Assessing Patriots’ Needs Following First Week Of NFL Free Agency


While the rest of the NFL was spending oodles of cash and valuable cap room on free agents over the past week, the New England Patriots were signing players unfamiliar to the average fan.

The Patriots added running back Brandon Bolden, wide receivers Bruce Ellington and Maurice Harris, tight end Matt LaCosse, defensive tackle Mike Pennel and safety Terrence Brooks. Among those six players, Pennel is expected to make the greatest impact in 2019. Even he was an under-the-radar free agent, however.

The Patriots also re-signed three of their own in wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, defensive end John Simon and cornerback Jason McCourty while allowing defensive end Trey Flowers, offensive tackles Trent Brown and LaAdrian Waddle, defensive tackle Malcom Brown, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and cornerback Eric Rowe to walk in free agency.

The following players are still free agents: punter Ryan Allen, kicker Stephen Gostkowski, running back Jeremy Hill, wide receivers Chris Hogan and Cody Hollister, linebackers Ramon Humber and Albert McClellan, offensive tackle Ulrick John and defensive tackle Danny Shelton.

Let’s go position by position and assess the Patriots’ level of need at each:

QUARTERBACK
Tom Brady
Brian Hoyer
Danny Etling

Unless you’re related to Etling, then you can look at this list and see the Patriots still need a quarterback of the future. Brady keeps saying he wants to play until he’s 45 years old, and he’ll *only* be 42 this season. It would be ideal to draft or trade for a young quarterback this offseason. But the Patriots also probably could wait another year.

Level of need: Existent but not urgent

RUNNING BACK
Sony Michel
James White
Rex Burkhead
Brandon Bolden

The Patriots could absolutely go into the 2019 season with these four running backs. They should, however, either draft or sign one or two more players for competition and insurance purposes. Re-signing Hill also doesn’t seem out of the equation.

Level of need: Low

FULLBACK
James Develin

Expect a rookie free agent with tight end/fullback versatility to be added before training camp.

Level of need: Low

WIDE RECEIVER
Julian Edelman
Phillip Dorsett
Bruce Ellington
Maurice Harris
Braxton Berrios
Damoun Patterson
Matthew Slater
Josh Gordon (restricted free agent)

Brady could make this group work if he needed to, but it would be far less than ideal. The Patriots should sign a veteran player with past production. Names like Hogan, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Aldrick Robinson, Jermaine Kearse or Dontrelle Inman would work. They also should double dip at the position in the 2019 NFL Draft. We’d like to see them take a player in the second and fourth round.

Level of need: Very high

TIGHT END
Rob Gronkowski
Matt LaCosse
Ryan Izzo
Stephen Anderson
Jacob Hollister

Will Gronkowski retire? That’s the biggest question. If he does, this becomes the Patriots’ biggest need. If he doesn’t, then they could potentially push off the position for another year. If Martellus Bennett is serious about playing for cheap in 2019, the Patriots should snag him up.

Level of need: Pretty high

OFFENSIVE TACKLE
LT Isaiah Wynn
RT Marcus Cannon
OL Cole Croston
OT Ryker Mathews
OT Dan Skipper

Unless the Patriots know something about Croston, Mathews and Skipper the rest of us don’t, then they need two backup offensive tackles. It would make sense to draft a future right tackle pretty early and sign a veteran swing tackle. Re-signing John would make some sense.

Level of need: High

GUARD/CENTER
LG Joe Thuney
C David Andrews
RG Shaq Mason
G/C Ted Karras
G Brian Schwenke
C James Ferentz
OL Cole Croston
C Jake Eldrenkamp

Thuney is a free agent after the season. If a quality player is available at the right spot in the draft, the Patriots could address this need early. If not, then they could wait until 2020.

Level of need: Medium

DEFENSIVE END
Michael Bennett
John Simon
Deatrich Wise
Adrian Clayborn
Derek Rivers
Keionta Davis
Ufomba Kamalu
Trent Harris

The Patriots have bodies here, but they could use more promise and certainty. If they have the money, they should sign a veteran player like Brandon Copeland and draft at least one player relatively high.

Level of need: Moderately high

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Lawrence Guy
Mike Pennel
Adam Butler
Ufomba Kamalu
Frank Herron
David Parry

The Patriots like to rotate their interior defensive line. They’re two-thirds of the way to that rotation with Guy and Pennel. Butler is more of an interior rusher, though he did prove he could play on early downs more last season. The Patriots ideally would sign one more impact veteran or take a defensive tackle high in the 2019 NFL Draft. The Patriots hosted defensive linemen Allen Bailey and Bennie Logan. Perhaps they could circle back and sign one of those players.

Level of need: Above average

LINEBACKER
Kyle Van Noy
Dont’a Hightower
Ja’Whaun Bentley
Elandon Roberts
Christian Sam
Calvin Munson
Brandon King

The Patriots’ level of need depends on their evaluation of Sam. Van Noy and Roberts will be free agents after the season. Perhaps the Patriots will plan ahead by drafting a linebacker in the middle rounds.

Level of need: moderately low

CORNERBACK
Stephon Gilmore
JC Jackson
Jason McCourty
Jonathan Jones (restricted free agent)
Keion Crossen
Duke Dawson

That’s the exact same group that made up the Patriots’ cornerback depth chart leading up to the Patriots’ Super Bowl LIII win. They’ll likely find an undrafted steal at the position even if they don’t need one. That’s been the case over the past five seasons when they’ve added players like Malcolm Butler, Justin Coleman, Jonathan Jones, Cre’von LeBlanc, Kenny Moore and JC Jackson.

Level of need: Lowest of the low

SAFETY
Devin McCourty
Patrick Chung
Duron Harmon
Jonathan Jones (restricted free agent)
Obi Melifonwu
Terrence Brooks
Nate Ebner
A.J. Howard

We’re including Jones since he played safety in Super Bowl LIII. McCourty and Chung are getting up there in age, so it would make sense to spend a Day 1 or 2 pick on a safety. There’s no need for a veteran addition here with Brooks signed.

Level of need: Moderate

SPECIAL TEAMS
LS Joe Cardona

The Patriots need a kicker and punter. Those things are pretty important. Ideally, they bring back Gostkowski and Allen. If they don’t, then they’ll likely have rookie specialists in 2019. The Patriots also need a kick returner with Patterson gone.

Level of need: Critical

Thumbnail photo via Mark Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images

Source: NESN

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