The New England Patriots will have to get busy this spring to elevate their roster to an elite level. New England does have the potential to do so, but it will require creativity and difficult decisions — including the future of J.C. Jackson.
The team will have to do some financial gymnastics, explore trade options in the draft, and move on from young talent. While hardly anyone ever knows what Bill Belichick is thinking, here is how the Patriots can 1. Create money, 2. Move on from bad contracts, 3. Acquire elite talent, and 4. Craft the core of their future.
1. Tag and Trade J.C. Jackson
Compensation: 2022 second and fifth-round draft pick
A few weeks ago, the Patriots Offseason Phase 1 called for keeping J.C. Jackson in New England. Unfortunately, it does not seem realistic that Jackson is here long-term. Had the Patriots won 12 games, contending for the AFC this past season, it would be different.
However, the Patriots have an opportunity to fill out their roster in other areas. It is unlikely Bill Belichick wants to spend $18 million per year on Jackson, especially given New England’s track record at the cornerback position. Belichick often moves on from defenders commanding a big payday.
That being said, letting Jackson walk for nothing is bad business. Tagging Jackson comes with a risk, but if teams are interested in signing Jackson long term, it is worth acquiring at least a second-round pick.
2. Trade the #21 Overall Pick, Draft John Metchie III
Compensation: high second round (before Miami at #47) and a top-70 draft pick)
All in on John Metchie as Mac Jones’ future weapon. John Metchie said this week he expects to fully recover from his torn ACL and be ready for football in June. A first-round talent who will be ready by training camp, the Patriots must be calling for Metchie in April. Metchie will interview great for teams despite not being to test, he is the ultimate competitor. Versatile, smart, tough, willing to block, produce after the catch, Metchie is one of the more complete wideouts in this draft and a perfect fit for the modern Patriot wide receiver.
No chance Metchie gets by Miami at 47, the Patriots need to trade back to get into the high 30s. The Patriots need depth and explosiveness at WR and LB. The draft is expected to be deep at those two positions with a thin margin of difference in the first three rounds.
While the Patriots will certainly have an intriguing option at #21, it’s a great year to stock picks. How about a high second-round pick for Metchie, two picks inside the top-60 to double up on explosive linebackers like Christian Harris, Channing Tindall, Chad Muma, Quay Walker, while still having a pick inside the top-70? Yes.
3. Find Trading Partners for Isaiah Wynn and Nelson Agholor
Teams with at least $20 million in cap space who could be interested financially:
- Detroit Lions, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Chicago Bears
Money dump moves here. Cutting Isaiah Wynn saves New England nothing, however trading the former first round pick frees up over $10 million in cap space. Not a lot of teams will want to spend that money on an inconsistent tackle with an injury history. However, the teams with the money will bite for a starting tackle in the NFL, especially those with rookie QBs. If the Patriots retain Trent Brown and Ted Karras, their line should still compete for the top in the league.
While Bill Belichick is a fan of Nelson Agholor-paying a high price for him-he isn’t worth top-15 reciever money. If New England upgrades the positon through the draft and trade, Agholor will be gone. He frees up too much money that the team can spend on retaining key players.
Free Agency, Re-Signs, and Cuts
Re-sign: T Trent Brown, G Ted Karras, S Devin McCourty, LB, Ja’Whaun Bentley RB James White, WR Jakobi Meyers
Cuts: DE Henry Anderson, DE Lawrence Guy, DB Joejuan Williams, TE Dalton Keene
Sign: Two Veteran CBs each under $6 million per year, Veteran WR (Allen Robinson, A.J. Green, Amari Cooper) DE Trey Flowers (if cut)
Veteran CB Options:
- Jason Verrett (30 years old) $3.25 million per year
- Kyle Fuller (30 years old) $5 million per year
- Ahkello Witherspoon (26 years old) $4 million per year
- Sidney Jones (25 years old) $4.25 million per year
It may not look pretty, but if the Patriots wish to go cheap on man-to-man corners, these are there options. Most names in this free agency class will either command at least $10 million per year or play in zone-heavy schemes. Bill Belichick plays man-to-man defense more than most NFL teams and New England does not have a lot of cap space at the moment.
Keep in mind, the return of Jonathan Jones helps New England greatly. While he is not an outside corner, he gives the Patriots room to go cheap on the outside. Jason Verrett is a huge injury risk, but when healthy, he’s a very talented corner. A cheap incentive laced deal can give New England protection if Verrett is damaged goods. Kyle Fuller is a durable veteran with an upside in the right system. Fuller used to be one of the best corners in the NFL but had one of his worst seasons in Denver in 2021. Not the best selling point, but the Patriots are known for taking underperforming veterans and turning them back into the studs they were before.
Acquiring a Veteran WR
If there is any smoke to the fire of New England going receiver shopping, it looks like that mold fits a veteran outside threat. Furthermore, a player Bill Belichick has admired before. While reports of New England being interested Robby Anderson came out this past week, do not be surprised if the Patriots look at A.J. Green.
Green was one of the receivers Bill Belichick reportedly pursued last offseason and has always been a fan of Green:
“He’s an elite player. There’s no real weak points in his game; short, intermediate, catch-and-run, deep, ball skills, quickness, ability to really defeat any type of coverage, size, speed, quickness. He’s a hard guy to handle” (2016).
“A.J. Green’s probably the best receiver in the league” (2019).
If the Patriots do not wish to spend big on players like Allen Robinson or Amari Cooper, Green seems to be a serviceable discount. While the 33 year-old is past his prime, he did contribute greatly in a crowded receiver room in Arizona this past season. Green put up his best receiving yard totals since 2017 (848 yards) despite being targeted the second lowest in his career. Green’s 15.7 yards per reception were his second highest totals, which would have ranked first on the Patriots. His speed and quickness has declined with age, but he can be a dependable, versatile, big option for Mac Jones and a great mentor for a rookie receiver in New England.
Trey Flowers is the Foxboro reunion the Patriots need. Flowers is a potential cut candidate for the Detroit Lions as his departure would save the team roughly $10 million in cap space. Flowers, like many former Patriots, played his best football in New England.
While he disappointed during his big contract for the Lions, the 28-year old would be a monster alongside Matt Judon on the edge and Christian Barmore in the middle. The Patriots are one consistent edge defender away from an elite pass rush.
What would the roster look like?
- LT Michael Onwenu, LG Ted Karras, C David Andrews, RG Shaq Mason, RT Trent Brown
QB: Mac Jones
RB: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, James White
- John Metchie III (rookie)
- Veteran; Brandin Cooks/Allen Robinson/A.J. Green
- Kendrick Bourne
- Jakobi Meyers
- Kyle Phillips/Christian Watson (rookie)
- Hunter Henry
- Jonnu Smith
SS: Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips
FS: Devin McCourty
- Outside Corners: Kyle Fuller, Jason Verrett, (bench Jalen Mills)
- Slot: Jonathan Jones, (bench Myles Bryant, rookie Marcus Jones)
Inside LB: Ja’Whaun Bentley, Raekwon McMillan, (bench rookie Christian Harris, Cameron McGrone)
Outside LB: Matthew Judon, Josh Uche (bench rookie Channing Tindall, Ronnie Perkins)
Edge: Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise (bench rookie Josh Paschal)
Interior: Christian Barmore (bench Davon Godchaux)