Bentley
    –ST Matthew Slater
    –K Nick Folk
    –QB Brian Hoyer
    –IOL James Ferentz

    The Patriots clearly made it a point to retain the veteran leadership that helped guide the team last year. Four of the five captains from the 2021 team had their contracts expire, and three have already been brought back in McCourty, White, and Slater (Dont’a Hightower remains unsigned). Bentley and Hoyer also feature in key leadership roles.

    These moves are about more than leadership though. All things considered, McCourty’s new contract may be the best all-around move the Patriots have made in free agency. He still looked like a starting-caliber player last season, and the Patriots have no obvious replacement currently on the roster. Losing him would have created yet another immediate need, and a crucial one at that.

    Bentley’s signing similarly helps retain depth at what would have become a very thin position. And although he’s just 25, he has significantly more NFL experience than any other middle linebacker on the Patriots’ roster right now. The team really would have been starting over at the position if they lost both he and Hightower.

    The same could be said about re-signing White, especially after the team lost Brandon Bolden. He’s working his way back from a hip injury, but was on a 1,000-yard receiving pace before that injury ended his season early last year.

    While Hoyer won’t have an impact on the field, his return should mean a lot to Mac Jones. You can read more about the relationship between Jones and Hoyer here.

  • Players lost

    Nov 18, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) runs after intercepting a pass against the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 18, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson (27) runs after intercepting a pass against the Atlanta Falcons during the fourth quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

    –CB J.C. Jackson
    –G Shaq Mason
    –RB Brandon Bolden
    –FB Jakob Johnson
    –IOL Ted Karras
    –WR/PR Gunner Olszewski
    –LB Chase Winovich

    Jackson is the biggest loss here, but he may also be the least surprising. His departure seemed inevitable once it was reported the team didn’t plan to use the franchise tag on him. For those looking to make an issue of Jackson’s departure, it began with the lack of the franchise tag, not failing to match LA’s offer.

    The biggest surprise is the Patriots losing both starting guards from last season. With Karras a free agent and Mason’s contract expendable with Michael Onwenu ready to step back into a starting role, one of those players departing seemed likely. However, a full reset at the position – especially when right tackle Trent Brown is also a free agent and left tackle Isaiah Wynn is in a contract year – is a bit more jarring.

    Bolden would have been a bigger loss had the team not retained White. Yet after stepping in for White last season, he seemed poised for a bigger role offensively and could have that chance in Vegas. He’ll rejoin Josh McDaniels alongside fullback Jakob Johnson. Johnson’s departure could signal a shift for the team in offensive philosophy, as pointed out by ESPN’s Mike Reiss over the weekend.

    Olszewski’s departure could signal the Patriots are looking for a more versatile returner – either who can return kicks and punts and/or can contribute on offense as well. Olszewski’s lack of development as a wide receiver may have made him expendable in New England.

    That leaves Winovich, who had been a logical traded candidate for some time. Like Wilson, who he was traded for, a change of scenery and scheme could be exactly what he needs.

  • Still unsigned

    Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown (77) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown (77) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    –RT Trent Brown
    –LB Dont’a Hightower
    –LB Jamie Collins
    –WR Jakobi Meyers (tendered)
    –LB Brandon King
    –LB Harvey Langi
    –LB Terez Hall (exclusive rights)
    –TE Troy Fumagalli

    With La’el Collins signing in Cincinnati, one of the few right tackles remaining in free agency is now off the market. That could be a sign Brown will be the next to ink a deal, in New England or elsewhere. With Karras and Mason gone and Wynn up next year, he could become more of a priority.

    Hightower is the only other big name on this list. A veteran likely looking for fit as much as money, he may take his time to pick a landing spot.

    Meyers is technically a free agent, but a team would have to give up their second round pick to sign him away from the Patriots. It seems highly likely his free agency is just a formality at this point, and he’ll be back in 2022.

    As of Friday, there had been no discussions between the Patriots and Collins’ camp according to Andrew Callahan of the Boston Herald. That doesn’t entirely rule out the team bringing him back, but at this point it doesn’t seem to be a priority.

    Among the remaining players, Terez Hall is a player to watch. He played a significant role down the stretch in 2020 and looked good, but then missed all of 2021 with an injury. As an ERFA, the Patriots could bring him back on a team-friendly deal.

  • What’s next?

    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – JANUARY 09: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots walks off the field after losing 33-24 to the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

    As the second week of free agency begins, the Patriots have about $11.6 million in cap space according to Patriots salary cap expert Miguel Benzan. Their top needs include tackle, cornerback, wide receiver, and linebacker. Expect Trent Brown and Dont’a Hightower’s names to come up often early this week.

    What’s next for the Patriots? Matt Dolloff takes a look at the possibilities here.